09122020 Vidro Loyalty Cards

So many loyalty cards.

By Arthur Vidro

Businesses want your loyalty. But are they willing to go the extra mile to earn it? Some make the effort, but too many don’t.

Loyalty needs to be earned. How? By service and attentiveness.

So-called “loyalty cards” that most chain stores want you to use don’t truly earn your loyalty. Those cards dispense little bribes to keep you going to them instead of to competitors who sell pretty much the same merchandise.

By granting perks to cardholders, those stores are treating as second-class citizens folks who lack loyalty cards. Which, in my book, reflects poorly on the company.

Back in 1981, I was visiting Atlanta and sought film for my camera. The common films then were 110, 127, and 35-millimeter, but my camera used 620 film.

The proprietor of a photo shop where I stopped did not carry the film. I thanked him for his time and started to leave.

He called me back. “Young man, that doesn’t mean I can’t help you find it.”

He made a few phone calls until he found a competitor that carried the film, then gave me directions.

Now that’s service. If I lived in Atlanta, he would have had a loyal customer for life.

Can you picture any chain store acting that way?

In the autumn of 1982, seven people in the Chicago area died from poisoned Tylenol capsules. A culprit who was never found laced capsules with cyanide, then slipped them back onto the stores’ shelves. And innocent victims purchased them.

This led to the obsessively tamper-resistant packaging on over-the-counter products in drugstores today.

Tylenol shone in handling the crisis. They were honest with the public and press. Immediately they told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They came across as sincerely concerned and apologetic, even though they themselves had done nothing wrong.

They recalled, without governmental prodding, 31 million bottles of Tylenol products from store shelves. Production halted. For a time, no Tylenol was sold in stores. Plus, if you had Tylenol capsules at home, you could exchange them for tablets, regardless of where or when you bought them.

That’s how Tylenol fought hard to retain customer loyalty. They succeeded in earning it.

Now let’s cut to January 2012. Excedrin, long my headache remedy of choice, had its own recall. Not a total recall, but one based on expiration dates printed on the bottles. I tried to comply. But I received zilch for my pills. Why? Because I had stored the pills in older containers that I found handier. Despite my explanation, Excedrin denied my claim. My pills qualified; I just didn’t have the containers to prove it.

Excedrin wasn’t loyal to me. Since then I haven’t bought a single Excedrin product. Loyalty is a two-way street, and they weren’t loyal.

About the same time, Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil offered a generous rebate. I sent in the required proofs of purchase and receipts to a company in Texas that was hired to handle the rebate program. Often, companies thus hired are given a pool of money and get to keep whatever is left over after the program expires, on top of their fee. So they have an incentive to deny claims.

A form letter denied my claim, falsely stating I hadn’t sent all the required paperwork. But I had kept photocopies of everything, so I re-sent those same materials – but to the president of Reynolds Wrap, in Virginia. I got back a nice letter, thanking me for my past business, agreeing my claim should have been accepted, apologizing for my experience, and in lieu of the rebate he sent coupons for free rolls of Reynolds Wrap, which were worth more than the rebate.

Yes, it’s likely the president didn’t write the letter, that someone on his staff tended to the matter. The point is, the company leader made an effort to retain an unhappy customer. Since then, I have been totally loyal to Reynolds Wrap. They earned my loyalty.

A veterinarian in Grafton County earned our loyalty in 2013 by saving our little dog’s life. We have been loyal to that vet ever since.

But this coming week, I’m taking that same little dog to a vet in Sullivan County for her annual physical, solely because the vet in Grafton (where COVID-19 is more prevalent) is not allowing pet owners into the building.

Seems to me at a physical one needs to see what the doctor is pointing out.

So I’m feeling a little disloyal to the Grafton vet. But we will return once pet owners are allowed back in.

Because they earned our loyalty.

If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro in the care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.

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