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Articles: When Companies Go Bad

I'm a consumer, just like you. My own personal experiences as a consumer frequently impact the way PowerMax operates. When I run into something exceptional, whether good or bad, I try to make sure our company learns from it.

A conversation I recently had with a representative at Chase gave me a clear example as to how a company can go exceptionally bad. I called them because I was curious about a credit card interest charge. My payment had been made well ahead of time, and in full or so I thought. It appears that my clumsy fingers hit a "7" instead of a "9" while paying the bill online, and I underpaid the bill by two bucks.

As most of us are aware, credit card companies make a very nice living using rules and policies to "earn" money from their customers by using just about any excuse to make you pay interest. The idea that a two dollar shortfall would create an interest charge on the entire amount is just one of the in my mind virtually usurious practices that have finally landed them into some long overdue scrutiny by the government.

But I digress. When I politely inquired if they could write off the interest charges because of such an obvious and minor mistake, the agent regretfully told me that their management has a policy in place that refuses to allow credit on their "interest" for any reason. I got the feeling that she could see it didn't make much sense, but her hands had been roped together and tied with an unbreakable knot by management.

Over the years, I have had a few issues with credit cards whereby a small misunderstanding resulted in similar issues, and in every case (until now) the person on the other line politely understood that it was just one of those things, and was able to provide good customer service and adjust the charge.

Apparently Chase is run completely by number crunchers, the irony of which is that they fail to do the math that would tell them that the canceling of my credit card (and it is oh so canceled) will lose them more income in a matter of weeks than they gained by being so ridiculously policy-driven. Some accounting-minded executives are only good at counting the actual income, and have no understanding about the loss of income created by unwavering policies.

The other part of that equation is that some companies get so big, or are otherwise so poorly managed, that they govern solely by policy. I think the reason they do that is because they're terrified that one of their lowly employees (which I think means everyone but the "C" level executives) will make a poor decision. So instead of assuming some degree of wisdom from their people, they put unbreakable rules in place so the employee can just blame it on policy, and not be allowed to use his or her own good judgment.

Conversely, later that same day, I called Alaska Airlines because the flights I had booked were getting a bit pummeled by Mother Nature, and I wasn't sure if my connections would work. In so much direct contrast to the Chase agent, the Alaska Air agent was very personable (I think it's obvious that employees are much happier knowing that their judgment is trusted, and I think it shows when you're dealing with a company that does just that), and creatively and cheerfully adjusted my flights around to better ensure I'd get to my destination. I've had that experience multiple times with Alaska, and as a result, they get my business whenever I'm able. I have no doubt that if it had been Chase Airlines, they would have charged me for whatever the Alaska Airlines agent did, if they'd do it at all, and with a lot less friendliness to boot.

At PowerMax, I refuse to ever allow us to even remotely smack of what Chase did to me. We do our best to emulate my experience with Alaska. We have real people, and they're all damned friendly by golly, and I want them interacting with customers via phone and email as often and as thoroughly as possible.

Sure, we screw up now and again. I hear about most of those because I ensure that all the feedback emails go right into my in box. We obviously can't prevent mistakes. In fact, I don't mind the kind of mistakes employees sometimes make when they're using their best judgment to solve a problem, as long as they keep the customer's point of view in mind. At PowerMax, our employees never put their job on the line or risk the wrath of a manager for making a decision they felt was fair and proper for the customer.

It seems that automation is the goal of a lot of companies nowadays. Our goal at PowerMax is a bit different. We automate where possible, but we don't remove the human being or his or her innate wisdom from the equation. Until robots get to be as perceptive and flexible as the Cylons in the updated Battlestar Galactica, PowerMax will keep human beings working with our fellow human beings, and without stupid policies that only make sense to some accountant's idea as to how to make a profit.
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