Credit Card Reward Programs: Cut to the Chase

Chase Card Services has just announced the introduction of a new credit card rewards program. Dubbed Chase Sapphire, it’s aimed at the top 15% income-earning households in the U.S. The program offers the usual premium travel services, a variety of reward-level awards, reward points that never expire, a 24-hour access to a dedicated customer service team, and other perks.

What is Chase Card Services up to, introducing a new rewards program at this particular time? It seems like Sapphire Rewards is destined to deliver only mediocre results at best in the current toxic consumer environment.

But Chase is pressing forward, undaunted. In fact, it’s offering two program levels, including a “preferred” level that offers a bevy of additional goodies such as the ability to transfer reward points to various airline and hotel programs, free bonus points for high spenders, enhanced identity protection and so forth – all for a “low” added fee of $95 per year (waived the first year).

It all sounds so ordinary. But just as you might be thinking that this new rewards program has all the pizzazz of a cold mashed potato sandwich, look more closely. There’s something actually pretty unique being offered among the grab-bag of benefits.

What could be the best benefit of all is the 24-hour dedicated customer service team that comes along with the Sapphire program. What does this mean for customers? To quote the Chase press release, when a cardholder calls in, “a specially trained advisor picks up the phone – with no need to navigate a voice-response system.”

Well, well!

Maybe, just maybe, Chase has conducted focus groups and discovered how wildly unpopular telephone trees are with consumers. Those obnoxious trees may be the single most irritating aspect of customer account service.

Phone trees transform what would normally be a short, simple phone contact into a marathon event. Moreover, often the myriad account information, social security numbers, phone numbers or other data that have been so painstakingly voice e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e-d or punched into the phone keypad never make it to the customer rep who finally does come on the line … and who then proceeds to ask for the same information all over again.

And here’s another black mark: How many consumers end up having to yell into the telephone in order for the voice recognition system to do what it’s actually supposed to do – correctly recognize what the person is saying? It’s no wonder the decibel level of many phone calls escalates from “normal” to “screaming” within the span of mere seconds.

Seeing as how Chase is targeting only affluent households with its new Sapphire Rewards program, perhaps they’re willing to spend a few extra dollars on “real live” customer service, figuring the ROI will work itself out with this customer segment.

Certainly, for beleaguered consumers who are tired of doing battle with the annoying phone trees, the prospect of interacting with real customer service people must seem like nirvana.

Here’s an idea. Why don’t the folks at Chase Card Services try scrapping all of the reward benefits associated with the Sapphire program and leave just the 24/7 live customer service feature in place? And then use the savings to extend that courtesy to the rest of the Chase credit card customer base. That would be novel, wouldn’t it?

Besides, they might actually gain more customer loyalty in the bargain.

One thought on “Credit Card Reward Programs: Cut to the Chase

  1. Phil — It’s a fact: any company that uses a phone tree is NOT serious about customer service. Period.

    What’s amazing to me is that any business executive could actually believe that his/her customers don’t mind the wretched things.

    In fact, I suspect executives know the truth, they just don’t care—they want to save the money. (My apologies to the several people I know who are in the phone-tree business.)

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