‘The Reluctant Hostage’ – Do Not Fall Into the Trap of Taking Customers for Granted!


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As a consumer in your own right, have you ever interacted with a company because you have had ‘no other choice’? Have you ever begrudgingly handed over your hard earned cash to a company you would rather not do business with, but due to having no viable alternatives, have had to put aside your principles?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to these questions, then you have become what I call a ‘reluctant hostage’ of the business concerned. Even if you feel that ‘hostage’ is too strong a term – a reluctant customer is one who is unwilling, disinclined, unenthusiastic, grudging, resistant, resisting, opposed and antipathetic towards the organisations he or she has to interact with.

The reality is, consumers are suffering this plight on a daily basis – from transport to local government – utilities to financial services. Depending on who you are and what your circumstances might be, you will at some point have to deal with a business who does not proactively need to consider how you feel about the experiences you have with them because they know that you will be back – even if you do not want to be.

Take airports as an example. How many times have you visited an airport because it was the only viable option for your journey? I travel extensively all over the world – I rarely get to ‘choose’ the airports I travel through. Some of them I do not EVER want to see again. Getting through security and passport control in Johannesburg was NOT a pleasant experience. Yet I had no choice – I had to go through that airport. The question is, do organisations that exist to serve customers who have little choice actually CARE about their customers or the experience they provide?

In the UK, the energy industry continues to struggle with transformation since it became privatised in the 1980’s! Once state owned monopolies, the experiences that many consumers have still feel as though we do not have the ability to look elsewhere for the product being supplied!! The fact that we do seems to have gone unnoticed.


UK Water Companies – soon to be competitors

The water industry is one of the last to be facing deregulation in 2017 – right now, most customers have no choice but to use the company responsible for the supply in their region. Once again, these companies would not appear high up the list of those considered to be most customer centric!

Not all of them subconsciously treat customers like hostages though. Scottish Water has been doing some wonderful work over many years to increase awareness of the importance of delivering great customer experiences. I have been fortunate enough to judge three of their entries in the UK Customer Experience Awards over the last few years – they have come away with more than one trophy. It has always been incredibly refreshing (which is good for a water company J) to see a business that does deal with companies who currently have no choice with such high esteem.

Treating people like human beings – treating those human beings as valuable customers is quite simply just a good way to run a business. Whether your customers have a choice or not, consistently meeting and sometimes exceeding their expectation will not only mean that they and your employees are likely to enjoy interacting with you, it is also very likely to COST YOUR BUSINESS LESS MONEY to deliver the experience. Yes – you read that correctly. Even if you work in a business that does not see the need to be ‘customer focused’, everyone should have the ability to understand the need for running a more cost effective business.

Improving the Customer Experience will have a positive effect for any organisation – now and in the future. Understanding what your customers expect from you and continually adapting to their changing needs will ensure that your business remains viable and sustainable indefinitely. If your customers ever feel as though they are held hostage – they cannot ‘escape’, alarm bells should be going off somewhere in your building. Do not be fooled by the fact they may have signed a contract. Do not kid yourself that they have nowhere else to go. Human beings have long memories – they do not forget how companies make them feel. In a world where change is inevitable, when they finally get the chance to escape, they will so – and could take many others with them.

This leads me to my last example – EE – a European telecoms giant. In 2013, I wrote an article that referenced a petition created by customers of EE to try and get senior management to listen to their grievances. These customers were most definitely ‘reluctant hostages’ of a company they wanted nothing to do with. I wonder how many of these customers have ‘broken free’ or are planning to when their contracts end?

So think about your customers. Does your company take them for granted? If the answer is yes, they may well feel like ‘reluctant hostages’ – a feeling none of us would want to have. What can you do show them that your business cares?


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