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Why does your company try to annoy its customers?

“I was reflecting the other day on the near infinite number of ways in which companies annoy their customers. A few that make me go “grrrrrr:”
– Being forced to rifle through a two-foot pile of garments in order to find my size
– Having to search through lines of nano-sized text at the bottom of an unsolicited email offer to find the “unsubscribe” button
– Getting handed a hotel key but not being told where to find the elevators
– Having to dig out the manual to reset the clock in your car
– Watching flight attendants gab in the front of the cabin oblivious to a blinking call button.”

Gary Hamel, WSJ.com (28 April 2010)

Management author Gary Hamel was an angry man in his Wall Street Journal blog recently. He spelled out the many ways in which companies, far from delighting customers, actually set out to ANNOY them. I have reproduced some of his main examples in the excerpt shown.

Now this really is a mystery: why would any rational, self-protecting company want to do this? Irritate, irk, vex and rankle its most valued customers? Beats me too. Hamel admits there are companies like Apple and Virgin that regularly exceed his expectations. But most, he posits, “test the outer limits of my patience and equanimity.”

Here are some local examples of ridiculous things we do to customers in Kenya:

– Force customers to queue out of the door in our banks and supermarkets served by the two tellers on duty, while six counters remain unopened.
– Employ shop assistants who have not the faintest, vaguest clue about the merchandise they sell.
– Wilfully and knowingly serve bad food in restaurants.
– Place uninterested and ill-motivated staff in front of customers.
– Only tell passengers their flight is delayed by several hours once they have already checked in.
– Allow our staff to steal from customers when they aren’t looking.

Three questions: Why, why, why? This is plain ridiculous, yet it is a daily event. Two mental attitudes drive this kind of seemingly irrational behaviour. One, that my customers don’t really deserve any better – they are pumbavus. Second, that they won’t really go anywhere whatever I do, because either I don’t have any real competitors, or the competitors are worse than I am.

Now, if your company collectively has the first attitude, it deserves immediate bankruptcy. You are not in business to wring money out of customers and fill your pockets; you are in business to serve and honour and uplift them, and in the process make money for yourself. The despising of customers as unwashed imbeciles who come to make trouble on your premises is all too common. If allowed to, I would personally lead a special force to whip such companies out of existence.

The second attitude – what options do they have – is hardly any better. It is actually moronic. If you are in the privileged position of enjoying some sort of monopoly, what you should be doing is building strong bonds of loyalty with your customers: serving them well and putting their interests first. That way, when the monopoly ends (as they always do) you will be in a strong position to retain your customers.

Most businesses do the reverse in Kenya. They take monopoly status as a license to abuse. That’s why we have so many former monopolies that are now extinct or have undergone near-death experiences in their history: Uchumi, East African Industries, Pan Paper, Kenya Airways, Africa Online, African Tours & Hotels, Kenya Posts & Telecommunications. It’s a long list, and you can make it longer. And I fear time will make it longer still.

If you are a business thinker, think about this. Which one of your many stakeholders – shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, government, bankers, others – brings the most money INTO the ecosystem, rather than takes it out? Easy, isn’t it?

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