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Businesses, please stop these sly, self-serving practices

I don’t get it. I just don’t.

It should be blindingly obvious to every owner of every business that it runs primarily on just one thing: the goodwill of its customers. If customers obtain value from you, they keep buying. If they keep buying, you keep making a profit. If you keep making a profit, you stay in business.

Was there something difficult to grasp in that last paragraph? No? Then how do you explain some of the senseless practices that some leading businesses keep persisting in inflicting on their customers? Practices that reduce the value given to customers; that break the trust of customers; that reduce the goodwill held by customers? Why would they do that?

Allow me to discuss just three of these practices with you this Sunday.

First, there is the practice of keeping customers waiting, either in long physical queues, or on hold when they telephone you. It is obvious that some of our top-name businesses regard these acts by customers – of daring to call them or visit them – as crimes that must be punished. Why else would these businesses make it so difficult for customers to see them, meet them, talk to them?

Second, there is the practice of overcharging. Some of our hotels, restaurants and bars are especially fond of this one. Complicated bill, multiple entries? Just increase a price gently, or tweak a quantity surreptitiously. The customer, especially if well-to-do and/or tipsy, probably won’t notice. Add up all the manifold little instances of overcharging, and you get a healthy extra pot of profit at the end of the year.

Third, there is the increasingly annoying practice of spamming. It used to be the junk mail industry; now it’s the corporate spam phenomenon. Have captive customers? Spam ’em! Spam them with promotions, offers, special deals, new arrivals and clearance sales. Spam them all, knowing that a small percentage will take the bait. Spam their e-mail in-trays, spam their SMS inboxes. Heck, phone ’em and spam ’em with automated calls!

All three of these practices are so dumb I want to weep. Yet they are everywhere. Truly, a life spent in business education can feel wasted.

So, here’s why they’re so dumb.

Queuing and holding: when you make people wait and wait for you, you are making a transfer: you’re saving your business’s time, but wasting your customers’. Why would you do that? Why would you want to inflict pain on the one element in your ecosystem that pays you, pays your employees, pays your shareholders?

Overcharging: sooner or later, you’ll be found out. When that happens, you will have broken the bond of trust that must exist between every seller and buyer. When that trust is gone, the customer is gone. It doesn’t matter what else your business does right – once trust is broken, the relationship is broken. So don’t do this – and make sure your staff can’t do it.

Spamming: so you think customers are just guileless suckers to be conned into your latest offer? Why would you want to gain from a small percentage of gullible ones, while annoying the vast majority? Which Marketing 101 class tells you this is an intelligent thing to do? Respect your customers, respect their time, respect their privacy.

The reason businesses engage in these mind-numbing ploys is that they actually think they’re being clever, and their customers are dumb. They think they’re saving costs on counter or call-centre staff; they think they’re maximizing the use of communication channels; they think they’re increasing their margins.

Leave that stuff to touts and beach hawkers, folks. It’s neither shrewd nor efficient. You don’t make money by increasing the cost to the customer of dealing with you. Not for long, anyway. These sly and self-serving practices carry neither intellectual nor moral weight. Stop doing them.

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