A long time ago, in a land not so far away there was a balance of service and profit with companies who simultaneously ran their business with an honest approach. It was a time when companies could speak practically with customers, and a time when customers would accept answers, even if it didn’t fit their needs perfectly. All was well. Why was this the case? Because nothing was written in stone. Sure these companies had policies, and customers had wants, but this was an era that still needed a flow, because face-to-face communication was still the prevalent way of selling.
We all know how this story goes. As companies grew and efficiency became king, things began to change. Since companies became bigger and stronger, consistency needed to follow. So what happened?
Not to say that companies didn’t have policies before, but they sure didn’t hide behind them. During the mid century, a company’s growth and customer relations was based more on human interaction instead of a marketing strategy. There were more “mom n’ pop” shops and big companies needed to keep that personal touch like the smaller stores did. As smaller stores became less of an anomaly, these large companies began to realize they were soon to be the new normal. This allowed corporations to further streamline their processes even at the expense of doing things that, maybe weren’t exactly tasteful.
We’ve all seen and heard the horror stories of airline companies, cable companies or big electronic companies, where people have frustrations left and right due to strict, and not so customer friendly, policies. It wasn’t until the mid 2000’s that the consumer was able to actually bite back. With the evolution of things like Google Reviews, Yelp, Trip Advisor, Angie’s List, The Consumerist, etc., consumers had an opportunity for the first time, to state their grievance with HUGE audiences to listen. Now when overly simplistic policies were put on trial, consumers posted their stories, and other consumers could choose (The greatest fear of companies everywhere) to walk away with their cash.
This has led to, what many consider to be, a new age of how companies must interact with consumers. Now, for better or worse, a whole company can be put to rest by just one online review. Whether the review is wholly factual or not, the damage can still be done. Medium sized companies found themselves bending over backwards to please consumers who now can have the upper hand. I mean, how many of us have said under our breath, “I’m posting this online” when walking away from a frustrating situation. We’ve seen a role reversals of sorts over the last 30 years. Now the consumer feels the power, where they can start to live and breathe, “The customer is always right” mentality.
So…what are medium sized companies to do with that?
It appears that medium sized companies need to default to transparency. The more they veer away from policy, and more towards being human, the more the consumer will understand. Is it possible to please everyone? Of course not, and you never will. But, if you can start to implement human-to-human interaction in the way you communicate, you should see consumers, even when you give them bad news and watch them start to relent their position of power. For instance, most big corporate companies can’t say “We aren’t the best at everything”. Now how silly is that? No company will ever be the best at every facet of their industry. Companies will always have their strengths, and their weaknesses….and that’s ok! Why can’t we tell customers that? Why is it, when something goes wrong can we not say “That is a major bummer, I wish we could have done it better”.
Now, there isn’t a law that says a company needs perfection, (And if there was, we would all be in big trouble). However, I’ve found the more I put myself in a humbling position, the more customers want to meet me halfway. We make pretty incredible software here at Webconnex, but not one person here would say we are perfect. Do we try to be? You better believe it! That doesn’t mean we aren’t realistic with when we could do certain things better. That honesty we have within ourselves is what makes us so rad, because we see each area we are awesome at, and which areas we can be more awesome at.
Customers will and should have this power given to them by the internet. It keeps companies in check, something they all need. With that said, we need to make this become a more even-keeled flow between the company and the customer. The more straightforward and human you are with customers, the more they will return the favor. I would get such a smile from a customer saying, “My needs weren’t able to be completely met, but man, their team was open, honest, and sympathetic”. Don’t be afraid of the truth, the truth will always set you free.
Begin viewing your customers as a friend not foe.
Realize customers are a human just like you, and they will eventually see you in the same way. We are a culture who are becoming desperately afraid of simple honesty. Instead, we become masters of dodging. Become your customer’s friend.
We’ve had a lot of changes over the past few decades, and it is hard to find that coveted balance. Your first step going forward now should be, “what would I want these people to say of me?” Would you want it to be honest and sincere, or smoke and mirrors. It’s your choice.