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Does anyone remember customer service?

If you cast your mind back to the 1980s or the 1990s you might recall the concept of customer service.

It was something companies used to talk about, and try to do.

No longer, it seems.

At least, in my experience. Let me give you a few examples:

HSBC has no idea that I have banked with them since 1986. I know this because they never mention it. If they valued me as a customer, they would acknowledge that, and try to keep my business.

02 has no idea that I have been a customer of theirs consistently since 1998. I know this because they never mention it. If they did, they would show that they value my business.

– I used to use Ocado, for several years, until I switched to Sainsburys six months ago. I’ve not heard from them since. They have made zero attempts to find out why I stopped using them or win me back.

American Express completely changed their terms to my RED credit card a couple of years ago, and showed no interest whatsoever when I cancelled my card and told them I would not do business with them as a result of their behaviour.

Why is this?

I am genuinely curious as to why a company would not view customer service as strategic. Customer service retains customers. It’s very close to marketing. For existing consumers, its clearly much more effective than marketing.

We all know the old adage about how it’s way cheaper to keep customers than find new ones to replace them.

Imagine how you could engage customers in sustainability thinking if you actually had a relationship with them, if they felt valued. You could certainly do a lot better than the big companies I interact with do today. 

So what is going on?

I wish I knew the answer. My suspicion is that 17 years of (more or less) uninterrupted economic growth from 1991-2008 led to a some kind of systemic complacency, meaning histories were not tracked across technology upgrades.

Then the crash came, and companies focused on not spending, rather than engaging customers.

Now we are bumping along with low growth and companies are unsure how to engage.

Even if you don’t have historic data on customers. Why not try to collect it from now on?

Knowing who your customers are, and how long you have had them, then rewarding the long standing ones and finding out what they think, is surely a good idea.

Long-standing customers must be the best source of sustainable innovation ideas for large companies.

They clearly like your brand or firm. They must value and use your products and services. So they must be helpful sources for new ideas. This is not rocket science, I know.

Yet I never hear of companies running specific stakeholder engagement campaigns for this particular group and then talking about it.

Perhaps it happens and I just don’t know about it. If you know of examples, I’d love to hear about them.

I know at Ethical Corporation we need to focus much more on this.

If you are a long-standing customer of mine, I apologise for not engaging you. We’ll change that.

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