The consumer is revolting*

customer serviceBrian Solis wrote an interesting article that popped up in my Reader this morning. The premise of his post is that businesses need to use social media to enhance the experience of their customers. One sentence resonated with me and it’s this:

…the landscape for business isn’t changing because of social media, it’s changing because consumer expectations are evolving.

Which brings me to the point of this post: businesses need to adapt and change the way they do business with consumers, because we are revolting. And we are revolting through social media. We are as mad as hell, and we ain’t going to take it any more. We are telling all and sundry – on a global stage and instantly via social media technologies – that your business model stinks. That your business stinks. That YOU stink. So you’d better sit up and listen. And DO something about it.

Case in point: I started writing this post because I was waiting for someone to come and fix my Westinghouse oven. Again. It’s only four years old. The call centre couldn’t give me an exact time that I could expect the serviceman to show up. I could, however, call before 9am (which I did) and they would tell me where I sat in the queue. I had to call THEM. Or, I could choose the other option: the technician would give me a call half an hour before he showed up. They did, of course, have a Saturday and after hours service, but that costs extra. When I did reach the serviceman, I was second to last for the day, and I was advised that he would be at my place early in the afternoon. In the end, I had a phone call at about 1.30pm, just after I came back from lunch. I left work then. It’s lucky I have a flexible workplace, or I would never get my oven fixed.

But what’s wrong with this picture? How is this a model for service excellence?

For a start, it’s based on an old school service model that assumes there is someone home (usually the wife) to greet the repairman (and it is usually a man). Based on this model, it doesn’t matter what time the repairman comes, because someone can make sure they are home. This scenario is, however, becoming rare as more people are choosing to live alone, or are living alone out of necessity. In the UK, 34% of households have one person living in them and in the US it’s 27%. Australia would be on par with these statistics. Globally, solo living has skyrocketed in the last 15 years by 80% from around 153 million in 1996 to 277 million in 2011. Not surprisingly, there are more women living solo than men, and the majority of solo dwellers are aged between 35 and 64. How is a “you have to wait for us to show up and, sorry, we can’t really give you a time” service delivery model effective, based on this trend?

Secondly, not every workplace is a flexible as mine, despite the rhetoric of work life balance and the rise of home offices. I am a public servant, and flexi-time is part and parcel of my working conditions. It’s ok for me to take an afternoon or morning off to attend to my personal life if I need to. But what if you are a solo-business operator who needs to be on your premises to make a living? You just can’t close up shop to wait for a repairman who can only give you an estimated time of arrival. And if you work Saturdays too, or longer than usual business hours, your oven (or similar appliance) would never get fixed.

Retailers (Gerry Harvey, I’m looking specifically at you!) whinge about consumers leaving them for online stores. No wonder. Consumers can shop when they want, and often get a better price, even with postage costs. They may have to wait for the article to be posted or delivered, but that’s the trade-off. They don’t have to deal with sales “assistants” who (and I’m generalising here) are obnoxious or ignorant or just plain rude. Consumers now have choice. And, more than ever, they have the wherewithal to exercise that choice. Those businesses that offer an unforgettable experience to consumers (and I mean in a good way) will be the ones that survive and thrive. And by service, I also mean what happens AFTER you’ve sold me your stuff that gets me back in your door and raving about you to others? Because I WILL go elsewhere, I promise you that. An old school after sales service model will just not cut it. Not in this day and age. Not any more.

Having said all that, the technician who came out to service my oven was delightful. He was patient because it took me longer to get home from the CBD than it usually would (don’t get me started on Adelaide’s public transport!). He made sure he got me the best deal price-wise, and replaced another oven part that was likely to pack it in soon, too.

So Westinghouse got it – sort of – half right. But I wish they could have gotten everything right, because I want to like them, I really do. In the end though, wanting to like a business will not keep me loyal. A fabulous experience will.

* Warning: this is a rantypants post!

0 thoughts on “The consumer is revolting*

    1. Thank you Catherine! I absolutely agree with you – when are businesses going to wake up? They have to change if they want to survive…! No one would have thought major booksellers or video stores would ever have sounded the death knell, but there you go. Innovate or perish!

  1. Do you read Seth Godin?

    He’s been sprukin the game changing ways of the internet for some time.

    And you are right, the times are a changing.

    Adelaide’s public transport would get better if there was a higher population density here. But then it wouldn’t be Adelaide :p

  2. Good post with a good message for people owning/managing/working in business. I worked for a service business that made visits to customer’s houses all day and I was surprised to see that the office manager actually called each appointment first thing in the morning, before employees left for the daily routes, to confirm and to give a time estimate that was narrow. This not only helped the customer, but it allowed us (the service crew) to make the most of our day, as we did not have to wait for the customer to arrive at his/her house and it simply reminded the customer that we were coming and eliminated a lot of situations of us showing up to find out that the customer had simply forgotten. Good post!

    Brandon Horvath

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