Customer Relationship Malpractice

Although malpractice is usually a term used in medicine, its definition (“any instance of improper professional conduct”) shows that the term can be used in any profession. In my opinion, malpractice can also be found in customer relationship management (CRM).  It can result in financial damage (lost sales, penalties for not delivering on time, etc.) or loss of confidence, which can jeopardize the relationships between companies and their customers.

Here’s an example of improper professional conduct I witnessed when dealing with my bank.

What’s the story?

It all started when my bank decided to change its customer’s debit cards with new ones, which are supposed to protect you against fraud and theft better with the introduction of an integrated circuit or chip.

The problem was not with the card itself, but with the way my bank managed the process of replacing it. They sent me the new card and blocked the old one without letting me know why. Also, I wasn’t notified that I was going to receive a new card. As you can imagine, I did not receive the new one and was not able to use the old one either.

So I did what any logical person would do: I called the bank. Unfortunately, they didn’t know what happened to the new card. They asked for my address to make sure it was correct and then told me to wait a couple of days. A week later, and I still hadn’t received my card—I called again. This time, they sent me a new card, which eventually came into my mailbox a week later. And guess what? I also received the first card a couple of months later, so now I have two new cards along with the old one.

How is this malpractice?

1. My bank did not communicate its intention to replace cards and blocked my old card without asking if I received the new one. I could have easily been contacted because they do have my e-mail address, postal address, phone number, etc. Maybe they did announce the change on their Facebook or Twitter profile, but I couldn’t possibly see it since I’m not following them.

2. Unfortunately, the bank’s employees I talked to had no idea what happened to my new debit card. This demonstrates a lack of coordination between different departments and bad workflow management or work processes. These workflows and processes are supposed to keep all people up-to-date on what’s happening and trigger notifications or corrective actions.

3. I did not receive a call from the bank. They did not apologize or seem to be concerned with the fact that something was not working properly and could affect other customers. Don’t get me wrong, maybe they were monitoring the whole process, maybe corrective actions were taken, but I’m not aware of any and I will expect this to happen again in the future because my bank did not do something to make me feel reassured.

4. Finally, I wasn’t able to use my debit card for almost a month and I had the feeling that this wasn’t a big problem for my bank. The problem was solved mostly because I insisted and made all those calls. This, and similar experiences from the past made me think that my bank is not reliable enough for my needs, which can be their loss, because this made me change banks sooner than I wanted to.

How should companies react?

This can seem like a minor event that can happen to any company, despite a company’s efforts to avoid this kind of situation. What matters the most is how companies react when a situation like this occurs. You cannot prepare for everything and have answers for all the problems, but you can train your employees to be proactive. You can define escalation rules and you can learn from your mistakes.

What do you think?

I’m sure that there are more serious cases of customer relationship malpractice, and if you know one, please let us know. The best tools (business software, customer portals, etc.) in the world, social media channels, and goodwill may not be enough to build excellent relationships with your customers—a well defined, flexible strategy that would be complemented by these tools is.

I welcome your thoughts on what you think companies can do to avoid or to address unpleasant situations when dealing with their customers.
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