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Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Real Bottom Line: Customers

Do businesses know what's important, truly important?

(Courtesy of

Here's a real life case of a company that will remain unnamed.

Company ZZZ (an apt description) has fielded numerous complaints over the years as to why the facilities they offer to clients have deteriorated and just seem to get worse with each passing year. The company has shown a deaf ear to these complaints, paying lip service with repairs that are called panakip butas in the vernacular (stop gap measures), not really attending to the heart of the problems and just being concerned with one of the symptoms.

The company has fended off repairs, under the response that there is no capital available for repairs. This, when the company continually charges its clients on a monthly basis (usually credit cards), whether or not clients use the facilities every day or just even once a month. And the company hosts Christmas parties on a yearly basis, and also just concluded a "summer outing" fully sponsoring its employees.

One client eventually asked "Are you sleeping on the job? How can you say you don't have money to make repairs when clients see the employees with their pictures of Christmas celebrations and beach barbecues?" (Hence, the aptness of naming this Company ZZZ.)

Having received more than my fair share of crappy customer service, I feel for these clients who have a valid right to complain. When they began paying for the company's services, everything was going well, things were functioning, personnel were attentive. And as with any establishment, problems arise as time goes on and things start to need repair from wear and tear and excess usage.

It is my contention that for companies that experience this - and all companies that have a longer life span eventually will - they can do one of two things:

(1) They can use new innovations to make the company operations run more smoothly and less prone to mistakes and repairs - e.g. automation, using digital devices and methods instead of having to file lengthy bureaucratic paperwork - and they can attend to any problems at the root or source directly head on, not just paying lip service to the standard response of "we'll see what we can do about that". They can see the repairs as a necessary operational expense that will yield loyalty in its current customers.

(2) They can ignore the "old" customers' complaints - anyway they've already "captured" that market - and concentrate on enticing new life into the client base, without fully disclosing that the current customers have been unhappy for years. These "old" clients can't leave because they've grown accustomed to the service and cannot seem to find a satisfactory replacement elsewhere, further emboldening the management of the company to be bullheaded about disregarding any complaints they may hear.

Most customers will choose (1). I don't know of anyone who would willingly choose to be ignored, especially if they pay money for an expected level of service, unless one was a masochist, I suppose.

Businesses who see their enterprise in the long term and with longevity in mind would be well advised to take route (1). Yes, there is a cost, but doing business costs, it is a matter of seeing these problems from a longevity perspective: will it help the business maintain the customers we have right now, and will the goodwill generated by satisfied customers spill over to even newer clients coming in? In today's competitive market, will an upstart that can deliver on what it says be a threat to my own profit margin?

A company I can name outright that has been accused of taking route (2) is gaming giant Zynga. You can search for links in Google of how many dissatisfied customers are leaving its roster, and what steps the company has done to infuse new blood since the "old" customers have given up.

Company ZZZ would do well to take a business lesson from the current state of Zynga.

It is downright suicide for any business to ignore their customers. And the reason for this is simple: Everyone is in business to make money, and you can't earn money if no customers walk in your door.

Customers are the ones who pay for a business to continue. For the clients who are with Company ZZZ, it is high time you realize the power you have in your hands.

One of my favorite cartoon series as a child was G.I. Joe, and every time the show ended, a character would deliver some "lesson" derived from the episode just shown and would mouth these lines:

"Now you know. And knowing is half the battle."

I would wager that doing something concrete about that knowledge is the other half of the battle.

Companies, take heed. Value your customers. They can make or break you, where it really hurts.

Your bottom line.

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