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Retail shock therapy

Sep 30 2013 07:24 *Mandi Smallhorne
Retail therapy

(Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

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APPARENTLY Edgars has recently sent letters like this to some of its customers:

As you may be aware, Edcon sold its credit book to ABSA on 31st October 2012, but due to insufficient information on your account, systems and other compliance related matters we were unable to sell your account.

Edcon will not be providing credit going forward on accounts that were not sold as part of ABSA relationship, so unfortunately we wish to notify you that this Edgars account will be closed on 31st January 2014.

(Taken from a recent Hello Peter complaint.)

This was under discussion on John Robbie’s morning show on Talk Radio 702 on September 25. Edcon apparently declared that the letters were only sent out to a ridiculously low number of customers, something like 0.03%. That tiny number, however, was big enough to light a pretty fair-sized fire.

Dozens of people sent SMS messages or emails to Robbie about other beefs with Edgars – one woman, for example, said she’d had an Edgars account for decades and had paid the account, yet had been listed with the credit bureaux.

I listened with some amusement. I opened my Edgars account in 1987 and closed it last year in a fit of irritation after receiving a threatening SMS about some piddling amount I’d forgotten to pay one month. (The piddling amount was the fee for the magazine, which I felt was a bit of a waste of paper really, just a glorified catalogue pitched firmly at the student market.)

Cancelled card or no, I had continued to receive mail from the chain store, rather like a boyfriend stalking you after a break-up. (The chain store seems to have got the message at last, I’m glad to say, as the mail has stopped coming.)

Edgars/Edcon is not alone in having poor relationship skills with its clients. Other chain stores do similar things. Like the SMS that says: “You have not paid your account, which was due on September 1 2013.

"Please note that all unpaid accounts will be handed over for collection to very nasty people who will start by sending you mean lawyers’ letters and end by breaking your kneecaps. If you still haven’t paid by then, we will blacklist you and there will go your chances of ever having another clothing account – EVER, do you hear me, EVER!

"You will lose your home, your children will be sold to the salt mines to work off your debt, and you will end your days a sad and broken denizen of the poorhouse. Alone except for the rats in your monastic cell. Infected with some ghastly disfiguring disease.

"Gnawing toothlessly at your daily ration of weevil-infested bread. If you have paid your account in the interim, please ignore this message.”

OK, I’m exaggerating a little. But I’ve always wondered who writes these messages and the software that dictates when they’re sent. Take that Edcon message, for instance: I may be wrong, but it seems that many of the people who received this letter had been account holders for a long time.

That means that a) they have an extended relationship with Edgars – not with whoever Edcon chooses to sell their credit book to; b) they have a long credit history which is surely recorded in detail on computer and in some cases typed pieces of paper.

Do these two facts not warrant giving a little thought to how you word a message?

You could have said something like this: We know you’ve been part of the Edgars family for a very long time, and that’s probably why we don’t have all the information we needed to enable us to sell your account to Absa, along with all the others.

We’d hate to lose you, so may we suggest that you visit us as soon as possible to fix the problem. (Unless, of course, the company actually wanted to shed this ancient deadwood.)

If a customer of long standing misses a payment, why not send a friendly reminder that goes like this: Oops! You’ve been an account holder for so long that we’re sure this must be an oversight, but we don’t seem to have had the payment due on September 1.

When you come in to look at our lovely spring collection, perhaps you could make the payment at the same time. Unless you’ve paid in the meantime, in which case, thank you!

I know we can no longer have the sort of relationship with our retail companies my mother had with the greengrocer who knew her and her husband by sight, gave her children Sunrise toffees and figured out that if she failed to pay on time one month, it might be because she had just given birth to her third child.

But thanks to powerful technology, there’s a lot you do know about your customers, and things like payment records (yes, he often pays late, but always and without fail within the first three days of the month) and age of account can be used to automatically generate different messages that don’t sound as though the account-holder is a criminal.

(Maybe lots of your account holders do default – but that doesn’t mean all of us should be treated like criminals-in-the-making, does it?)

And employ a writer with some human suss, for goodness sake! You catch more flies with honey, remember?

 - Fin24

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own.

Follow Fin24 on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest.

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