Dear customer this is what we mean by “relationship”

If you take the time to read the articles that gave rise to the “Relationship Marketing”, “CRM” and “Customer Experience” movements there are a number of principles that lie at the core:

  • Work relentlessly to create superior value for your customers;
  • Treat different customers differently because different customers have different needs;
  • Treat different customers differently because you cannot afford to spend the same amount of money on ‘Economy’ customers as you can on ‘First Class’ customers – to use an airline metaphor;
  • Treating different customers differently includes adjusting your actions towards the customers on an ongoing basis as you learn more and more about them – some called this customisation, websites call it personalisation, others understanding it as tailoring your actions to suit the person in front of you; and
  • If you do this consistently and better than your competitors, your customers will continue to do business with you even when they are offered ‘incentives’ (usually in the form of price discounts) to switch to your competitors.

The interesting thing about human beings is that we cherry pick – we take what we like and completely discard the rest.  It is as if you are given a recipe for a great dish and you select some of the ingredients and just throw the others away because they disturb you in some way.  As a result of this, too many companies – but not all, have come to understand “relationship” in a totally self-serving way.  If they were being truthful they would write a letter along the following lines:

“Dear Customer

Welcome to Big Corporate, we are delighted to have you on board.  We are not like Apple.  We don’t disrupt industries; we do not even come out with must have products; our service levels are also pretty ordinary as we do the minimum we can get by with to keep a lid on costs. The reality is that we are pretty much like everyone else who competes for customers in our category.

Over the last ten years or so our world has turned upside down.  And it is all down to the Internet – it has given you shoppers the upper hand.  Not only can you compare prices easily, you can also share your voice with millions around the world and listen to your fellow shoppers instead of our corporate speech: our advertising and PR.

So we listened to the Relationship Marketing and CRM folks.  We have bought into this in a big way and invested many millions in the software that will enable us to build a relationship with you.  Why is that important you ask?  Well if we build a relationship with you then we get to make more money, more profit!

Let me explain what we mean by “relationship”.  We are thinking along the following lines:

  • We will get as much data on you as possible – anything we can get away with legally;
  • We will use that data to figure out what we can sell you and then we are going to send you letters and emails  to encourage you to buy what we think you are up for buying;
  • If you do not respond the first time then we will give it another go and then another go;
  • We will offer you these products at a higher price than the price that we are offering people who currently do not do business with us;
  • If your existing product, policy or subscription comes to an end then we will send you a renewal reminder that is some 30% higher than you could get if you were to sign up as a new customer through our website;
  • We want you to fit in with the way that we work, the way we do business;
  • We are expecting you to do more of the work yourself so it would be great if you were to go to our website and help yourself and if you do manage to call our Customer Service line then we expect that you will use our IVR to help yourself;
  • If you do manage to get through to one of our agents then we cannot guarantee that we will be able to sort out your issues there and then.  If we cannot sort out your issue then we expect you to ring back on another day as our agents are not allowed to ring you back at a time that suits you;
  • We really do not like complaints as we believe that we are doing the best that we can so we are going to make it as hard as we can for you to complain including insisting that you put your complaint in writing and send it via the post;
  • Even though we are in the digital age we are not going to allow you a click to chat facility for when you are having problems on our website and need our help;

  • Nor are we going to allow you to use an instant messaging system to get through to our agents;

  • Whilst we do allow you to send email don’t expect the kind of response that you get at work. No, please allow at least two-day – usually more.

Now that I have explained what we mean by relationship we are really hopeful that you will be so satisfied that you will tell all your friends and family to become our customers!”

Here is the ridiculous part:  no company would ever consider sending this kind of communication to a new customer yet that is what the customer will experience because that is how many companies operate!

A tale of two insurance companies: Aviva v Paymentshield

The best way to work out the character of a company (as opposed to the personality that is portrayed in the marketing and selling phases) is how the company treats you when you decide to stop doing business with that company.  The company either treats you with respect and makes the encounter easy for you or it does the very opposite: makes it hard for you to cancel so that you either do not cancel or that it takes longer to cancel and thus gives the company time to get more money from you.

