It is OK to Hate Your Customers

Obviously it is OK to hate your customers because so many companies clearly do, and they do so actively.  Want proof?  Test the limits of their "friendly customer service."  Be a little bit annoying or high maintenance or disagreeable.

You might want to be cautious and experiment with a company that sells a product or service you can live without.  🙂

Of course you probably don’t need to try this experiment.  Chances are good that you have already had several experiences in which you have had reasonable requests met with bewildering responses best described as inept, rude, or counterproductive.

Why do we put up with it as customers?  It seems to me that in many cases the worst offenders are major players in their market.  They don’t need to try as hard to keep customers happy and they don’t.  Once again my local Walmart springs to mind (sorry to keep picking on Walmart, but I think the company can take it).

I made a personal decision to stop shopping at Walmart after trying surprisingly hard to buy an Xbox 360 last year.  I knew what I wanted.  I simply needed a clerk to unlock the case and ring me through.  I stood waiting in front of the sales desk in the electronics section for quite a while, my friendly expression gradually fading to a look of mild annoyance as I waited for one of several clerks to respond to my previous request to buy an Xbox.  Then one of them held up a finger in the direction of my face, a nonverbal cue that I would roughly translate as "don’t bother saying anything, we’re not ready to deal with you yet."  That finger-in-the-face was too much.  I bought my Xbox and left the store, returning only on the rarest of occasions (normally at the behest of my wife) and so far having purchased nothing else personally.

Some companies can treat their customers with disdain and get away with it, but it comes at a cost.  To compensate for terrible service, companies like Walmart need ultra low prices and aggressive business practices.  Phone, mobile, and Internet providers get away with it because of limited competition and massive barriers to entry.  Other national and multinational companies rely on massive advertising and ubiquity.

You might argue that "hate" is too strong a word to use in this context, and you might right.  There is a continuum from "loving your customers" to "hating your customers."

If you have any kind of leadership role in your company in any area that interacts with customers, here are some points for consideration:

  • How can you better motivate your front line staff to make all customers feel like VIPs?
  • Are you listening to what your customers are saying about their experiences with your company?  How are you listening?  How are you responding?
  • If you are in a services business, what can you do to show customers you respect them and appreciate their business?
  • If you are in a products business, what can you do to ensure customers are getting quality products and appropriate support that will make them feel that their money was well spent?

Please share your comments if you have advice for other companies or if you have any horror stories about times you’ve felt like a company must truly despise its own customers.

  1 comment for “It is OK to Hate Your Customers

  1. Darryl Skeard
    June 16, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Dude, they wouldn’t have gotten that sale from me. I would have walked (I might even have waited for the clerk to come and unlock the cabinet and then walked out — is that evil?). But, I don’t have kids at home waitn’ on that XBox, so it would be easier for me. Then again, I’m a pissy customer when I don’t like how I’m treated. I’ve walked out of restaurants, fired cell phone companies, insurers, financial advisors, even banks. Its a fair bit of trouble to fire a bank. You have to transfer your checking account, bank accounts, mortgage, student loan, line of credit. But I’ve done that twice. I really think more people should penalize companies when they don’t get the service they pay for (though not necessarily taking it to the extremes I do). The more people who, like you, stay away when the service is bad, the higher the cost of the lost business, vis a vis better pay, training or working conditions for their staff, or better attention to quality. Sorry for the long comment. I guess you have touched a nerve with this topic:)

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