Time and again, we see people complaining that they can’t get their company to grow. Too often, it’s easy to see why.
Originally written for The Startup on Medium.
Your company, the one you work for right, likely hates its customers.
I’m not suggesting you’re openly hostile to the people who give you money, but I can guarantee you are doing things to make them feel unloved, belittled or taken advantage of.
Not so you say, we love our customers, we’re customer-centric, and we focus on customer experience.
But do you really? Or is it mostly lip-service?
Maybe you have a couple of resources dedicated to customer service and feel like that’s enough, that you’re doing all that can be done to make customers happy. You’re not. You’re allowing actions, big and small, to pile up and create churn, dissatisfaction and frustration.
So what happened? Where did we go wrong? What happened to the land of milk and honey, where everyone knew your name, the customer was king, and companies took care of us?
We put the blinders on and forgot who we work for.
Profit happened. Profit and growth, above all else, are what changed. We believed that increasing the bottom line and adding new customers meant doing all we needed to do to be successful.
That pursuit of profit turned negative the moment we put it above everything else. We consciously or unconsciously agreed to cut corners and get people in the door, no matter what we had to say or do.
Don’t believe me? Take these examples and look around. Does this sound like your company?
Treating customers like they’re stupid.
Treating your customers as if they’re stupid comes in all forms; talking down to them, pretending you’re smarter than they are, trying to pull the wool over their eyes, or even outright lying in the hopes they won’t notice.
Automakers are some of the worst offenders for this.
Take the car commercials in which a conversation goes something like this, “Oh gee, Bob. I hadn’t realized that this Nissan Qashqai gets an industry-leading 42 miles highway and won a JD Power award for the strongest seat belt. Our future kids will feel so safe.”
A Qashqai, by the way, is a horse with a white forehead, you’re welcome.
This entire “conversation” was written solely because the manufacturer has determined that this is the information they’ve decided is best for you to know ( or possibly because there isn’t anything else that stands out about the Qashqai ) and that perhaps figures and random awards will sound impressive.
No one speaks like this in real life, so let us not insult the viewer by pretending.
Alternatively, my current and least favourite campaign, from Chevy, uses “Real people. Not actors.”. These folks, who are just like you and I, are in their “realness” having genuine reactions and are blown away by whichever vehicle they’re viewing, right?
“Thanks for blowing our minds,” one participant says, with much earnestness.
Sadly no. These are not regular folks with genuine answers, insomuch as these “real people” are incentivized and paid bonuses if their reactions and dramatic comments make it into the commercial. The game, as they say, has been rigged.
The product person in me wants to tell you to build better products, that stand out from the pack ( in this case the legion of midrange, midsize, mid-package, SUVs ), but that is not always an option. So how about you start being honest with consumers? Better yet turn your marketing into storytelling and let people know more about who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing, or how the real lives of the people interested in your products are improved ( actually improved ) by joining your flock.
Obfuscating the truth
Even more prevalent these days is the bait and switch. Those half-truths and occasionally outright lies told to get customers in the door.
Mobile companies and computer hardware manufacturers are notorious for displaying a price that either doesn’t include all the fees and add-on charges that have to be paid, or highlight the price for a version of the product no one will ever buy ( think the drastically under specced laptop computer, or a phone with almost no storage ).
Growing up, the phone companies in Canada ( I’m sure elsewhere as well ) were notorious for offering, say, a $50 mobile plan, only to have your bill be more than double that price when you added in the network fee, emergency systems fee, activation fee, idiot fee and taxes.
I say idiot fee because we had so few choices in Canada, we all paid what we were told, no matter the pain.
Even Tesla, a mostly no bullshit company, up until recently displayed an initial car price based on calculating how much money you’d save in gas over the first years of owning the car. Bad Tesla.
Even if duplicity ( or not being honest ) works in the short term, you’re not building loyalty, and the minute a shinier version of what you sell comes along, those customers will drop you like a hot potato.
Don’t lie, don’t obfuscate, don’t mislead, don’t hide things. Be upfront, demonstrate value, get creative with allowing customers to experience the value of what you’re selling them. If your price is higher than the competitor, then tell a damn good story for why. Haven’t worled out your nest story yet, craft a delightful purchase experience, and change the entire narrative.
Hire someone to represent your brand or product.
Make no mistake about it. Every “influencer” that you pay, every spokesperson you hire based only on how famous they are, is an attempt to “pull one over” on your customers.
Influencers or spokespeople, the minute they’re paid to have a favourable opinion, become inauthentic and dishonest, and we can smell the bullshit.
