I went to a well-known American diner in the Midlands the other day with some clients. I recall, way back in the early nineties, how this brand was more than just food. It was an "experience", something to talk about to others. But you just lost me, American diner. The other night, we were completely off the customer service radar, the food was frankly overpriced and unauthentic. There was no effort to make the food appetising: the pictures on the menu looked much better than it tasted. Back in the day, they tasted just like they looked. Ordering some cocktails, I thought for a minute I must have been at a bifocal optician’s. They were served in BIG thick-rimmed glasses with enough ice to sink the Titanic. "Cocktail cost-savings 101: quick, let’s jip the paying customer." Your shareholders may well be pleased this year as the dividends are issued, American diner, but that’s me done. You just lost a lifelong advocate and I’ll tell anyone who asks me about it. The model probably allows for that – there’ll always be someone who will not know any better. Maybe I’m seeing things through blinkered eyes, but where’s the experience gone? "Listening" banks are now listening from Karachi! I understand the commercial realities of call centres but this erosion creep is going to kill your business, slowly. Recently an insurance company lost me as a customer because the person on the other side of the phone, (let’s call him George) couldn’t understand me. Granted I’m from Manchester, it’s not my fault I sound like Ashley Peacock, but it was the insurance company’s fault that I put the phone down through frustration. Though even that was no doubt lost in translation. Then, my mobile phone provider of nine years "couldn’t" offer me a better tariff. Some months I was shelling out £400 a month on calls. Only when I said I was leaving did a package materialise which allowed for unlimited calls for £125. ONLY WHEN I SAID I WAS LEAVING. They were shafting me for as long as they could get away with it. My satellite TV provider wanted £100 for a call out charge to replace their broken hard drive. Only when I said "Cancel the account" did they hand me over to the retention team, where I then managed to negotiate a free replacement and discount for the next six months. ONLY WHEN I SAID I WAS LEAVING. They too had been shafting me for as long as they could get away with it. Customer service should begin at the front end of a transaction, all the way through to the point the phone is placed down. Unlike the current blanket strategy, customer service is being used as a last resort. My 33-gram packet of my favourite cheese and onion crisps seem to have lost eight grams. The packet price is still the same but just short of a third seems to have been holidaying in Portugal and mysteriously disappeared. I’m not stupid. I’d rather pay a little more for my "ol’ skool" 33-gram, thanks. The next time you have a thought shower and come up with a ploy to jip your loyal customer base, don’t think you are being clever. Short term, the savings are great and your shareholders can rejoice with the efficiency of your great ideas. Short term, maybe. Long term, you are being very stupid. Once front-end customer service starts to slide, the thing is over. We’re on to you. The game’s up and we’re switching brands! Related articles "The only ‘business partners’ you’ll meet in a bar are rent boys" Brad Burton joins the Real Business fold Not much of a recession was it?
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