Customers are like “Goodwill Ambassadors”

Aug 3rd, 2010 | By | Category: News, Public relations

The other day I went to buy my son a birthday present. I had seen a builder set in a particular store a few days before, which I thought he would like. Not having the time to purchase it, I went back a week later. When entering the store a second time, I noticed the item had two price tags on it. The first was the amount I had seen on my initial visit, and the second one was substantially higher. With the school vacation setting in, the shop owner had probably decided to mark up certain products to take benefit of the expected influx in customers. Of course, some employee of the store had not done his or her job properly and did not remove the lower price. I made the cashier aware of the store’s mistake, expecting that she would not expect me to pay the higher price. Unfortunately the girl behind the counter was particularly young and knew nothing about customer relations. In the end, I did pay the lower price, but only after I argued with the store’s owner over the phone. Customer relations or customer care, meant absolutely nothing to him. What was more, in a typical arrogant fashion, he tried to make me – the customer, feel bad that I was depriving him of earning an honest wage by not paying the higher price!

I was reminded of this incident today when I read about a court case where a customer had sued cellular provider Partner Communications. The customer tried to sign up for a special deal but was told the offer had ended and that he had to sign up for something more expensive. A Tel Aviv small claims court ordered Partner Communications to pay the customer NIS 4,000 for keeping the advertisement up on its website (to which the customer had been attracted), for almost half a year after it expired.   Now, far from being a small chain of toy stores, Partner Communications (operating under the Orange brand) is currently the second largest mobile operator in Israel. For a company of such stature to falsely advertise a service for six long months is quite remarkable. What is even more astonishing is that it took so long for a member of the public to make the company aware of its deceitful behavior .

I am definitely not one for promoting legal action against anyone, company or otherwise. Unfortunately more often than not I come across really bad costumer care. Perhaps it is because of my background, but to me it just seems like a “no-brainer” to mislead, falsely advertise or mistreat customers. Like any other target audience, customers are critical stakeholders. Without them, many businesses would completely fail.

Apart from being plain bad business practice to offend customers, it is just simply bad public relations. The impact of such incidents not only leads to negative media exposure – as in the case of Partner Communications, but also causes alienation and reduced loyalty. In today’s social media world, this is something companies can little afford. The negative word-of-mouth effect can and often does spiral virally, and quickly grows out of control. (In my case, I went home, told my friends, husband, parents and in-laws all the same story). Many marketers agree that it generally costs more to sell to new customers than to existing ones. Can you imagine how much harder it is then to win-back the loyalty of an offended customer? Improving customer relations training can go a long way to improving a company’s reputation.

I often like to think that teaching customer relations is like teaching a child good manners. From a young age I have tried to instill in my own children to say please and thank you, to be considerate to others and not always think of themselves first. This is not an easy task since children are by nature, extremely self-indulgent.  The “focus on the customer” mindset, while not always easy to infuse, should be drilled into every aspect of a consumer-related business. From the first person answering the phone, to the general manager, each person involved in the company is like a goodwill ambassador. Everyone concerned  plays a vital role in enhancing its public relations – and in turn, making the customers its own mini-goodwill ambassadors.

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