The American Express Mess
One day I received a gift box containing a perfectly beautiful pocket diary with gilt-edged pages, leather-bound and embossed with my initials in platinum. That same day there arrived a truly snotty (unsigned) letter from C. Hoke in the Collections Department of the American Express Centurion Bank, Wilmington, Del.:
“We have received notification from our office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that you have requested your Gold Card to be cancelled,” Hoke scolded. “In view of this, your Centurion Line of Credit account has been cancelled.”
(See the hyperlink below for the actual letter.)
After all the loving care from the folks at Platinum Card, I was made to feel like I had joined the ranks of the unwanted by C. Hoke, Collections, American Express Centurion Bank, whose organization had just extended to me—a brand new Platinum Cardmember—$10,000 in revolving credit and sent me checks the week before.
Could not Hoke have written that he or she was sorry to lose me as a Gold Cardmember, and offer me warmest congratulations and best wishes for moving up to Platinum? No, C. Hoke could not. Nobody at American Express talks to each other. They don’t need to.
The fact is that the success of American Express Travel Related Services is based on one premise: that cardholders need American Express more than American Express needs its cardholders. Quite simply, what American Express offers—unlike Visa or MasterCard—is virtually an unlimited amount of credit on a cardmember’s signature. And its customers accept the unacceptable because they don’t dare do anything that might muck-up the incredible benefit of unlimited credit.
What should American Express—indeed every direct marketer—do? Put together a committee made up of top people from every division—together with their agencies—and spend one week every three months thinking through every possible scenario: Green Card stepping up to Gold ... Personal Green switching to Corporate Green. It means tracking down those people who have Corporate Cards and Personal Cards so that they are not continually cross-sold on products they already have. Every single piece of correspondence should be closely examined with an eye toward what the effect will be from the recipient’s point of view, line-by-line, word-by-word. If that were done, the C. Hoke letter would never have been mailed.