Monday, December 1, 2008/
The customer is always right, or so the story goes. But is the culture of customer worship creating a monster? The customer is always right. We need to ask our customers what they want. If we follow our customers and meet their needs they will lead us to the future. And on and on and on.
The trouble is, it just isn’t true.
Now I am certainly not saying that you should ignore your customers – they are after all the reason you are in business. But taking into account their wants and needs and getting their feedback is a very different proposition to abdicating direction of your organisation and over-catering to a bunch of people who, for the most part, find it tough to make decisions about their own lives, let alone know what they want from your next product cycle.
Imagine for a minute if Apple had asked the customer what they wanted instead of just marching ahead and showering us with iMacs, iPods and iPhones? We would probably be stuck with technology as usual that just worked a bit better than the last incarnation. Radical leaps come from the courage and vision of the few, not the watered down micro-wants of the many.
But more than future direction, I am even more worried about the behaviour of customers. The over-catered-to, made to feel special, I-am-the-most-important-person-in-the-world customer of today comes complete with over-inflated expectations and the self importance of a wannabe celebrity.
This article from Harvard has some great pros and cons of involving the customer.
And boy, when things don’t go exactly their way, they take no prisoners in letting everyone within screeching distance know it. Think I’m wrong? Just hang out by the airline check-in counter when a flight is cancelled or delayed!
Of course the customer isn’t totally to blame – after all the companies often set up the expectations by over promising on anything and everything they think will give them a competitive advantage (and if you are doing that, then now would be a good time to stop). However, I don’t think it’s just my imagination, the over-the-top reactions of customers really seem to be getting worse.
Thanks to the internet, the slightest grievance can now be vented around discussion forums, blog sites and customer complaint sites. Do some companies deserve it? Sure. But I’m not talking about really egregious cases of corporate malfeasance.
Seriously, is it really OK to take out your wrath on the customer service person trying to find the package that went astray, or on the flight attendant trying to get you on the next available flight because weather delays have half the country grounded, or on the sales person who doesn’t have your size in stock?
Has basic civility eroded to the point where behaviour that would get a five year old sent to the naughty mat is deemed justified just because something doesn’t go exactly the way you thought it should?
I am sure every business person reading this has customerzilla stories galore (and please feel free to share them in the comments section), so how can we reverse this trend?
A great start will be companies not over promising. A good follow up will be to acknowledge that all customers aren’t created equal and it is perfectly OK to send them packing if they cross the line from garden variety demanding to outright rude or abusive – there are times when the customer is not right.
See you next week!
Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia, and Brand Alignment Group in the United States, she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.
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