Loyalty Isn’t Stupidity

We’ve been customers of a particular heating oil company almost since we’ve moved into this house. That was in 1985. Sure, on occasion we’ve asked around to see if we’re getting hosed on heating oil prices (not usually) and we’ve found them to be pretty reliable when there is an issue. The service techs show up quickly and are generally pleasant. Given the cost of fuel and the amount we use along with the annual inspections and tune-ups, the last 30 years of our business has probably been worth at least $100,000 to them. We won’t be renewing our contract in a couple of months. Here is why and it’s instructive for any business.

A few weeks ago we noticed some water on the basement floor near the water heater.  Our water heater is just a tank – the furnace actually heats it – so we called the oil company to come take a look.  Admittedly we told them we suspected a leaky water tank which they replaced.  The next day, water on the floor.  Repair comes back – it was a faulty circulator which they replaced.  Of course, that inexpensive part might have been the problem all along but no one actually ever checked it before pulling the tank.  New tank, new circulator and a dry floor.

That stopped after another couple of days.  More water in the same area.  We had the annual boiler inspection scheduled for three days later so we waited to see what it might be – hopefully not a furnace issue.  The inspector came and found the leak – it was a relief pipe and the leak was probably caused by an old or faulty valve.  The water tank?  The circulator?  No, they were fine.  The furnace was fine too.  Phew!

When we woke up the next day the house reeked of oil.  I thought it was just the residual smell from the burner cleaning.  The Mrs. went to look and found oil all over the floor.  Our fourth visit in a week from the fuel company to fix the problem (the cleaner had forgotten to shut something) resulted in a floor now covered in oil-absorbing kitty liter which they just called to come clean up in a few days.

In a sentence – the customer reported a problem which you misdiagnosed twice, selling them thousands of dollars of stuff they might not have needed.  You also screwed up a routine cleaning and now the customer is once again inconvenienced (the smell, having to be home for more service calls, etc).  This customer’s patience and loyalty are at an end.

That’s the lesson for all of us.  No matter how loyal a long-time customer has been, every interaction is an opportunity to win their business again.  When we take that loyalty for granted and are sloppy (a nicer word than dishonest), we make withdrawals from our loyalty bank account.  This company overdrew – we’re closing the account.  Our intention is to explain exactly why to them as we don’t renew.  Who knows – maybe I’ll just send them this link.

Lesson learned?

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