Most all of us, whether we notice it or not, spend a good part of our lives in some form of consumer-company interaction. Whether we are shopping for groceries, banking, paying rent, shopping for clothes, picking a movie, buying a book, selling our services, working for a company whose services we are performing for customers or eating at a restaurant. I'm not sure what percentage of our lives are spent on one side of the equation or the other, but I'd guess that a good majority of our time is spent consuming or selling. And though I dislike the term 'consumer', the truth is that in today's world, that's what it resembles. It's transactional, impersonal and more often than not marginalizing. It's as if it is in the DNA of business to push the limits on how badly it can treat the customer to maximize revenue. And over the years, it seems, that limit has been creeping further down the rabbit hole of customer hell. Pain limits are pushed to a level where the customer *almost* decides the transaction isn't worth making with the business, but when the customer gets used to that pain level, the business pushes the pain further. And so on until we are so used to poor treatment, the simplest gesture that makes us feel empowered again feels like a win.
With online soapboxes like Twitter, blogs and Facebook, though, the individual has the ability to connect with other individuals to get a better deal, and the bigger the soapbox, the more we are empowered. The only problem is that business has got wind of this soapbox and works strategically on shutting it down.
I was working away at my computer today when my phone rang. I picked it up to hear the friendly voice of a representative from CIBC, the bank I deal with in Canada. "How are you today, Miss Hunt? I'm calling to see if I can help you with the issue you were having with CIBC the other day." I paused to wait for it, "You know, the one you posted about online?"
Bingo. CIBC is using some tracking software to pick up mentions on Twitter and the blogs (most likely will reply to this post, too) and then saw that I have over 30k followers and that particular rant started a rather large conversation. Because of this, my 'issue' was escalated to a personal service department where I now have a personal service agent who I may call at any point with issues. Awwww. Isn't that nice?
No. It's strategic. And it's a lovely and nice way to try to silence me. Like attracting more bees with honey. Or being the sun in the parable about the wind and sun in competition to remove the coat from the man. And the gentleman I chatted with at CIBC was awesome and said he'd relay all of my suggestions to the proper decision makers and gave me his personal number and released some money from the hold, but I'm still not satisfied.
Because, well, I don't take bribes (#12) even when they don't look like one. I want change. I don't want to see change for me, I want to see change for everyone. I want banks to stop experimenting with how far they can push us before we cry 'uncle' on their policies and start thinking about how they can help us achieve our dreams with customer-empowering policies. I want business to invest in technology that streamlines and helps the customer experience, not technology that spies on us. I would even go as far as sitting down with executives at CIBC for FREE to understand what the hold up is and to consult with them on improving their system for customers. I'd even connect them to the right talent to implement the system. Hell, I want this so badly I'd even pay for this to happen.
Every business starts facing a decision to make: are we here to serve customers or are we here to get rich? Conventional wisdom, set by standards that are unproven and short-sighted, leads most businesses to pick the latter. But picking customer happiness as the core driver to your business is actually the better way. It leads to satisfaction, loyalty, positive word-of-mouth, efficiency and, ultimately, riches for the business. Happy customers means you spend less on customer acquisition and retention, employee retention and recruitment, innovation (you are more innovative, but use less resources), and operations (happy customers lead to more efficient operations as you, by definition, become more efficient). You'll beat the competition every time because they can't figure out why customers flock to you while they have rock bottom prices.
As I've been quoted saying, 'Designing your product for monetization first, and people second will probably leave you with neither.' As the market tips more and more towards the whims of the customer, this will ring more and more true. Now is the time for us to use all of the power we have to move business in the direction of customer-centric thinking. It's good for everyone.