Curse of the fine print

A danger of growing companies is losing contact with customers and worse: hiding behind fine print.

Curse of the fine print

What a week! I send an Express Post accurately addressed from Melbourne to Sydney and it doesn’t arrive. So a day later I send the material again by Express Post and again it doesn’t arrive.

Australia Post – which offers a guarantee of next-day delivery – draws my attention to the fine print that says that it was not a “signature” delivery. That is, once scanned, the thing is delivered so far as Australia Post is concerned.

A day later, I deposit a cheque for a lot of money at my bank. It issues a receipt, but the money doesn’t end up in my account. The bank’s response is that they will “look into it”.

The fact that a small fry like me will use FedEx instead of Australia Post in the future for overnight delivery and that I will bad mouth the bank is no big deal to Australia Post or to the NAB.

The smaller the organisation the more vulnerable it is to its customer base. The smaller the customer base the greater the damage as a result of the loss of one customer.

I have seen managers tear their hair out when they learn they have lost a customer. “We have done everything we can for this customer; we have bent over backwards to help them and now they are going to the opposition. Good luck to them and the opposition, they are welcome!”

What about the customer’s story? We know that approximately 70% of customers desert a supplier because they feel that the supplier doesn’t care about them.

They organise a team to be onsite on the basis of a promise of the supplier that the product will be delivered on that date. It doesn’t turn up. They call the supplier who tells them that they have had terrible trouble and that the people they contracted to supply have let them down and they are bending over backwards to make the delivery as quickly as possible.

The customer complains, the supplier says the customer lacks understanding and doesn’t appreciate that they are doing their best and then accuses the customer of being unreasonable. Everyone blames one another, the customer defects and there is bad blood all around.

Sometimes, it is a seemingly trivial issue such as the repeated inability of the customer to manage the automated answering process that prevents them from getting through to the person they want, or the belief on the part of the supplier that it can save money by reducing the number of people on the help desk with the result that no one gets help.

It can be as small as failing to take or return a call or as large as making the delivery process a nightmare for the customer, where failed promises are the norm rather than the exception

What happens in growing organisations is that the increase in size of the organisation and of the customer base necessitates organisational efficiencies that anticipate rather than respond to difficulties.

Regrettably, organisational efficiency is not nearly as sexy as the next innovative product or as hitting budget on the next month’s sales, nor is it clearly understood.

So, think about how much time you spend on ensuring that the journey of the customer from day one to hundreds, if not thousands of days after the sale, work smoothly for your customers so that their expectations are consistent with your promise.

If you aren’t constantly refining your organisational performance, then one of these days, you will wonder why a customer left and it will be as simple as the fact that you didn’t do what you said you would do and when the customer complains, you replied “read the fine print”.


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