When Goodwill Goes Sour - How Not To Apologise

In 2016, I had cause to complain as a Business customer to two industry sectors, Telecoms and Banking. Both industries are well regulated for consumer protection, and highly competitive, so one might think that these two factors would ensure a strong focus on customer experience and satisfaction. Not so. In the case of Vodafone, my transfer in from another mobile provider was everything but smooth, with delays to number transfers, and poor signal strength once up and running. Our company was wrongly advised about the process of transfer, which caused problems along the way. Having failed to deal with the issue, Vodafone ended up making a 'goodwill payment' by way of apology, to our new account. From their perspective, this was easy to arrange (easier than trying to find out what actually went wrong and try to fix the process), and brought a 'closure' to the affair.

Then came Aldermore Bank. We opened an account with this new challenger bank over a year ago, determined to support a new player in a troubled market tarnished by recent history of greed and a casual attitude to responsible sales practice. All we wanted to do was withdraw some funds from a bond account already past its 12-month lock-in period. But Aldermore told us that they had sent an email 3 weeks before maturity entitled "You have a secure message". Apparently, by not responding to this vague message, we failed to revoke an automatic opt-in rollover clause which locks up all funds for a further 12 months. We complained about the lack of transparency and requested a transfer to an instant access account. Aldermore refused. We asked for them to record our withdrawal request for next year. They refused, saying it must be made in July 2015. At first, Aldermore even refused to offer a reminder letter for next year, before finally relenting "as a goodwill gesture".

What do I conclude as a Business Customer from these two experiences?

  1. Neither company started the complaint resolution by identifying what we considered to be a successful resolution to the issue - instead, they focused on themselves (their 'policy') and small incremental steps of admission of failure
  2. Both firms said they would 'pass on my complaint' to a higher level of management. Yet neither gave any indication of what would be done in that process, or any communication back to me of the outcome
  3. Both organisations made sure that their 'resolution offer' was firmly stamped as a "goodwill gesture". In practice, this means that they have no intention of proactively escalating the problems we encountered to safeguard other customers. Instead, goodwill is used as a caveat that it may not be ever offered again, or sets any precedent for acknowledging blame.

The net result is that our business has lost all faith in these two brands to have our customer interests at heart. It is a classic example of brands that prefer to hide behind policy as the minimum service level they can get away with, rather than seek to place customer needs at the core of their business model. We will be terminating our relationship with Aldermore in 2015, and Vodafone will have to try very hard to retain us when our contract comes round for renewal next year.

Is there a positive to take from any of this? Perhaps one - we run a Customer Experience Fundamentals course for our clients, aimed at ensuring the brands we work with never fall into these kind of habits. Thanks to Vodafone and Aldermore, we have just acquired two more up-to-date case-studies to add to our materials, and share with our participants.

And if you're thinking of coming along to our next course - don't worry. We won't charge you extra for these fresh examples of poor customer experience.

Instead we're just throwing them in. As a goodwill gesture.