Prudential Prudently Addresses Overcharge Gaffe in Singapore
Insurance giant Prudential caused a flap in Singapore last week with a major customer-service blunder. The company’s reaction was swift enough that it should be able to contain the damage — though some customers fumed.
On Thursday, May 24, Prudential Singapore discovered it had deducted too much money — in some cases 100 times the correct amount — from customers’ accounts for their insurance-premium payments. About 22,000 customers had excessive amounts taken, according to The Business Times.
“This is likely an unprecedented incident in Singapore, with an inquiry report expected from Prudential and its payment bank Standard Chartered Bank in weeks to come,” The Business Times wrote. The Monetary Authority of Singapore said the insurance company and the bank would have to investigate the incident’s cause.
While that sounds serious, Prudential did a fairly good job of communicating, and had the accounts credited within a day.
The company announced the flub on its Facebook page at 11 p.m. that Thursday (all times local). The mistake was due to a “technical error,” it said, and helpfully explained that “this was not a cyber attack.”
It did apologize for the inconvenience. It said it was working on the issue and expected to have the accounts credited within 24 hours. Prudential would also refund any interest lost or charges incurred due to the problem. (The situation involved the general Giro accounts Singaporeans use to pay bills.) It provided a hotline number and said it would be posting updates.
The next day at 12:30 p.m., Prudential provided an update saying that the credits were in progress on a rolling basis. In a further Facebook update at 4:45 p.m., it announced that the refunds had been completed. “We thank all our customers for their support as we worked to resolve this speedily,” it said.
That night, Prudential posted a one-minute video statement from its Singapore CEO, Wilf Blackburn (pictured). Blackburn reiterated that all affected customers should have had their accounts refunded by then. “Since we discovered the error, our priority has been to ensure that you got your money back quickly,” he said.
He was fairly effusive in his apologies. “I understand the inconvenience and anxiety that this incident has caused you,” he said. “We are truly sorry and we thank you for your patience. You put your faith in us and we’re doing everything we can to put this right.”
Blackburn said the company pledged “to learn from this experience and improve, to serve you better in the future.”
While that may have ended the matter (pending any investigation), it in fact did not. The next night (Saturday) at 6:30, Prudential posted a written message from the CEO on Facebook. It was similar to the video but announced that, “as a sign of our appreciation for your patience and support,” Prudential would give the affected customers 100 Singapore dollars, or about US$74.
We can only guess a decision was made that making customers whole was not enough. Facebook comments from customers generally did not ooze love. With the 22,000 customers, the mea culpa cash will cost the company about US$1.6 million.
So all in all, Prudential did a decent job of handling its crisis communications: It fessed up to the fumble, apologized, and offered something of substance (the S$100) as penance. The one missing piece was more information on how the screw up happened (and whether heads will roll because of it).
As one Facebook commenter wrote: “Saying sorry to the policy holders, yet did not disclose the full details of the error — is not an responsible act of Prudential Singapore. We need more transparency in this matter.”
Maybe that will come when the probe is done.
Photo Credit: Prudential
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