Dear Chief Executive Officers (of all companies in all industries everywhere)
I am writing this letter on behalf of your customers – consumers; businesses; young; old; male; female. For centuries, people have purchased goods and services from those able to provide things that are needed. From food to clothes to technology to construction to medicines. Companies have and still are being created to fulfil the needs of customers all over the world.
The reason that your business exists is because it is providing products or services that we – your customers need/want. If we did not need or want your goods or services, you would not exist. No business can exist without customers – a statement of the blindingly obvious, but one that too many companies fail to acknowledge. I say that companies fail to acknowledge it, as this is the only explanation for the appalling experiences that customers have on a daily basis.
Over the last few years, you (CEOs of organisations giving us what we want) have recognised the opportunities afforded by new technology. The phenomenon that is the internet has revolutionised the way your businesses are able to interact with customers. During this time, our (the customer) expectations have changed. We, the customer, now know much more than we ever did before. We know as much about your products and services as your own employees do, yet you still continue to serve up experiences that fall way short of what we expect.
Only yesterday, I was advised by the employee of a company to visit a website to ‘place my order’. This employee refused to help me ‘over the phone’. The website he referred me to did not even exist. Unbelievable. Recently I interacted with a large financial services business. They claim they are helping consumers – their actions could not have been more contradictory.
Well the customer has had enough. Stop treating us like fools. Stop taking advantage of us. Stop telling us how important the customer is but doing nothing to demonstrate that you actually mean it. If you carry on giving us bad experiences, we will go and find our products and services somewhere else. Is your company guilty of any of the following?
- Poor value for money
- Delivering unacceptable customer service
- Failing to keep promises (unreliable)
- Poor quality
- Difficult to do business with
If you can honestly say you are 100% perfect with all of these – we will not believe you. What are you doing to get better at these things? Get your head out of the sand and wake up and smell the coffee. Our expectations will only get higher and higher as time goes on. You need to demonstrate to us that your company is serious about caring about us – caring about the things we need. We want the whole experience to be good. Consistently good. If you fail to give us good experiences, we will stop using your company. No customers = no company.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that your attention as CEO is focussed almost entirely on your shareholders. Good luck to you in continuing to obsess about share prices whilst your company fails to deliver the experiences that your customers want. All the creative accounting in the world will ultimately fall down when you realise that in focussing on shareholders you have ignored what is happening to customers.
When did you last experience what your customer experiences? When did you last sit at a checkout or deal with a complaint over the phone or go to a meeting with a customer? It is not good enough to simply agree to go on ‘Undercover Boss’ – you need to be understanding what it is to be an employee and a customer continuously. You need to ensure that your leadership team do the same. Feel what we feel and you should understand what works and what doesn’t work.
You need to keep reminding yourself and your teams that they too are consumers. Do you like it when you have a bad experience with a company? So why is it acceptable for you to do to your customers what you do not want to happen to you?
We are sick and tired of having terrible experiences. I hope (on behalf of customers) that you take notice of the essence of this letter. I hope (on behalf of customers) that you really listen to what it, and your customers are saying. The big question is this – if you carry on doing what you are doing today, do you think you will still exist in 1 year, 5 years or ten years?
I cannot recall when I last read a piece that was such a statement of the “bleedin’ obvious”. It is however no less important for that!
Having been involved with small/medium business throughout my working life – and being largely oblivious to this whole service area for most of this time, I offer a few thoughts:
Large, share price obsessed companies, are strictly above my pay grade. But in essence all businesses are the same in that there are two main “hooks” that all possess to do business: price – and there is everything else eg service/adding value etc.
I have wondered recently, looking at the “headless chicken” actions of the large supermarkets trying to defend market share against those evil German invaders, what it is that they now stand for? From a recent interview given by (the now late CEO!) Philip Clarke of Tesco and their TV advertising, it is clear that it is mainly price to hold their position. Market share is being defended at all cost it seems – this is not good news for your campaign!
But it is, from my somewhat ignorant position, also incredibly stupid! They are not and probably never will be as cheap as Aldi/Lidl – but they do offer other things such as increased choice, good loyalty schemes and dare I say a generally more pleasant shopping experience etc.
So when was the last time we heard about any of this? The checkout experience at the big 4 is substantially better – but no, it’s price that matters!
When we get some “new” research from the likes of Ipsos Mori telling us again that price is only one of the factors which influences what we buy, there will no doubt be a swing back to emphasis on service again!
Just finally on the large beasts – this is a brilliant blog from the mighty Drayton Bird on the recent offerings from Thomas Cooke. I was wrong earlier about only two sales drivers – there is another one – perhaps more important than all – Branding!!
Turning to small/medium business there is the wonderful small business bible “E-myth” by Michael Gerber. This seminal work is I think being slightly misinterpreted now though.
The question the book poses “Why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it”, is answered by Gerber as a homage to the greatest business/business system in the World ie McDonalds. The “brand” that employs more people than any other – and which appears to be run exclusively by the under 20s.
As the book concentrates on providing value to small business by the use of systems to turn a “self-employed job” into a “proper business” it gives the impression of suggesting that the most important person in this business is the owner. (Not really a valid critique).
Respectfully though, I believe that it this proposition which is the biggest problem faced by business today. It is the point you make with your remark about “shareholder obsession”, for larger companies.
Despite the many great teachings available, small/medium business owners focus largely on themselves.
“It is my business to give me the profit and lifestyle that I require. I can pull the plug at any time. My accountant tells me that cashflow and profit are the most important things in business and he has just told me to read the Gerber book!”
Fine, all good stuff, all very important – but as you say “no customers = no business”!!
Cashflow and Profit are simply measures of performance to show how effective you have been in attracting customers.
Most business are not as profitable or sustainable as they could be as they don’t understand customer focus! “I exist, (and have done since 1922) and therefore customers will come”! “They always have”!
Hence the majority of business owners are “clueless” whether retail or not, large or small, B2B or B2C.
Being customer focused is not always that easy – but for goodness sake it, it can’t be rocket science! All owners are consumers, we ought to be able to ascertain what makes us buy from others and apply it to our own business?
“….yes but my business is different….the rules don’t apply to me…..”
As the great US Marketing Guru Dan Kennedy has often replied, “B…..ks”.
We should all be asking ourselves, “Why do we Business Owners get out of bed each morning and why should anyone care?”
Best wishes for your endeavours. There is a lot to do!
ps I recently sent several tweets to an “Undercover Boss” in an effort to be helpful in addressing a major problem that he had identified. I got no response whatsoever!
Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this Adrian – it is very much appreciated! There is a lot to do – that is for certain. The good news is that more and more are waking up to the fact that the obvious is not a reality. As consumers continue to get more and more power in the control of relationships with the companies they interact with, I am optimistic that life for customers will get better over time – but only time will tell just how long that will be!