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  • Writer's pictureCindy McGrath

5 useful communication don'ts... if you want to retain customers

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Train approaching - don't proceed - photo by Vicky Nicoll on Unsplash
Stop! Don't proceed

Recently I received a mailing from a bank I’d never heard of telling me that AAA Northeast was moving the AAA Visa credit card account from a large national bank to them. This communication was bungled from the get-go. Here are 5 lessons that can be learned from their errors.


1) Have a third party control the message for your organization’s policy decisions: the communication looked like junk mail. I had never heard of the bank and would have thrown it away except that I read it because I have an affinity for AAA and saw them referenced. This was an AAA, not the bank’s, decision. AAA should have sent out this communication and explained its rationale for making the change.

Air traffic control - photo by Jorgen Hendriksen on Unsplash
Control your policy decision messages

2) Fail to review and correct vendor communications that are going to your customers: The letter from the bank stated that my AAA Gas Rebate Visa Credit Card was changing. I don’t have a gas rebate card. My son, who also has a AAA Visa card, threw away his mailing as he figured it didn’t apply to him.

3) Omit critical details: the credit card’s critical terms – annual fee and interest rate – were not outlined. There was a lot of information on the rebate program, but that’s a secondary consideration of the fee and interest rate. For the rebate program, it would have been helpful to show how the rebates were changing from the current credit card. The bank referred to their new card as the AAA Travel Advantage Credit Card, but it wasn’t outlined how this new card was geared to travel. This would have been a natural opportunity to mention the waiver of foreign transaction fees, but their policy on this wasn’t included.

4) Fall short in training customer service staff: After waiting on hold for over 20 minutes, I got through to a AAA customer service representative. She couldn’t answer my questions about the card and directed me to go to the new bank’s website. She put me back into the phone queue when I asked another question. Frustrated, I sent an email message asking why AAA didn’t notify customers directly. Two days later, I received a response that didn’t acknowledge my question but included a link to the new bank’s website. I noted that the new bank had corrected the “Gas Rebate” name to “AAA Visa Card.”

Broken dish - photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
Follow-up if you make a communications mistake

5) Neglect to follow up if you make a communication mistake: If you make a major communication mistake, own it. Send a communication as soon as you can that acknowledges that the customer may have received a confusing mailing. Be thoughtful, thorough, and accurate. Add this information to your website and social media challenges.

AAA will weather the fallout from this single communication debacle, although they will probably lose Visa cardholders. Member retention will be minimally affected given the small part the credit card has in the membership value. However, they’ll want to learn from these mistakes so that future communications don’t erode their membership base.

Photos by Vicky Nicoll, Jorgen Hendriksen, and CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash.

Cynthia McGrath helps businesses connect with their employees and customers through strategic marketing communications.


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