October 30, 2008
When Amex Loses, So Do You
Just had an interesting experience with American Express that I think does not bode well for the meeting industry.
I'm doing a project for a conference using an online printer. I went to charge a not-all-that-unusually high figure to cover print and postage.
I've been doing this for the same client for roughly the same amounts at the same time each of the past four years. Because he's also a good friend, it's the only time I'll advance print/postage charges on my card. Never had a problem before.
I call Amex to see what's up. They tell me that because my monthly charge total has been averaging X for the past six months, this new charge, which is higher, was automatically declined as it does not reflect my "pattern" of spending. That, and I had a Sign and Travel balance I'd been carrying.
And here I thought the whole purpose of the Sign and Travel feature was to allow for carrying a balance. Silly me.
It didn't matter that I've had this pattern of major Q4 print and postage purchases for the past four years. To Amex, it only matters what has happened in the past six months.
The representative (who was very nice) told me that if I pay my current Sign and Travel balance AND the charges I've incurred this month to date - which I haven't even received a statement for yet - then, with the approval of a supervisor, I can put through the print and postage purchase I'm trying to make.
I pay. My purchase goes through. My conference can now be marketed.
Then I ask her a question. I have an even bigger job that I need to print in three weeks. It's 3x the amount I just charged. I've also done that for four years running. The rep tells me I have to call ahead to get that charge approved. And that I may have to prepay some part of that charge in order to get it approved by Amex.
At that point, it simply makes more sense to pay by check, doesn't it?
Now, I've been a "member" with Amex since 1984. I understand they're having some difficulties. But this seems absurd.
And while I am willing to work around this because I have to get this print job out, how many potential attendees whom you're targeting for your next conference will find themselves in the same situation, trying to put through a big flight or hotel or registration fee that exceeds their six month spending "pattern", and when their purchase is declined, will just say, "Screw it," and not attend?
My guess is that it will be quite a few. For two reasons. First, it's a pain to deal with and even if it's Amex's fault and not yours... well, it rubs off. And there's a decent chance many of those potential attendees won't have the funds handy to pay off their current balances.
Second, and this is more critical, is that anything that in the way of completing the registration process is an opportunity for your potential customer to reconsider whether they really need to attend your event. As many attendees use Amex to complete their purchase, many are going to be in for a rude surprise. And my guess is, that once they're done fuming over the problem with Amex, they may discover it really wasn't as urgent to register for your event at that moment as they thought.
In other words, when Amex has a problem, it creates problems for others. And you lose.
Be prepared for it.