Ever try to redeem your reward points? I just did…try that is. Because I’m in the contact center consulting business, I just have to share two incidents I experienced recently, and of course, lessons learned. Maybe, just maybe, one of the institutions involved will recognize itself, and make some changes.
Spoiler alert: Good news – I actually did get what I had hoped for. Bad news – It just took about 6 hours to accomplish what should have been done in about 15 minutes or less.
Incident 1 – Credit Card #1
Like most people, I did not know how many rewards points I’d accumulated with my credit card over the last 10 years. I looked online, waded through several websites and finally found the right one. My lucky number was 29,000…points. But that didn’t make sense because I hadn’t redeemed any points in years. I called the financial institution to search for additional points. The agent told me that about 30,000 points had just expired December 31 (just 30 days before I called).
Expired, as in disappeared forever because I did not use them. But I never got any notice of potential expiration. I asked “why wasn’t notified?” The agent responded that the information was at the bottom of the statement I get every month. I guess they think we won’t read the fine print and therefore lose our points by default. I didn’t give up. But why no email reminder or a text message, or even a statement stuffer letting me know that my points were about to expire? They certainly never fail to let us know when our bill is due, to upsell products, or for special deals.
“Unfair,” and “Time to close the account,” I said as I requested a supervisor. The supervisor was sympathetic to my plea. She would try and get my points back and that if she could, they would not expire for another year. That sounded fair. So I waited. And waited. She succeeded and I got my points back! And it only took 2 hours, and lots of patience. Except even that began to expire.
Incident 2 – Credit Card #2
One down, one to go. Same day, on my next card I’d accumulated 35,000 points. Armed with points, I decided to spend them before they too disappeared. An hour later, the email purchase confirmation arrived, along with a link to track the order status.
I clicked through to the site (managed by the credit card company). This time it was the purchased item that expired…well, out of stock at the national retailer that was fulfilling the order. No further information was provided, like – will it ever be restocked? Will they cancel automatically and return my points?
Finding no guidance online (or contact information), I called the credit card company and asked for help. I knew I’d have to get to a supervisor. Call the retailer, she said, to cancel the order. Then call us back to confirm (to ensure I wasn’t being charged the retail cost of the item).
“Whom do I ask for when I call back?” “Maria,” she said. “At the Mexico call center.” Well, that sounded easy. NOT…
I called the retailer. You know how ‘options have changed’ so you have to listen to a bunch? To my surprise, there was no option at all for people who used their points from the credit card company. So I waited to speak to an agent, who asked for my order number. The card company never sent me one, of course. It only took a bunch of questions and 35 minutes for the agent to find the order. And cancel it. “Halfway there,” I thought.
Not so fast. When I called the credit card co. back I was not connected to the Mexico center but to one in the United States. What happened to Maria in Mexico? Another mystery not solved. After repeating the story to the new agent, and again to a supervisor ‘Mike’, I thought I was almost done. Except Mike could not confirm that the order had been canceled. Mike said call the retailer back, and then call me back.
Wow! Good thing I know their systems as well as they do. I gave up for the day. Next day I called the credit card co. again. This time, they confirmed the order was indeed canceled and they ‘refunded’ me my reward points. Only 4 hours for Incident 2.
What did I Learn
Now for the lessons learned part. All these interactions took about 6 hours. Imagine if I wasn’t in the call center business, trying to understand from the customer’s perspective how things go wrong, and how they might be fixed.
In this situation, I concluded that companies seem to view rewards points as something people should ultimately lose. Kind of like buying a gym membership and not using it. I suspect the investment and care had not been pursued in this area because there is no direct profit in it for the credit card companies (it’s essentially a cost center) and it is only used to remain nominally competitive, and primarily for customer acquisition and card marketing. But surely there is a real cost to alienating and acting like this to customers?
Power in Numbers?
From my perspective as a consultant and customer, I’d like to ask the tens of millions of other customers (and consultants among them), to impress upon these companies that they need to take responsibility for the services and benefits they offer. And if they can’t (or won’t) then they should not offer the rewards. The solution: radically change how they run, operate and invest in the smooth operation of rewards programs; especially in the call centers who are on the customer front lines and stuck trying to resolve problems not worked out by leadership, operations and other people. The current state is intolerable and if it hasn’t already, will eventually backfire. Then they will have to listen.