Membership has its privileges (and should be privileged) Part 2 of 2

Visa’s failure to honor its promises on the Upside program (See the post “Visa – We Aren’t Even Where We Promise to Be.”) left us desperate. S was borrowing cash from her cousins to pay her bills (many youth hostels only accept cash, and the types of eateries they were patronizing prefer it). And we were losing valuable time on our vacation.

I am an American Express Platinum card member. With little hope, I called them for help, telling them up front that I did not expect them to be able to do so. The customer service staff who heard my tale raised my hopes by saying that she was sure Amex would be able to do something. She connected me to an got “Amex Global Assist” agent – after she had relayed to him accurately my entire tale of woe.

Immediately on taking over the call, the Global Assist agent proposed a solution. Since S was by now in Salzburg, Amex would wire the money to Western Union and S could pick it up at any of its 50 locations there. “Only €250?” the agent asked me, “Are you sure? You can send much more. Mr. Mukherjee,” As he delved deeper into his solution, he realized that Austria did not allow minors to receive money. So he asked me if there was anyone over 18 in Salzburg whom S trusted? If not, he’d craft a different solution. I told him about S’s cousin. No problem, he said, we will send him the money. And then, he set up a 3-way call with S. He wanted to see if he could find a Western Union near her youth hostel that was open at that time of the night (10 pm), so that S could get the money immediately. After getting S on the call, he described the forms Western Union would ask my nephew to fill and the responses my nephew should give. He said that if anything went wrong, S should call Amex immediately (collect, of course) from the Western Union office. He provided a case file number to quote to whichever of his colleagues took the call. Then he told me – casually – that since this was an emergency, Amex would waive all fees. Truly, membership has its privileges.

In my last post, I argued that Visa could not deliver baseline Plan and Execute effectively. Moreover, I noted that it was tarnishing its brand by allowing partners to use it to sell services that Visa/they could not – would not – deliver. A different way about thinking about the second point is: membership in a network should be privileged — it should be restricted to those who are capable of upholding the network’s branding.

In contrast, American Express flawlessly displayed its mastery of the other three critical capabilities of a great networked company: Sense, Respond and Learn. It was ready to Sense the occurrence of a type of event that could happen to any of its members, though it could not anticipate who would be affected, to what degree, when, where, why or how. Once it sensed an individual occurrence, it immediately Responded with a semi-custom solution. No one told the Global Assist agent what to do; Amex’s culture, processes, technology and yes, network, enabled him to find a solution for my specific problem, even though it had nothing to do with Amex. And then, the very next day, Amex contacted me to get my views on how well it had met my needs. Undoubtedly, someone will analyze its handling of this event to see what Amex could Learn from it for the future.

My wife and I resolved to talk about Amex’s performance to our network of friends and business partners. I have already urged several people to upgrade to a Platinum if invited to do so by Amex; the $400 annual fee is worth it. And yes, while we cannot stop using Visa cards because of its wide acceptance, we can – and will – use our Amex cards whenever we have a choice, and particularly for all large purchases (our MasterCards will get next priority and Visa the last). Given our travel and spending patterns, there’s no question that whatever Amex invested in its Sense and Respond effort to help us, it will earn back – and a lot, lot more – in a handful of months, maybe even weeks or days.

Now if only I could interview the people who designed this capability for my next book …!

If you’ve had experiences similar to the ones described in these two posts, do let me know. I would be really interested in understanding what you learnt from them and how they affected your subsequent behavior.

Category: Business Environment, Business Tools One comment »

One Response to “Membership has its privileges (and should be privileged) Part 2 of 2”

  1. Susan Kishner

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

Leave a Reply

Back to top