Companies that prefer the naughty to the nice

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I’m going to leave happy holiday messages for others and ask you this question instead: How do you avoid ending up on your naughty customer list?

I ask because there are companies that routinely put aside goodwill and treat their customers like… well, dirt. And yet I wonder if, inside these companies, their employees realize that customers see them as Grinches?

Yes, most companies do customer-centric training because it generates profit, loyalty, and viral referrals. And that’s why some – for example Nordstrom, Starbucks, and many successful sports franchises – go out of their way to create personal and respectful relationships with their followers.

And yet there are others for whom customers seem to be a drawback, or worse, nothing at all. The top companies in this category have traditionally been in the cable and airline industries. But unfortunately others seem to be joining their ranks, and I offer them a lump of coal in their vacation stockings.

These Scrooge-like organizations don’t just forget that customers are people; they do not understand how many potential dangers await those who displease the consumer market. Ultimately, these market forces can be scarier than any Ghost of Christmas Past.

This is because when disgruntled customers find a more desirable alternative available in sufficient quantity, they will give up everything that came before it. The speed of this change can be the downfall of any business.

For example, ten years from now, according to McKinsey consultants, we will all be able to hail private air taxis for about the same fares as taxis downstairs. Thus, we can predict that companies operating crude or overpriced taxi services today will see their customers flock to the faster, sleeker, and more straightforward alternative as soon as it becomes available.

At this point, it will be too late to launch a “positive customer relationship initiative” at the old taxi barn. But as you may remember from A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge only sees the light after Ghost of Christmas Future shows him his own funeral.

How to make the naughty list

What, exactly, can be called the bah-humbug-level of bad customer practice in the market today? Here are a few examples that come to mind.

1. Treat customers like goods

This is the category that puts some airlines in difficulty. For example, Spirit Airlines, which regularly registers negative NPS scores (more detractors than supporters), is infamous for treating its customers like cattle and, to add even more insult, charging high fees for things like the water. While they pay off in the short term due to low airfares, in the long term reputation matters. Today, the company is trading at around a quarter of its 2015 peak.

So Spirit Airlines is earning a lump of coal for treating its customers like herding animals – or maybe worse, because herding animals aren’t charged for water. My humble request: Give customers what they want: to be treated like humans, with dignity and reasonable comfort. You’ll get a lot more if you do.

Speaking of airlines – although this is now an old story – my favorite example of customer service gone bad is told by musician Dave Carroll. If you’re not yet one of the 20 million people who have listened to his legendary song, United breaks the guitars, Please do so. This is a four-minute college-level seminar on how an abused client becomes famous and a rigid business is left in search of an oxygen mask. Learn how to avoid similar situations in your business.

2. The old switcheroo

Credit cards that market to low-income consumers often fall into this category, where the borrower is surprised to find themselves paying 30% interest after being lured by interest-free or low-interest sales pitches. . I recently ran into a similar situation with a marketing company called HubSpot. Their salesperson presented one thing and delivered something else. Then the company brushed off my many requests for support by pointing their finger at their contract and basically saying, “It’s not our problem. Beat it. ”(I later found a trail of similar complaints at the Better Business Bureau.)

The challenge facing organizations that employ such practices is that these markets are large, so a company’s hostile behavior is an invitation for competitors to enter the space and simply take significant market share. by treating customers better.

So, predatory lenders and traders, you have also earned your lump of coal. My modest request: Sell customers what they want, not what they don’t want. In huge markets there is room for transparency and profit.

3. Politically inappropriate positions

When consumers spend money, they think it is going towards the goods and services they have chosen. So it’s no surprise that these same clients react negatively when they learn that their money is being used to fund political views they oppose. This is a situation that creates a public relations nightmare and, potentially, lowers the value of stocks.

For example, when rumors circulated that the founder of Home Depot gave one presidential candidate $ 7 million, consumers who supported the other candidate moved their businesses elsewhere. More recently, Publix, the regional grocery chain, has struggled to downplay the news that the Publix heiress had funded the events surrounding the capture of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. It doesn’t matter whether the cause an heir supports either red or blue; advertising related to any political controversy will upset too many people to be good for a consumer retail organization. And it’s not just the customers who are unhappy; many employees and shareholders are also unhappy with the uproar and the resulting decline in stock values.

This is the sort of thing that Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s partner, returned from the grave to warn him about. Thus, he earns his lump of coal, as well as my humble request that the heirs respect the consumers who have been the source of their wealth by not using that wealth against them.

The bottom line is that in the long run, it costs a business more to maintain buffoonish behavior than it does to adopt a respectful, customer-centric approach. Scrooge-ness as a strategy weakens an organization’s market position and can shorten its lifespan, but it doesn’t have to be. As Dickens taught us with his fable, we always have the power to do better. And that is my hope for all of us in 2022.


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