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Let getting the basics right be your unexpected gift to your customers in 2020

Three days before Christmas, a mystery man forked out R337,000 to pay off what 363 people owed on their lay-bys at Pep’s Mossel Bay branch.
Three days before Christmas, a mystery man forked out R337,000 to pay off what 363 people owed on their lay-bys at Pep’s Mossel Bay branch.
Image: Leon Swart/123rf.com

You know that feeling when you stick your hand into a jacket your haven’t worn for a while and find a R100 note?

Multiply that a few times and try to imagine how 363 people, who had part-paid lay-bys at Pep’s Mossel Bay branch, felt on being told that a mystery man had paid off what they owed - three days before Christmas.

Their balances ranged from R10 to R1,300 and the gesture cost a total of R337,000.

He left each of them a note: “I am grateful that I’m [in a] position [to] settle your PEP Store lay-by.

“I know it’s up to people to help people. It’s just the decent thing for all of us to do, disregarding any religious beliefs. I also had lay-bys at PEP a long time ago.”

He signed the note “Grateful humanist”.

Then there was the Scottish man who befriended an 88-year-old former nurse in a boarding queue for a London-bound Virgin Atlantic flight in New York, and once on the plane, he offered to swap his first class seat with her.

Jack Littlejohn had worked at a charity event in New York, sleeping rough on the streets, when his mother surprised him with an “Upper Class” ticket for his journey home.

“I’ve never liked the idea of first class because I don’t like the inequality side-by-side and I don’t think it’s healthy for people who have to walk past all the nice seats to the normal seats,” he told HuffPost. “It’s also a metaphor for how society is going, with the inequality just rising and rising.”

Virgin Atlantic kept the feel-goods going by announcing that it would upgrade the “most seasoned” - aka oldest passenger - on every flight until January 1.

In November, Investec announced that it had cancelled the mortgage bonds registered on 3,600 properties in 14 Gauteng townships and cancelled all the debts.

The bank had inherited the title deeds in a legacy deal.

Most of recipients are in their 60s and 70s, paying around R250 a month to service bonds on homes valued at between R80,000 and R150,000.

Investec handled  all the mortgage bond transfers as well.

As the bank’s head of CSI Setlogane Manchidi told Brent Lindeque from Good Things Guy: “Today those people can think of putting together a will saying ‘I leave this house to my children’. They now have an asset.”

Marketing head Danni Dixon said when Investec staffers knocked on those people’s doors to give them the good news, many assumed they were debt collectors.

“In townships in November people start knocking on the doors as they get their bonuses.”

It’s often the same story when FNB Life staffers phone or visit people to tell them they are beneficiaries of life policies they didn’t know existed.

“Many of them think it’s a scam,” says FNB Life CEO Lee Bromfield.

“Luckily, we’re able to direct them to their local branch of FNB in order to verify their unexpected windfall.”

About a year ago, the insurer, less than five years in existence, decided to check its list of policyholders with the home affairs-run National Population Registry to see which of them had died, and if there had been no claim, they tracked down and reached out to beneficiaries.

It’s an exercise the insurer repeats every month.

In the past year, it’s paid out almost R50m in such pre-emptive life insurance claims, the highest single pay-out being R2.25m.

And in doing so, it’s showing up its competitors which aren’t making a similar effort to ensure that their policyholders premiums did not pay all those premiums in vain.

My appeal to companies, as we enter 2020 is to look at every one of their their policies and procedures and ask themselves:

Is it fair?

Is it respectful?

Is it appropriate in SA, in 2020?

Is it true to our mission statement?

If not, fix it. The changes are unlikely to make a splash in the media, but they will endear you to your customers, and that’s never been known to be bad for business.

Some suggestions:

If you owe your customers money, don’t make them wait “10 to 14 days” for a refund. That’s entirely unnecessary.

Stop speaking to your customers as if they are in need of admonishment. Ban the use of stock phrases such as “Kindly be advised that”, “Please note that..” and brainstorm more friendly, respectful ways of communicating to the people which the company owes its existence to.

Companies offering fixed-term contracts, such as cellphone and gym contracts: Don’t make it hard for your customers to cancel. Let them go with ease and grace. Tell them in every statement when their fixed term is up so that they can make informed decisions.

Banks, don’t let “but it’s on our website” continue to be your excuse for failing to tell your customers important information about fees or penalties in more user-friendly, direct ways.

If you have a “we are currently experiencing high call volumes” message on your call centre line permanently, hire more staff.

Make not keeping a promise to get back to a customer as much of a employee no-no as abusing company resources, and understand that even if the news is bad, your customer needs to hear it.

If there is a massive imbalance between what you spend on advertising or marketing and your various “customer care” platforms, fix that.

Get the basics right - let that be the unexpected gift you give all your customers this year.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler

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