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Bad customer service as a tool to distract from bad business

09 Nov 16

First off: We released our 2017 Predictions for CRM Customer Service and Support – Predicts 2017: CRM Customer Service and Support, and there are a lot of exciting ideas on the future of AI, Chat, Messaging, and job disruption in the future of the customer service rep!

Today is a day like any other, despite the stupendous US Presidential Election. One would think that an electorate like the US voters, the majority of whom cannot find their nation’s Capital, a tiny dot on the Potomac River due west of Cape May, New Jersey, should not be entrusted to select the next leader of the free world, but hey, go for it.

It is one of the beautiful things about the US Democratic experiment! This is only the 58th time that the US has voted for a President. To put that in perspective, Italy has had 61 government turnovers, and the modern Republic has only been around since 1946.

How many candidates are running? Quick! Right: six. We all know that. And when was the first election? It took a full month between December and January 1788 – 1789, and that was an election where there was only one candidate, George Washington.

OK: now for the Bait and Switch – the topic is bad customer service. Bait and switch is such a rich metaphor, even if no one knows its origin. How many commercial relationships have you had where you entered into the relationship with one set of promises, only to discover that they have shifted, and not to your advantage? This morning this was in my personal inbox:

“Starting January 2017: All members will need to meet a minimum spend threshold, measured by…..”

…and it goes on to redefine the loyalty program criteria that I have cultivated for 20 years. Where does one go with that feeling? A mix of betrayal, indifference, untrustworthiness – you pick your favourite abstract noun.

How many times have customers had this happen? Car Leases, Airline programmes, cable providers, prescription drugs, insurance claims, taxes, assessments. Terms change, changes about which you were not polled nor were they explained, nor the benefit to you clear. A bit like Bob Dylan’s plaintive 1965 rage against the hypocrisy of commercialism in “its alright mom” 

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

And that is about the summary: once the magic of the relationship is broken, there is no trust, and when there is no trust, there is no ‘them or it that you belong to.’ It is simply a commercial transaction, and the relationship economics, that key underpinning that allows businesses to recover from the occasional bad experience, collapses, and the customer moves on, rarely unable to resist communicating to all who will listen the rot at the heart of your business.

The arrogance of the enterprise failure to include the customer in planning and messaging is bad business. Look closely and it is often the case that the same enterprise scores poorly on customer satisfaction. A more cynical observer might deduce that the poor customer service is almost a distraction to hide the even deeper issue of bad business practice.

High debt loads, poor labour practices, inferior vendor relations or partner management, lack of innovation and agility. Search and you will not find much in the way of supporting research one way or another, and this too is an interesting insight. Search the course curricula of the world’s top MBA programmes or the PhD work on business economics – nothing.

So: look at your own company. Ask yourself: how well are we creating trust and empathy with the customer? And now compare that to the long term health of your enterprise. There may be a correlation, and though that does not prove causality, are you confident that it is not causal? Share your findings! He/she not busy being born is busy dying…

Article by Michael Maoz, Gartner VP distinguished analyst.

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