An Experience With An American Express HERO

Ever since I signed my daughter up for a frequent-flier program, she's been receiving at least one credit card offer from American Express every week. Problem is, she's 2. It's unnerving to say the least to have these kinds of offers coming to your kids, but it's not hard to imagine how it happened. In fact, I know exactly how it happened since I had the same issue with my 4-year-old about a year ago — one company shares a contact list with or sells it to another, and somehow nobody filters for age (if that's even in the database, though one would assume it is). And voilà, mail campaigns are targeting your kids.

We started receiving these emails for about six months, about the time we took a family trip to Chicago. Finally, I got fed up and put in a call to American Express, which, to be fair, is not the real culprit here. However, I called, and after negotiating the IVR system (that seemed determined to give me an unwanted download on my account status, though that's a bit off-topic), I was routed to a representative who listened to my problem and expressed genuine shock at the situation, immediately making me feel like there was someone who understood — someONE, not some nameless, faceless database that was spitting out those credit card offers. It put me at ease to the point where I would have felt comfortable if the representative told me she had to mail some forms that I'd have to fill out and return. Instead, the representative asked me to wait a moment while she sorted this out. Clearly, this was not a typical request, so I figured it would take some time. However, after a few short minutes of waiting, the representative came back to tell me that she had submitted the necessary paperwork and that the mailings should cease within a few weeks. She apologized for the inconvenience in a human — not robotic — tone and sent me on my way.

As I hung up the phone, I couldn't help but think of the representative who assisted me as a HERO (highly empowered and resourceful operative) in the Empowered sense of the word. It got me thinking about what it takes to provide an emotionally fulfilling service experience over the phone. Here are a few key aspects from this experience:

  • Empathy. The rep I spoke with was genuine and understanding. In interacting with her, I felt like she understood me, like she might have had a child of a similar age and was able to put herself in my shoes.
  • Ownership. I'm sure American Express doesn't get many requests like the one I had. But that didn't seem to matter. The representative told me she was going to speak with a manager to get the problem taken care of. And she did. Whatever rules they had in place (or didn't for something like this), I got the feeling that the rep was going to circumvent any of them that would have stood in her way. She owned the interaction from start to finish.
  • Expectation setting. The representative told me that it would likely take a few weeks to a month for all of the mailings to stop. At that point it didn't matter how long it took, as long as it stopped and I didn't have to jump through any more hoops.

So, how did American Express do this? As Megan Burns points out in her case study, "How American Express Empowers Call Center Employees To Deliver Great Customer Experience," it's no accident. In fact, American Express has implemented a rigorous program that demonstrates a commitment to great customer experience through great employee experience. It's time that more companies put this kind of focus on the people who are closest to their customers.