When Did Service Become the Customer’s Obligation?

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A neighbor recently asked me if I would be home to sign for a FedEx package for him. It seems that a signature on file wasn’t enough. The shipper was demanding a live person to accept the package.

And it set me to thinking. At what point did “service” come to mean that the customer is at the service of the vendor?

We’ve all had it happen to us.

– The cable or phone company that sets a 4 hour window for their people to come to fix a problem with their equipment. And then, after you’ve rearranged your life for their convenience, they show up 3 hours late, or not at all.

– The utility company that reads your meters on its schedule, not yours, and then, if you are not there, cheerfully bills you with “estimates” of what they say you owe them.

– The credit card company that – unbeknownst to you and at their sole discretion – changes the closing date on your billing statement, hoping to catch the unwary with an over-draft situation.

– The local municipality that cavalierly sets rules for you to live by, whether or not they make sense to the taxpayers.

The list could go on and on; and I’m sure that you have plenty of examples of your own to add.

The result, of course, is annoyance and frustration that our time and opinions are of no value. As these instances mount up in everyone’s daily life, a generalized and deep-seated resentment is growing.

This matters to marketers – particularly to marketers in companies that do try to provide good customer service – because there is an ever-diminishing tolerance for any shoddy service, inept customer contacts, or endless phone menus designed to prevent the customer from actually talking to a person.

Our messages are meaningless if the customer contacts don’t leave the customer feeling respected and valued. Where there is choice, the customer won’t tolerate feeling as if it is his job to service the company. We need to remember that customers see the products and services we provide in their own context, not ours.

Practical Marketing Rule # 5: Our customers are influenced by more than our products, messages, and competitors. When we plan, when we message, when we talk about customer engagement and customer service, we need to remember that our customers operate in a world beyond our market space; and that world affects how our customers see us.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.

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