Samsung is the worst for this. They’ve been busted so many times for hiring a new spokesperson, introducing them as the biggest fan of their latest handset, only to have the celebrity turn around and tweet from an iPhone. These celebrities are not fans of Samsung phones; they are on stage solely for a cheque and couldn’t even be bothered to use the promoted product to fulfill their contractual obligations.
Do you think people don’t see this and think highly of you and your products?
I get the thinking, a person, or persons, with a following of a certain size, advertising your product equals exposure, and exposure can be valuable. Sadly a few other things are true. One, we’re a long way from accurately measuring the true engagement and reach of the celebrity / influence, and two, there is no loyalty in ad-land.
Sadly even Robert Downey Jr isn’t a one gadget man.
If you want people to go to bat for you, include them in the product design process, bring them along for the ride, take their feedback and make them a part of the business. Don’t just lazily throw money at things and hope it resonates with people.
Bit of an outlier example, but LeBron James invested in and took an active role in the product design process and the marketing of Beats headphones. He wore them while working out and posted raw videos of his workouts to Instagram. In addition, he gave every player on the US Men's Olympic Basketball Team custom matching headphones, and they never took them off…and not one of them was paid. This authenticity helped to make Beats successful to, among other things, the tune of a $3 Billion exit to Apple.
In contrast, Bose, who has a sponsorship deal with the NFL, threw a hissy fit and encouraged the league to fine players when those players, by their own choice, wore Beats on the sidelines before games. Who thought it was a good idea to try and make people use a product by force?
Instead of getting people to be dishonest for a buck, why not spend more time on making your product special, or putting the time into finding genuine fans, people who will work with and tirelessly for you, and who have the authenticity to stand behind what they say? How many of you would be willing to give a product to a reviewer or subject matter expert and to say to them “speak your mind, if you love it, tell people you love it, if you don’t, that’s ok too.”?
Refuse to stand behind the products you sell.
Let’s clear up one thing right off the bat. If you don’t offer refunds, you’re doing it wrong.
Do you make it hard for your customers to get a refund or to return things? Are you making the customer do the work? Putting the onus on those same customers to prove that what they received was broken / defective / incorrect? Do you have a system in place for how to get the thing they bought back to you?
You’re the business. You’ve got infrastructure and process. So why don’t you do the work and stand behind who you are and what you do?
Hey customer, have a problem with that shirt you just bought? No problem, where can we send the replacement ( free of charge ) and don’t even stress getting the old one back? We’ll take care of that once you’re satisfied.
Don’t like what we sent you. Terribly sorry. Can we make it right? No? Ok, then here is your money back, have a great day and thank you for your time.
I get it; some jerk-offs will try to take advantage, scam the system and get some free stuff. Welcome to the world we live in, some people are shitty, and we should put protections in place to insulate our businesses, but that is not an excuse to punish everyone.
That is not a reason to do less work and let quality customers down.
Be Simple. Human. Empathetic. Thoughtful. We’ve all struggled in our dealings with companies who make these things hard, so do anything and everything you can to not make your customers upset. Take a look at every step of your sales, shipping, return, support and exchange processes ( or whatever steps apply to your business ) and remove the friction.
Try to save money by not investing in customer service and support.
I’ve been around several companies that would be better served by scaling down their sales departments and scaling up their customer service staff.
In the chase of new new, and more more, an ever-expanding sales effort is nearly always the answer to the question, “how can we be more successful?”
I can make this easy for you.
It is easier, faster and infinitely more cost-effective to grow a business of happy customers than it is to acquire new customers — every time.
Happy customers come looking for more. Satisfied customers tell their friends. Pleased customers leave rave reviews that influence new shoppers. Best of all, those same loved / supported / happy customers will forgive you if and when ( and it’s going to be when ) you slip up.
Focus on ensuring your customers are happy. Care and feed for them. Anticipate their needs, and do right by them, they will be with you for a lifetime and buy anything you make. Show contempt, and while they might make one purchase, there will not be a second.
Every example above shows some level of contempt for customers and demonstrates companies putting themselves first. Is that hatred? Perhaps not, but to call it anything less gives us the excuse to not address these issues in a way that will bring about meaningful change.
Maybe you can’t stop your organization from doing the things above. But there is so much to be gained in trying.
So start small; in your group, your division, your area of responsibility, look critically at what you’re doing and do everything you can to put those customers of yours first. Make some changes. Tweak a few things. Even a little effort can make a difference, and in making a difference, you’ll start building a case for making that bigger effort.