What separates a good company from a bad one? It comes down to a number of things, but there is one thing that can undo a company and that is a lack of decent service.
And the internet gives businesses great potential to deliver a lack of service.
In uncertain times, people turn to companies they can trust, the BBC being a good example of this (always two to one against ITV on joint occasions). Those who do not offer good service will fail. Where money is no object, BA will beat Ryanair, M&S will beat Lidl; brands beat start-ups. Try buying a child unbranded football boots. Essentially, brands have spent time and huge amounts of money building up trust, and we trust brands who provide good service. Shoddy service can destroy this trust.
Businesses are increasingly desperate for our money and different ones adopt different strategies, to part you from your hard-earned cash (why always hard-earned? Ill-gotten? Inherited?).
For all businesses, the internet provides great opportunities, but many bricks and mortar retailers embraced it too late or half-heartedly. Also, many businesses, forgot to add good service to their internet offerings.
Buying from companies without a physical presence can be frustrating when dealing with anything after the actual purchase, so when I wanted to buy a new bed I turned to a brand that has been around since 1929.
John Lewis has 51 shops in the UK, so I went to one to check out their beds and then had a think about whether I needed a new one or would the landlord’s old one do? Well, as I spend about a third of my life asleep I thought I’d get my own, so I bought one from John Lewis online.
After a few weeks it arrived, on the specified day. The two delivery men laughed when I asked if there were instructions for its assembly. They took 15 minutes to unwrap and put it together, taking away all the packaging with them. That’s service.
One of the main benefits of the internet for companies has been that the internet has enabled them to find out everything about us and then indulge in what I like to call the; ‘give us your bank details and then we’ll take the piss business strategy.’
This strategy is used by pretty much all web-based businesses, from footwear firms, to insurance and holiday companies. The best practitioners tend to be media and phone companies, who offer you a deal, paid for by an initial competitive monthly payment (or free), that they can then adjust upwards at their leisure.
Essentially, once you set up a standing order with a company, they grant themselves authority to remove as much of your money, whenever they like. All utility firms are extremely adept at relieving you of whatever they like without informing you, via this modern-day pick-pocketing.
Internet companies can be extremely slippery when you try to communicate your dissatisfaction with their theft.
Some communications firms leave clues on how to get hold of them, but essentially do not want to hear your complaints. If you want to fire off an angry email to them, there will be no email address; at best there will be a discussion group, which, obviously, they have set up to be absolutely useless.
Getting a number with a helpful person on the other end of a phone has almost completely ceased to exist; like people serving in supermarkets; it is much more efficient to drag you down an impersonal maze of confusion, encountering only automatons, while preferably charging you heavily for the privilege.
Not being ripped off online requires perseverance, patience and resolve on the customer’s behalf. The business concerned can act however they want. Who can you complain to? Where’s the ombudsman? Credit card companies want so much information (printed, not online) if you want a refund, that many people will just give up.
Another new business model is to ‘jump on a bandwagon’; go green, go gay, go vegan, just hijack some cause that your focus group says has public support.
For years, companies have been greenwashing, pretending to be environmentally friendly and ethical; petrochemical companies, like Ineos, who plunder the world’s diminishing resources, are now proud sponsors of what used to be the Sky cycling team.
For a month, Barclays changed its logo from blue to rainbow to celebrate London Pride. Anything to get their grubby hands on the pink pound.
Another business model is a shocker, which has been adopted by the Guardian newspaper, a charity which is provided for, in perpetuity, by the Scott Trust. Their new strategy, which has proved surprisingly successful, is normally known as begging.
On their website (not in the newspaper, which costs £2.20 during the week) they stick this digital message into every article:
‘Unlike many news organisations, we chose an approach that means all our reporting is free and available for everyone. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable.’
For some reason, this business model is the one that annoys me the most, at least they are being open, but our butttons are all pressed by different things.
From now on, I am only going to deal with companies that have people answering queries seven days a week (if you sell seven days a week, support your customers seven days a week) and don’t just treat customers as cash cows. I am going to demand service.
It’s what separates us from the animals.