Whose Customer is It Anyway?

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Fitbit flexA few years ago I purchased a Fitbit, which is a device you wear to measure physical activity–such as steps, stairs climbed, calories burned, activity intensity and even sleep efficiency. Overall, I have really enjoyed this product. Recently, my wife bought me one of their next generation products, the Flex, which you can wear on your wrist and is water resistant. Cool, I thought. I was very excited to get this product.

Quickly I became disappointed. The Flex doesn’t have the ability to measure stairs climbed, but more importantly its measurement of steps taken and activity is massively inaccurate and much less effective than the previous model I used.

I have had a running dialogue with Fitbit’s customer care group about the issues, including my suggestions for what seems to be an easy fix to the problem (an ankle bracelet as well as other things). During this dialogue they have tried to tell me that it isn’t so bad, but never really asked me how they could satisfy me. Finally I told them that I would like to exchange the Flex for the Fitbit One, which is a sister product and retains the accuracy and features of my previous model. (it’s the same retail price as the Flex by the way).

This seems like a no brainer right? Wrong.

Because we bought the product through a retail channel partner, the agent said I had to exchange the product there. Herein lies the problem for so many manufacturers. The problem I am having is with the product, not the retailer. The retailer may or may not take back or exchange the product as I have now been discussing the issues with Fitbit over several months. If they don’t solve my problem I may be mad at the retailer, but I will also be mad at the manufacturer as well, probably even more so.

Whether by choice or by contractual agreement, when OEMs leave customer care and customer relationship building entirely up to their channel partners, they are putting their future in the hands of others.

Products such as the Fitbit, or an automobile, an appliance, a computing device, or many other products are products that are purchased periodically throughout the customer’s lifetime. Many of these products are experienced every day or even many times a day. Customer opinion continues to evolve and be impacted by these day to day experiences.

For companies like Fitbit and many others, my potential lifetime value to them is much greater than this one sale or even replacement over time of this product numerous times. So why don’t more manufacturers try to build relationships with their customers? I am not sure. What I am sure of is that it is in the manufacturers’ best interest to build connections and loyalty with that customer.

The Apple Approach

Apple is famous for its product control whether it is manufacturing its own products, not allowing its OS to be licensed to other OEMs or putting significant boundaries within which developers must abide in order to write software and apps for its devices.

Apple also broke the model when it comes to relationships with customers by opening so many stores of its own. Further, they implemented strategies such as the genius bar, which drove its customers (even those that bought at electronics and wireless stores) to its retail, phone and online support structures.

Apple also will replace products that are defective even if they are purchased through other channels. They clearly understand the lifetime value of the customer and do not leave it to channel partners to ensure the satisfaction of their customers.

I’d like to explore this even further. Channel partners and OEM’s have a common interest in selling the OEM’s products, but each one tends to look out for their own interests at times. Who’s really responsible for the relationship? I’ll continue that thought in tomorrow’s blog.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Michael Allenson
Michael is Founder of CXDriven. Formerly he was Principal CX Transformation Consultant at MaritzCX where he led a global team that consulted with clients on how to better leverage their customer experience management programs to drive business success. A frequent writer and presenter, Michael is passionate about helping companies leverage customer intelligence to take action that creates lasting customer relationships and sustainable improvements in growth and profitability. Over a 20+ year career, he has consulted with numerous Fortune 500 companies and their leadership teams on how to uncover superior insights and turn them into action. Prior to his role at MaritzCX, Michael was a Senior Consultant for Maritz Research, Technomic, Diamond Management and Technology Consultants and Leo J. Shapiro and Associates.

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