Every now and again a company does something that is so incomprehensible, so mystifying, that it blows my mind. I have had two such experiences in the last week, and have to tell someone about it – if for no other reason than just to get you thinking about ways in which you might completely and utterly alienate your customers. You might be doing so for very good business reasons (at least, in the short term), but ultimately your actions could push your customers away.

And they’ll never come back. I know I won’t be going back to either Bantam Live or Santander Business Banking.

Over a year ago, our small company started using Bantam Live. It is a fantastic social media based customer relationship management (CRM) system. It has a Facebook like feel to it, and allows our geographically dispersed team to not only capture and manage client information, deals, and projects, but also chat with each other, log emails sent to clients and much more. It has become an integral part of how we manage our business and connect as a team.

We happily upgraded from the free version to a paid version last year, to ensure we could have our whole team connected and use all of the great features. Every one of our team use the system daily.

Bantam Live’s team is also great. They’re hugely responsive to queries, and very ready to take requests for feature upgrades and additions. We’ve come to rely on the functionality that Bantam Live provides for our business.

So, we were thrilled when Bantam Live announced that Constant Contact had bought them, and would be integrating Bantam’s social approach into Constant Contact’s much more powerful customer connection software. The best of both worlds. Or so we thought…

Bantam have announced in the past week that they will be shutting down their system on 1 July, and only relaunching the service next year once they’ve integrated with Constant Contact. We have to export our data by then, or it will be completely deleted. We are also promised that we will be offered a special discount price when they relaunch next year.

Are they joking? Or are they just insane?

Do they genuinely think that we will wait until 2012 for them to re-emerge? I am speechless. And angry. We trusted them, and they’ve dropped us. We now have to spend time finding another solution, transferring our data, setting up again, getting our whole team to convert and learn a new system, and changing how we work.

Do they REALLY think we’ll do that all again next year and move back to them? Come on. They must be joking. Or maybe they really are insane.

Either way, they’ve lost us forever! And they’ve lost all the people we would have sent their way. I think I’ve probably introduced over 20 other small businesses to them in the last few months. I am embarrassed now, because many of them are in the same position I am in. Let down, abandoned, damaged.

And why did Bantam do this? They probably have excellent operational reasons. Their official press release says: “As part of this transition process, we’ve determined that we need to phase out of the current version of Bantam Live by July 1, 2011. We apologize for this inconvenience, but it is unfeasible for us to develop and support two separate versions of the Bantam product.” Unfeasible? How much would it cost them to keep one person on our accounts? How much would it cost them to simply say: “We’re no longer going to support Bantam – we’re not developing it or growing it until next year. But keep using it until we’re ready to move you to our awesome new system”? But no. They have decided that it makes the most business sense to shut us down, send us away and start again.

On reflection, they must be insane. And for that reason, I’m out. Goodbye Bantam Live, it was fun while it lasted, but it’s over now.

My second experience is of a similar type.

We have a business banking account with Santander (previously Abbey), which includes debit cards and a cheque book. We’ve felt we needed credit cards for some time (specifically for international travel, where debit cards are not accepted). About two months ago, I tried to make application. It was such a long and complicated process, with three different people phoning me (at inappropriate times) and then not phoning me at the appointed times we had agreed on. I just gave up.

But earlier this week, I tried again. I phoned them (there’s no online way of doing this) and asked about opening a credit card. They told me that they were not issuing credit cards anymore. The exact quote: “we tried it for a while and have realised that it just wasn’t working out for us at all.” That’s a real pity. You see, we’ve decided that as a business our directors cannot survive without credit cards. So if our bank can’t give us credit cards, we’re going to have to change banks. Simple as that. This is a deal breaker. What made Santander’s response even worse was that they offered no apology, no alternatives and no further explanation.

They must also be insane. We will be saying goodbye to them soon.

Both of these companies have not only inconvenienced me – they have made my life considerably more difficult. They have stolen precious hours – maybe even days – of my company’s time. They have angered their customer.

Both of these companies probably have exceptionally good internal process reasons for these decisions. But they are short term minded business decisions. They might be “good for business”, but they’re damaging – even ruining – customer relationships.

Three years from now, will these companies be stronger or weaker for these decisions? I would suggest that they’re very likely to be weaker. Not because of these specific decisions (which might bring short term rewards), but because of the mindset behind them that neither understands, nor engages with customers.

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