In the last month I decided to cancel an insurance policy with Aviva and another one with Paymentshield.

All it took for me to cancel my policy with Aviva was a telephone call to Customer Services.  The call was picked up in less than 30s and a friendly voice greeted me on the other line.  Once the security checking was done, I simply asked for my policy to be cancelled there and then.  The young man asked me if I was sure that I did want to cancel the policy.  Once I said “Yes” he cancelled the policy there and then – in less than a minute.  After cancelling the policy he told me “You will receive a letter confirming the cancellation within the next 7 days”. I thanked him and the whole interaction was completed in less than four minutes.  At the end of the call I felt good: good about the encounter, good about the young man who had helped me and good about Aviva.

My experience with Paymentshield is still ongoing and has been painful.  I dialled the number for Customer Services and then picked the option for cancelling policies and then proceeded to wait for someone to pick up the phone.  After 6 minutes a woman picked up the phone and went on to the do security check.  When that was over she asked me why I was cancelling the policy.  I stayed calm even though a part of me was fuming as I just wanted her to cancel the policy – like Aviva did.  Staying calm I explained the reasons and she seem to be satisfied.  So I asked her to cancel the policy.  The response: sorry, I cannot do that for you as the system is down, please call back another day!

So, I had waited for 6 minutes to get through to an agent and spent another 3 minutes or so on security check and explaining my reasons for cancelling only to be told that I had to ring back another day.  Sensing that this was a deliberate ploy to reduce cancellations, I hit the website and emailed Paymentshield, here is my email:

“Dear Sirs

RE:  Master Policy No……

I rang today to cancel the policy.  After waiting for six minutes I got through an agent and asked for my policy to be cancelled.  She was more interested in finding out why I was cancelling my policy than actually cancelling my policy.  This agent told me that someone would ring me later today to cancel the policy.  Her reasoning: the system is done right now and I cannot do the cancellation.

Frankly, I do not believe a word of what she told me.  So I am writing to you, officially, to request that you cancel my policy today.  Please ensure that you stop direct debiting my account forthwith – immediately.  I also request that you cancel / delete any and all information that you hold on my bank accounts.


The website promised that emails would be responed to within 2 days.  My response took 3 days and here it is:

“Subject: Paymentshield Enquiry

Thank you for contacting Paymentshield Mr Iqbal.

We acknowledge receipt of your cancellation request.

We can confirm your policy has been cancelled with immediate effect, however please be advised that it can take up to 10 days to stop your Direct Debit. To ensure that no payment is made during this time, please also cancel the Direct Debit at your bank or building society.

If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to call our Customer Services Team on 0845 6011 050. Our lines are open between the hours of 8am and 7pm, Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm Saturday.

Julia Farrell

 E-mail Administration Team
Paymentshield Limited”

The only problem was that my bank account had already been debited – on that very day.  So I sent another email, here it is:

“Dear Ms Farrell

I have just logged into my bank account and noticed that PaymentShield have debited my account on 21st October (today) by £70.48.


Given that I asked PaymentShield to terminate by policy on the 18th I request that you refund me the sum of £70.48. Please let me know if you will be sending me a cheque or refunding the money through electronic banking.

Kind regards

Maz Iqbal”

And four days later (25th October) I got this reply:

“Subject: Paymentshield Enquiry

Thank you for contacting Paymentshield Mr Iqbal.

We acknowledge receipt of your email regarding a refund of premiums paid and can confirm that your query has been forwarded to our Premium Collection team to be dealt with.  If you wish to query this matter further please email

If you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to call our Customer Services Team on 0845 6011 050. Our lines are open between the hours of 8am and 7pm, Monday to Friday and 8am to 1pm Saturday.

Julia Farrell”

So here I am writing this post on Sunday 14th November – 28 days later.  As yet I have not received a refund of the premium that was taken and so will have to chase up Paymentshield or take the matter up with my bank.  Now what are the chances that I will ever do business with this company again?  Nil.  What are the chances that I will do my very best to make sure that people whom I can influence never do business with this company? 100%

Now the interesting thing is that I dialled the number for sales and interestingly enough I got through to someone within 60 seconds!