Prompt assistance vital when customer wants to close account

Prompt assistance vital when customer wants to close account
Prompt assistance vital when customer wants to close account
Image: Cox

Here’s a key piece of advice for companies, big and small: give your customers the very best service, even when they want to break up with you, or there’s nothing in it for you. Perhaps especially in those situations.

I so often hear from consumers who are battling to close their accounts, or have an existing relationship with the company but need a refund of an overpayment or a payment made in error, and they just aren’t getting it. The company, seeing no benefit to them, obstructs, delays or totally ignores them.

Recently I paid an anaesthetist in full for her services, forgetting that my medical scheme had already paid half her fee. I reported the overpayment — several thousand rand — to her rooms, and was told I would be refunded. I was, but only almost three weeks later.

“Doctor is busy,” I kept being told. But said doctor is no doubt never too busy to take action when she’s owed money by a patient.

If a service provider accepts that a customer wants to cancel their contract, the best they can do is say they’re sorry to hear that, attempt to find out what prompted that as a learning exercise, wish them well, get on with the closure admin as soon as possible and hope that they’ll find their way back to them in time.

Here’s what many companies don’t get — if they sour the goodbye process, there is very little chance that the customer will ever risk doing business with them again. Unfortunately this is what’s happening with the former retail giant, Edgars. It’s been sold by the Edcon group, currently in business rescue, and accounts management has been outsourced to RCS.

Clearly there is much for the new owners, Retailability, to fix — the clothes offering has been “off” for years and the customer service even more so. No surprise that the 17% market share Edgars had in 2007 has since dwindled to around 6%. 

About three months ago, Retailability CEO Norman Drieselmann told me: “We have a long way to go to restore Edgars to its former glory, but it remains a powerful brand and when we return to providing the right product at the right price for the broader market in South Africa, I believe we’ll get many of our core customers back.”

If it’s account customers they want to lure back, they’ve got an uphill battle on their hands, judging by the steam of e-mails I’m getting from those who aren’t able to close their accounts. Carol Fourie summed up the experience of many in trying to close her account.  “The procedure, I was told, is to request a settlement letter which would be e-mailed. I made several requests telephonically, but to date no e-mail has been sent to me.

“Every enquiry is met with the same rehearsed script: ‘You need to request a settlement letter after which an e-mail will be sent ... So, many months later, no settlement letter has been sent and in the meantime, interest and service fees on the account are added every month!”

Responding, RCS’s Regan Adams said: “I can confirm that the challenge with settlement letters and closures varies. For some customers, we have no record of a settlement letter request and we suspect some of this could still be of historic Edcon incidences.

“Then some customers spoke to other parties such as debt collection agencies, or those responsible for Club and Insurance, but this, for some reason, didn’t reach us.

“Also, in the past we received an influx of requests which led to some delays on our side to process these requests. I can confirm that we have allocated more staff to our mailboxes and the situation is much better now than a month or two ago.”

In cases where there was evidence that account closure requests had not been acted on timeously, Adams said, “we will reverse all fees that accrued in the meantime and ensure closures occur where these are requested”.

But there is often a lot more at stake than the unjustly charged fees. Maureen Watson almost lost out on a house purchase because the bank loan she needed was turned down as she had an adverse listing pertaining to her Edgars account. This despite paying it up and instructing the company to close the account last May — both of which she has proof of.

When she checked, she found she allegedly owed about R300, a sum which was never demanded of her, she says. She paid that to clean up her record, but still that all-important paid-up letter proved illusive.

“RCS say they can’t do anything because it takes 30 days to close an account!” Maureen’s daughter-in-law told me on Friday. “Please help; time is running out!” I contacted Adams and RCS supplied the letter a few hours later.

Companies: Make it possible to let your customers go, with grace and speed, for goodness’ sake!

Customers: Never stop at making an account paid up, and instructing that it be closed. You MUST get a letter stating that your account is both paid up AND closed.   That way you have proof should you be unjustly listed on a credit bureau, or bugged by a debt collector, and your still-open account can’t be abused by a fraudster.



Twitter: @wendyknowler

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