Try a Little Respect on the Consumers
What do you do when you are confronted by somebody bigger and smarter and better connected than you are? Well, this might be a good time to show some respect.
The two-ton gorilla I’ve just described is not King Kong or Big Foot. He’s the consumer and many companies have yet to realise just how big and smart this colossus really is. Business suffers because the company relies on slick tactics when a little humility and a lot of respect are in order. Let’s take a closer look at just what the average customer-facing business is up against. Today’s consumer has bulked up because he or she is better connected. Today, customers share likes and dislikes with the world. They can shout you down whenever they please. Instant access to sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, HelloPeter, Facebook, YouTube et al see to that.
IN BLACK & WHITE | Aki Kalliatakis
Chris Anderson summed it up in his book The Long Tail, “The ants have megaphones now.” Customers set the rules and the agenda. Business goes along or goes broke. Yet many businesses still have a lopsided view of the relationship. They think customers should be loyal to them when the first step is to show loyalty to the customer. Customer loyalty has become a technique when it should be a heartfelt philosophy.
Two responses are common.
The bludgeon: Before getting out the big stick, business updates the customer database. It then bombards customers with promotional messages, forgetting that customers have a defensive shield. They simply ignore advertising interruptions and may even take hostile action against companies deploying mass marketing tools. They delete spam, throw out direct mail or turn the page. With electronic and digital media they change the channel, DVR through TV spots, delete banners and install pop-up blockers on their browsers.
The bribe: The second response is the customer rewards programme. The tactic might have short-term benefits, but start-up and admin costs are substantial. The cost of rewards becomes a burden. If competitors ape the tactics, advantages fall away. What’s more, most programmes are vulnerable to fraud and misuse. Customers realise rewards must be earned through over-spending. Points expire or are forgotten. Meanwhile, the taxman has indicated that rewards will be taxed in future.
What’s to be done?
Leadership is key. An organisational culture has to be built (or reinforced) in which respect for the customer is paramount. This isn’t a matter of lip-service when addressing staff and is certainly not a question of sending out a memo. Leaders must commit to long-term customer care and mean it. Operationally, the first priority is to get the basics right – product quality, delivery systems and service interactions. Without this, you are putting lipstick on a pig. In some cases, it may be possible to create barriers that discourage customers from taking their business elsewhere. But remember, contracts and warranties expire and former ‘hostages’ may take their revenge.
A better plan is to put a customer-friendly culture to work by getting personal. Staff should show they remember little details about customer preferences and quirks. Personalise interactions. Show warmth and appreciation. Hire courteous and friendly people. At the same time, make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you. Review standard procedures. Cut red tape. Speed things up. Finally, find innovative ways to add value for customers. Their experience with the business should be fun and memorable. A personal connection should be made. Ensure everyone in the organisation treats the customer with respect. Because if you antagonise this gorilla there’s only going to be one winner…and it’s not you.
Digital Rights for Consumers
Even the United Nations has recognised that the dawn of the digital era has tilted the playing field towards the consumer. While much of the organisation’s work is aimed at assisting the economically marginalised, it is reviewing its consumer protection guidelines to ensure there is now greater parity between digital and physical consumer practices.
Though they are “Guidelines for Consumer Protection” they are Guidelines for consumer policy more broadly. Consumer policy can be divided into three main subsets:
Policy to empower consumers to act in their own interests – Consumer empowerment policy;
Policy to provide for protection of consumers and action on their behalf in circumstances where, for one reason or another they are not able to fully prosecute their interests – Consumer protection policy; and
Policy to ensure, as far as possible, consumers benefit from competition so that efficiency gains make standards as high as possible and prices as low as possible – Competition policy.
As the Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights make clear, equitable access to knowledge represents a general set of rights of people which go beyond their rights as consumers of goods and services. However, a great many of access to knowledge rights can be construed as consumer rights. These fall into the following categories:
Rights to knowledge so that consumers’ decisions about goods and services can be as fully informed as possible.
Rights to knowledge so that consumers have access to goods and services necessary to realise their general right “To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications”- (Article 15 1 (b) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). For example, intellectual property rights should operate so that essential pharmaceuticals are available to all people.
Articles 11 and 12 of the Covenant apply:11.1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.
12.1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Rights to obtain freely, or if appropriate/necessary at a fair price, knowledge, available anywhere globally, of any kind (verbal, visual, aural), in any form (books, journals, films, music) and in any medium.
Rights to obtain, available anywhere globally, at a fair price information processing and communication products and use them without unfair/unreasonable constraints by either states or producers.