Your customers are not the enemy

“Our customers are trying to screw us.”

Come on, you know you think it. There is no other rational explanation for the crazy, nefarious, alienating policies that are pursued by too many companies to count.

The recent Jetstar case, where a couple who had tragically lost a child while on holiday had to pay extra to return home early because they couldn’t produce a death certificate, being just one outrageous example.

Here’s a suggestion – how about making policies for the majority and deal with the minority on a case-by-case basis. Because the majority don’t want to screw you. They really don’t. Most customers just want to be treated fairly. To get what they paid for, when they pay for it.

Sure there will be outliers. People who try and scam the system and take advantage. But as a percentage of your customers they won’t amount to much, and certainly won’t amount to enough to justify alienating the rest in the process of dealing with them.

Airlines are kings of these kinds of policies, but every business seems to think if they don’t draw a hard and fast line in the sand they will be trampled as their customers run amok.

So here’s a story about a company that changed the dynamic. They talked about customer satisfaction and meant it. And no it isn’t Zappos!

Meet Granite Rock. They are a 100+ year old company in the US that sells rock for road and building construction. They have a goal to provide total customer satisfaction and to back it up they have a little thing called “short pay”. Jim Collins talks about it in his HBR article “Catalytic Mechanisms”:

“The bottom of every Granite Rock invoice reads, “If you are not satis?ed for any reason, don’t pay us for it. Simply scratch out the line item, write a brief note about the problem, and return a copy of this invoice along with your check for the balance.

Let me be clear about short pay. It is not a refund policy. Customers do not need to return the product. They do not need to call and complain. They have complete discretionary power to decide whether and how much to pay based on their satisfaction level.”

Now here’s a company that isn’t afraid of its customers. I often repeat this example to my clients and without exception I get the same response – nervous laughter accompanied by something like “no way, with our customers we would go broke…”

Really. Does Granite Rock have a special breed of customers? We are talking construction companies here, not usually known for being easygoing pushovers.

I think what’s going on is Granite Rock have confidence in their product, in their service and their ability to keep their promises, and so aren’t worried that their customers will take advantage of them.

So what policies do you have in place that are there to “protect” you from your evil plotting customers? You know, the ones who walk in the door looking for ways to take advantage of you.

Guarantees and warranties with so many clauses they are effectively useless. Returns policies that are only store credits and not a refund. Ticketing policies that require a death certificate before any compassion. Baggage policies that stretch the boundaries of any sensible person’s patience. Speed cameras that don’t do anything to curb speeding. I could go on all day.

Now, before all the companies reading this jump on me, I am not for one minute suggesting that you shouldn’t have policies and guidelines for your business. They are necessary. All I am saying is to have a look at them and ask yourself two questions:

1. If I were the customer would I find this reasonable?
2. Does this truly represent what our brand stands for?

If the answer to either of those questions is no, then you know what to do.

See you next week for my annual “Good, Brand and Ugly” roundup.

Michel Hogan is a Brand Advocate. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia and in the United States, she helps organisations recognise who they are and align that with what they do and say, to build more authentic and sustainable brands. She also publishes the Brand thought leadership blog – Brand Alignment.


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