The original title for this blog post was going to be "Why Do Companies Seem To Hate Their Customers So Much?", but I thought that, despite some major business scandals over the past few years, the word 'hate' was a bit strong.
Well, a tiny bit strong.
Some may argue that many of the bad (and occasionally corrupt) practices leading to corporate scandals were less about company executives' antagonism towards their customers and more about wrongdoers surrendering to their base instincts and abusing positions of trust.
Nevertheless, in virtually every single case of financial impropriety, customers are affected. This could be through an increase in prices, a reduction in the scope or quality of services or - in the worse case scenario - a loss of entire life savings.
Encouragingly, companies and authorities around the world are trying to tighten things up, but human nature prevails and does not recognize regulation, so we will definitely see another major company embroiled in some shenanigans. Hopefully, it won't be any time soon. Fingers crossed...
Today's focus is on why (some) companies treat their customers 'badly'.
As consumers, we've all probably experienced, read or heard about nightmarish customer service: unpleasant staff, broken promises, hostile responses, lost orders, slow (or no) replies to complaints, outright lies and unauthorized withdrawals from your account.
Often, the profit motive sits on top of any other consideration, with consumers ending up being the 'collateral damage' in the ongoing battle to drive sales and build market share.
The rewards for success are significant, and sometimes, the needs of consumers seem to dismissed and viewed as an 'inconvenience' by bosses and employees.
However, consumers are not taking it lying down, with an increasing number, like Canadian musician Dave Carroll, using social media to hold companies to account.
Carroll recorded videos in protest over United Airlines reaction to his complaints after they 'broke his guitar'. The videos have been viewed more than 13 million views.
Closer to home, in the UK, we have active consumer advocates like journalist Martin Lewis who created the award-winning Money Saving Expert, along with Say No to 0870 which provides cheaper alternatives to the relatively high cost of so-called non geographic numbers and the inspired Please Press 1 which provide a shortcut through the seemingly endless list of options when you ring a company's customer service centre.
This should serve as a warning to companies - even those with huge cash reserves - who may be able to withstand the odd criticism here and there, but will struggle to face down the criticism and might of millions.
This is particularly important to the UK retail industry which has seen a significant number of companies going bust. Each case is different and involves a wide range of factors, but ultimately, it boils down to being able to attract enough people to buy as many of your products to make a profit.
If you make people feel appreciated for their custom, they'll return. Simple, no?
British consumers' association Which? today published the results of a survey of 11,000 people visiting 100 shops on the UK high streets. Apple was voted the best brand, while WH Smith was at the bottom.
Interesting to note that that in addition to Apple's attraction of being cool and stylish, their 'American-style personal service' was seen as a major boost to their brand.
Despite the low ranking, 'Smiths' is a profitable business, principally because of its premium retail locations in 'high foot traffic' train stations. They've apparently dismissed the report due to the 'small sample size', but have yet to convert retail specialist Mary Portas who says she 'hates visiting' the retailer's outlets.
The Which? findings say a great deal about changing attitudes among British shoppers towards 'acceptable' customer service.
On a personal note, I remember speaking to a few people some years ago who said they preferred the "more honest" (invariably ruder) approach to service, to the "fake" 'Have-a- nice-dayyyy!' American version.
Stating the obvious, customer service is everything from how you greet a customer at a counter to how you speak to them on the telephone and, how you handle a complaint to how you think about your customers. It involves a combination of performance, negotiation, selling, marketing and counselling.
All of these feed into a general impression of a business, thus that organisation's reputation.
The indifferent shop assistant who keeps customers waiting while having a personal conversation, the rude manager who harangues a customer for making a complaint and the company which treats customers as fodder have got to go.
In an increasingly networked world, consumers have many choices on where to spend their money.
"Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen" just doesn't work any more.
Thoughts on customer service, communication and, of course, reputation management.