A valuable lesson for all businesses

Here is a classic, real life example of how not to treat your customers.

Many years ago I started a graphic design business. Some of my clients wanted web services and so I chose an ISP provider who came recommended as reliable and reasonably priced. They weren’t the cheapest but I wanted reliability. They were a young company who tried hard and their level of service was excellent. They even had an 01 landline number direct to the technical staff (sigh, those were the days). A regular newsletter was sent out informing us of their staffs hobbies and issues. We were all one big happy family.

They grew rapidly (as mentioned in their newsletters), moved premises and took on more staff (some of you will already be seeing where this is going).

During this expansion I did not suffer any disruption in their service (although that 01 landline number quickly vanished, replaced with a ‘gated’ 0870 number).

Eventually the firm became ‘invisible’ to me. I had a continuous authority mandate with them so that when a bill needed paying, they took the money from my credit card and issued me with a paper invoice. That became my sole contact with them. They had ceased sending me newsletters years ago and if they did have any new products or options available, they never told me about them. I simply put the invoices into my ‘paid’ tray and charged the appropriate client at the year end. It was the perfect equilibrium point for customer and provider. No maintenance required.

Then I get a letter out of the blue from them gleefully announcing that they had become a paperless office (presumably, this letter was the last bit of paper they had left in their office). Words like ‘environment’ and ‘responsibility’ were used. From now on I would not get any more paper invoices. To see my invoices I had to go online, log onto blah, blah, blah, the letter said.

This is where things started to go wrong for me.

The letter informed me of what had already taken place. I had not been consulted, I was simply informed after the event. There was no opting in (which would have meant I could have ignored the letter and nothing would have changed), nor opting out (which would have required some action on my part to keep things as they were).

Also I was not fooled by their environmental rhetoric.

The smoke and mirrors of environmental concern was really hiding a cost cutting exercise. They wanted to do less work by getting me to do it for them. It’s not even the thin end of the wedge, we’re getting close to the fat end. I’m sure some organisations dream of the day when their customers are so well trained in doing everything themselves online that they don’t need staff anymore – imagine the profits then!

Also, receiving a paper invoice cost me nothing. Now they were asking me to buy a computer, printer, paper to go into the printer, pay for the electricity to print the invoice as well as spend the time messing about on the internet logging onto blah, blah, blah.

Did they ask me if it was okay to do this and offer me an alternative if it was not? No, they did not.

Did they offer to compensate me for my increased workload and expenses with a reduction in price for their service, thereby passing on their savings? No, they did not.

When I emailed a complaint about this and asked them to continue as before I got a response from their customer service department which just repeated what the letter had said. You would think customer services would at least make an attempt to comprehend the nature of the complaint by actually reading it, wouldn’t you? Apparently not.

So now I’m annoyed. Now I’m on the offensive. Whereas previously, they had been ‘invisible’ to me with their simple efficiency (and I, a cash cow to them), with this letter, at a stroke, I will now have reason to evaluate their service and compare it with other providers. Because they want to increase their profits at my expense, I’m on the alert for any more self serving practises and I will be checking their prices against ‘budget’ service providers because that is what, in effect, they have become. And if they are more expensive, I will take my custom elsewhere.

I have offered to discontinue my continuous authority so that they will have to issue me with a paper invoice (or email me one) each time a bill is due which I will pay by cheque. This makes work for both parties but I am prepared to do this to make a point. I have yet to receive a reply to this suggestion but I await it with interest.

This is of course, my view of the reality of the situation. They will have a different reality, a reality that they want to see. Yes, I too want to save the world and I do what I can to help but where business is concerned I can’t help my cynicism. It’s always the bottom line. If this company wants to help the environment, why don’t they use recycled paper? There are always alternatives. It’s funny how they limit themselves to those which work in their favour only.

This is not a petty issue. We need to wake up to the realities of globalisation. Do we want service or do we want machines telling us what to do?

One Response to “A valuable lesson for all businesses”

  1. [...] Here, I wrote about a company that demonstrated the wrong way of trying to implement change in customer relations. [...]

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