Customer as King or pawn?

Before my father went into marketing, he was in sales management and took sales training seriously. This was the era of John Cleese training videos and my brothers and I always had the first viewing of the latest comedic masterpiece.

The age-old customer service messages weaved into the entertaining and memorable format were tenets of sound business:

  • The customer is king
  • Don’t make the customer a pawn in your organizational chess game
  • The customer isn’t there for your gratification or to make your life easier
  • Neglect your customer at your peril – the competition is ready to make a move

Fast forward about half a century and those messages are as relevant today; or are they? In a connected world, where customer experience, touch points and reputation are all the rage, how come positive customer experiences remain in the minority (at least in my experience)?

‘Customer Experience’ is visceral before it is digital. Speaking for myself, service and product purchases impact every part of my life – almost all are experiences I would rather not have:

  • I live in an apartment block which over the last 20 years has increased service charges way in excess of inflation while consistently deteriorating the level and type of service and overall experience
  • I attend a gym that has, likewise, over the past 20 years consistently and determinedly destroyed the fitness experience
  • I purchase fresh juices from a well-reputed hygienic chain but got violently ill straight after I consumed the last purchase a few days ago
  • I buy food from a local reputable chain that I suspect is not as fresh and healthy as they claim. (What do you do if you can’t eat the food you buy?!)
  • I use an airline for international travel (the most direct route) that continues to frustrate and annoy
  • I set up an account with a CNN-featured financial transactions company purely on the assurance by the CEO that customers are his number one priority. All went smoothly for 4 months until the transfer fee jumped suddenly from $2.94 to $23.76 for the same amount to the same account.  (I joke not.) A quick cessation to my use of the service ensued, but what about the time I spent setting up the account in the first place…….? How do I recover that lost value?
  • Finally, I’m sure I am not alone in experiencing a spike in blood pressure when purchasing services online….and don’t get me started on Microsoft Office online ‘support’.

And, is it just me, or is there anyone else out there who resents having your computer controlled by an outside entity, stealing your time?

Customer service – all but a dream?

I do wonder: Am I particularly fussy or is it reasonable to assume that I won’t be annoyed, frustrated, poisoned, harmed, over-charged and/or denied the service I was led to believe I purchased? Has life become more complicated and is great customer service simply a thing of a nostalgic past?

Were the previously-described business tenets simply not true and they died a natural and irrelevant death? Or, are they still true, but simply too hard to achieve and therefore conveniently ignored?

There are exceptions which are a pure delight, including:

  • The local Automobile Association, who not only provide a superbly easy online experience but are also a phone call away from personalised – yes, human! – help
  • A local bank (BNZ) whose Digital leader ensures his team regularly spends time talking to people on the street (literally). He was surprised that I was surprised.
  • A local television programme called Fair Go that is celebrating 40 years of broadcast, in an era of rapidly shrinking traditional media. Customers’ rights continue to be publicly defended each week as examples of unfair treatment are investigated and broadcast. Companies respond to this in a number of ways, but for all, it a chance for resolution.
  • A small restaurant in South Africa (called Pasha’s) sells pumpkin-base pizza – a healthy slice of heaven.

It can be done. Every organisation starts out with the best of intentions; no business I have heard of (possibly other than Fawlty Towers) prides itself on poor service.

One-to-one marketing in the digital era?

The digital era is surely one in which one-to-one marketing – what we were told was the competitive edge during the 90s– can at last be actualized. At a time of AI and stretchy sensors, brain implants to control prostheses and driver-less cars, has the time at last arrived for the Customer to ascend the throne?

It seems not. Recently my 90-year old mother was told her phone simply could not support an App she had lost access to. The millennials in the local telecom shop (where she purchases her service) did their best – they phoned colleagues in other branches, tapped into their knowledge database, tried this, that and the other, all to no avail.  Fortunately, mum doesn’t believe that things can’t be done and with her younger (80-year old) friend, simply downloaded it from the App store and her life continues in the manner to which she has become accustomed.(I suggested she offer her tech support services at said shop. I can vouch for her pleasant manner and good old-fashioned common sense.)

Pawn to Bishop

Is it a matter of voting with our feet? If being treated like royalty is a move too far, should we simply refuse to move in directions that suppliers insist we move.

I find myself longing for a time when the business I paid for a service simply did what it claimed, and what I paid for.

Considering markets like India and China, and emerging demographics, I do realise I am a mere speck of dust on the global market chess board and maybe the customer experiences that companies design simply aren’t targeted at me. But I still dream that I am important; that as a customer, I count. (I blame John Cleese for this delusion.)


About Cherri Holland

Fascinated with business, brains and how to use the brains on the payroll to make business buzz.
This entry was posted in Organisation success. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Customer as King or pawn?

  1. Good one, Cherri!


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