Customers care…or do they?
It seems only yesterday that customer satisfaction surveys were a key part of a company’s marketing armoury. With one eye on the US, firms would invest in what their research told them would make for an agreeable relationship and would press their audience’s buttons, seeing it as a way of reinforcing loyalty. So where did it all go wrong?
Last week Evan Davis hosted The Bottom Line, as is his wont, on BBC Radio 4. He was interviewing Kenny Jacobs, Chief Marketing Officer at Ryanair, Neil Clitheroe, CEO retail and generation at Scottish Power and Gary Booker, Chief Marketing Officer at Dixons Carphone. He wanted to know why, when all businesses rely on customers, some bend over backwards to keep them happy, and yet others appear not to care. What, Davis asked, is the impact of poor customer service on a business and how much does it cost them to invest in improving their infrastructure?
All three companies had tried to overhaul their image in the face of complaints and media scorn about their attitude to customer service. Indeed, Scottish Power had come last on this subject in a Which? survey of a hundred companies, and Dixons Carphone 89th. But although they admitted that they might have made mistakes, they were far from being apologetic about what had prompted dissatisfaction. Indeed, each of the interviewees was keen to point out that only a minority of customers had complained – in Scottish Power’s case 1% of five million – and Jacobs expressed the view that despite brickbats, Ryanair relished being a ‘bad boy’ and had become Europe’s biggest airline in a remarkably short period of time.
The conclusion that Davis inevitably drew, reinforced by his interviewees, is that price is king. If we are offered something cheaply enough, we take the point of view that we get what we pay for. The bottom line of these companies has not suffered, indeed their turnover has increased.
So on the one hand we’re portrayed as cheapskates, but we’re in danger of being taken for fools, too, by companies which seek to apply what in my view are restrictive trade practices. Take Apple, for instance. If we have a device that goes wrong out of warranty we know it’s going to cost. A rant in the Evening Standard this week talks of being quoted £500 to repair the £849 MacBook Air that the author had bought his wife
, with the sales guy informing him that “You can’t expect these machines to last for ever.”
Maybe not, but the obvious conclusion is either never to buy an Apple product again, or head for a shop that can repair it more cheaply – and yes, such shops do exist. However, if you take your iPhone 6 to be repaired in a non-certified outlet and then download the latest iOS software, Apple will ensure that you won’t be able to use it again. The company has cleverly made electronic devices disposable, yet we continue to buy the Apple brand.
And then there are car dealerships which offer bargains that you can’t afford to refuse, as long as you get your car serviced regularly – by a registered firm. It may be charging you over the odds, but those are the rules. These are not isolated cases, rather they are multiplying by the day.
It leaves me wondering whether we have been emasculated or whether, as with politicians, we get the brands we deserve? I hope that’s not the case but maybe Ralph Nader should ride once again.