Dan's Take

4 Customer Care Myths That Could Kill Your Company

Don't become the next United Airlines.

The well-publicized customer relations disaster experienced by United Airlines could provide lessons for every supplier of IT products and services. And yet, many executives are likely to let those lessons pass by. "Thank goodness that wasn't in our industry," or "I'm glad we're not the company in the news," are typical responses I've heard. A recent article by Bryce Hoffman offers some suggestions that should be considered by IT companies.

Hoffman suggests that companies gather a team not directly responsible for policy decisions to review policies and ask: "How could this policy go wrong?" Often times, he points out, the people close to a policy decision think about what's good for the company, not necessarily what's good for the customer. Taking a customer viewpoint and looking back at a policy might prevent execution by Twitter.

Asking that team to come up with all the likely scenarios and what to do about them is another point Hoffman suggests. Once a list of possible disasters has been made, decision makers can consider what, if anything, to do about them.

Dan's Take: Preventable Disasters Are, Well, Preventable
I believe that many of the customer relations disasters, if carefully reviewed, highlight a number of deeper viewpoints that may have worked in the past but no longer work today. Here are a few obvious ones:

  • No one will ever find out. Information about customer care is no longer hard to find. Suppliers who believe that product deficencies, thoughtless treatment of customers having problems with those products, and incompletely thought out business practices will never come to light are increasingly finding themselves in the social media spotlight. It has gotten to the point that it's harder to find customer success stories in social media than disaster stories. The key lesson is pretend that someone is always watching.

  • We can always find new customers. In the past, suppliers operated on the belief that there is an endless supply of new customers, and that angering or disappointing customers is a short-term problem. The presumption, like the one behind issue No. 1, is that no one will learn about product or process problems. Today, customers are empowered to tell their closest 10,000 friends about issues; and when a story is really juicy, they'll pass it along to their closest 100,000 friends (often without checking the facts). Customer reviews can make or break a product in an instant.

  • Taking features and functions away from customers in the name of progress is fine. Apple, Google, Samsung and other technology companies have established that they believe that no one will notice or care when features or functions are removed during a product refresh cycle. Apple's removal of 3.5 mm jacks, ports on laptops and smartphones has resulted in people moving to other products. I know of more than a few folks who have decided that the replacement for their MacBooks is likely to be a Microsoft Surface, because ports to support devices that are part of their standard work flow have disappeared. I know folks who have either kept older smartphones or moved to other suppliers when SD card support disappeared from the new devices. The suppliers seem to believe that cloud access can replace local storage.

  • If we ignore problems long enough they'll go away. Requests for support often appear to fall on deaf ears. I personally had a problem with a new release of Android. The wireless supplier said to go to the hardware manufacturer for support. The hardware manufacturer said to go to Google for support. Google just ignored my requests. I've pointed out this chain of finger pointing to my clients and nearly all of them have similar stories to share. In the long term, support stories like these get commented on and eventually harm the reputations of the companies involved.

It appears that some suppliers have stopped thinking about customer satisfaction. While it appears that they believe that they're getting away with it, the history of the IT market is littered with the corpses of companies that lost sight of their customers and their needs. Those that focus on customer requirements and customer care are the ones that survive in the long run.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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