There’s no such thing as a dumb customer

I used to work closely with a colleague who was gifted and bright, but had one fatal flaw: he assumed that everyone else was dumb. It was taken as read that his colleagues weren’t as bright as him. Then he went one step further, and applied it to customers too.

What he didn’t seem to understand was this; there are always smarter people around. Many of them like to keep their friends abreast of what’s happening, so the smarts can be spread more widely.

There are all sorts of problems with thinking we are superior, but this attitude becomes a real problem when it is applied to customers. Of course, some customers are not as sharp as they could be. But treating them poorly is never a good idea, and assuming they are stupid is fatal.

Even if customers miss the point, there are always others to point it out and the web has effectively automated this process with Twitter, forums and sites like TripAdvisor. The banks aren’t the only ones with miss-selling scandals coming back to haunt them.

Do as you would be done by

I quite like the American comedy series “My name is Earl” where the fundamental premise is karma; the way you behave will come back to bite you. I really believe this of business. I always want to treat customers well, although sometimes I have fallen short. The key thing is to always try to put things right, and change processes so the problem won’t be repeated in the future.

Right in the centre of my home town is a supermarket that has had a virtual monopoly for years. The staff are generally rude, the shelves are often bare, milk bought there never lasts more than a day or two. Recently a new Morrisons opened; immediately its car park was over-flowing, and the old monopoly proved as popular as Jimmy Savile’s fan club. Even if you get away with treating customers poorly for a while, it won’t last forever.

I’m on the board of directors of one very successful business where providing great service to customers is part of the very fabric of the organisation. The funny thing is that, not only have we been growing fast, we have also been achieving much better margins than our competitors, while being very reasonably priced. Happy customers not only recommend you, they actually cost less to service.

So I end with the thought that not all customers immediately see if they are being abused or exploited by a supplier. However, in the end, the press, the authorities or the general consciousness of the market will pick it up. And then who is the dummy?

Chris Barling is chairman of ecommerce software specialist SellerDeck.

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