Why do some companies treat customers like idiots?

Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job. Anon

Maybe it’s just a product of getting old/grumpy (I prefer to think of myself as discerning) but seems to me that service is going down the toilet. This thought was set off by the launch of Dstv‘s new Box Office service but when thinking about it, numerous other recent examples sprang to mind:

– buying a car from a local dealer and after 6 months still having promised repairs unattended to. This despite not having the car for a full month so they could fix it. One of the issues outstanding is the service plan, hardly immaterial and I had to pay extra for it…

Cell C‘s problematic launch of the Speedstick and the specific problems they denied having in the Western Cape despite overwhelming proof to the contrary.

– checking in at SAA (which I rarely do, but flying to George has no alternatives) where everyone queues in one line for all flights because it maximizes airline efficiency but leads to a great deal of time-wasting and stress for customers. In the end they have to call passengers to the front of the line when the flights are about to close anyway.

– buying vouchers through Groupon and not being able to redeem them due to all manner of “reasons”. This makes more sense when interrogating the business model because they profit from unused vouchers.

– automated telephone voice responses that lie – “your call is important to us”. If it was, surely they would answer it? It’s impossible that every time you call they are experiencing “unusually high call volumes” or else they need more call centre operators.

– 2 magazine subscriptions that have led to a combined 2 out of 8 issues arriving in my mailbox but there were no delays in the money leaving the account.

Phew and on I could go but its starting to make me feel a little toxic. In the face of problems like these, the government has instituted the Consumer Protection Act but there is anecdotal proof that companies are only responding when they are forced to. This is due to the difficulties in policing the legislation. Now why is it even necessary to have legal protection – surely its good business to look after your customers? Good customer service should cost less, not more, than bad service. Perhaps not…

Last Friday I discovered the new video on demand service offered to Dstv subscribers by accidentally sitting on the remote. Being party animals, we decided to immediately sample the first (free) movie. Notwithstanding the fact that at R 500 per month you think there would be more than enough to watch on TV, the idea of recent titles home-delivered had appeal, even if it costs 67% more than the local Dvd store. According to the bumpf, you are meant to wait 5 minutes but the only reply received came the next morning after several attempts, saying that they had been swamped and as a sign of good faith were rewarding our unfulfilled movie ambitions by doling out 1 more free movie. Personally, the time wasted didn’t feel worth it but fair enough – nobody’s perfect. However after another 4 attempts through to Monday and no replies to emails, unanswered Facebook message, one very long phone call (15 minutes wait time to be told to try again), etc the story was wearing thin.

In a world of instant communication, ignoring the customer is unlikely to work especially when there were news articles, Facebook comments and Tweets aplenty about the poor service and inability to get a movie. If only 1 in 50 do indeed complain, then its a lot more who experienced a lack of service so it clearly wasn’t just me. My request was a simple one: “please let me know when its working so that I can try again”. In the meantime we went back to the cheaper but less convenient option of renting Dvd’s. Still no answer, not to the complaints or the request. Cell C did the same in the face of major problems with the rollout of the Speedstick – either denying that there was a problem or just ignoring communication, a bit like the kid’s game of closing my eyes making you disappear. But if customers disappear, don’t companies have a problem?

A recent question on Takealot‘s fan page asked people what constituted good service – speed, honesty and communication featured frequently but maybe that’s what people think they should answer rather than what really want? Once, doing research for a new entrant we found that almost all respondents indicated that interest rates and costs were the principle determinants of choosing which bank they bank with. The fact that less than 1% even knew what rates they were earning/paying and what the charges were, gave lie to the responses. How could that be the basis of the decision if you don’t know what it is? Clearly something else drove bank choice.

So are we immune to poor service, have no other real/perceived alternative, accept that all companies are as bad as each other or think that service is not in our collective DNA so we put up with the lack of it? Like most politicians that do whatever they wish between elections, pitch up a few months before with new or the same old promises and get re-elected, perhaps companies treat us like morons because they can and we let them.

“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” Henry Ford

If you have any experiences or comments to share please feel free to do so below or drop me an email at chris@moksha.biz – it would be great to hear from you.

This entry was posted in Finance, Leadership, Motivation, Personal. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why do some companies treat customers like idiots?

  1. Byron Loker says:

    Couldn’t agree, more Chris. As we’ve talked about, I just can’t stand the poor levels of service for just about everything. As far as getting movies go though, for now I can recommend http://rental.signals.co.za – it’s nowhere near Netflix, and home delivered DVDs is new in SA while in the rest of the world it’s old news and a fading business model (but thanks to the crappy telecoms companies, of course, net delivery of movies is impossible here). Signals have teething problems, but I went with a Groupun voucher and finding that they’re making an effort. So far, I can get what I want, deliveries are in good time, and the MD responds personally and almost immediately to support emails, goes the extra mile. Heartening for once!

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