Do you hate your customer?


It is the season for love and celebration.

It is also the season for shopping, both in person and on-line. In this time there will be moments of joy and delight, but also moments of disappointment. The parcel for the keenly awaited gift that doesn’t arrive. The inedible meal. The gadget that breaks or doesn’t work as expected. This is a part of life and doesn’t necessarily indicate lack of care – except of course if you are a scam artist or willingly selling inferior products.

But what about your policies? Those documents that seem to make so much sense when operations, finance and compliance sit together to draw up long edicts. You know the ones I’m talking about – the ones that appear when you read the fine print on the back of the invoice or behind the “accept” button. The ones you put up in the customer service area in a huff.

What does your policy say about how you feel about your customer?

When you draw up the return, exchange or warranty policy what is at the top of your mind? Is it that you are tired after a long slog and just feel hassled by all the demands of serving customers? Is it based on that tiny minority of super entitled and unreasonable customers? Is it written in a moment of worrying about how you need to protect your interests?  As a senior leader would you like to explain the policy to an angry customer, or are you secretly relieved that some hapless frontline staffer will be the punch bag who experiences the wrath of the customer?

None of these reactions are inherently evil – they are natural human response to overload and fear.

The question, however, is how do they make your customers feel?

Recently I had some experiences that got me thinking about how policies that seem completely reasonable at the time translated into an experience of feeling hated as a customer.

The first was at my local iStore – the local (though subcontracted) representatives of the Apple brand in South Africa. The store, conveniently close to my office is open 7 days a week. It was time to replace the battery in my trusty Iphone 8 (yes I know 🙂 ) I decided to drop it off for the battery swop. After standing in line for about 30 minutes I got to the front desk ready to hand in my device for the repair. “Sorry sir our technician only works Monday to Thursday”. I responded “no problem I have another phone I will just leave it with you & pick it up when it’s done” Then came the policy. “No sir our policy is that we cannot accept any phones when the technician is not here, you would need to come back next week”. This is a bit like having the restaurant open and then leaving it to the diners who have been waiting to get a table to explain that the chef is not in today.

When policy makes sense inside a business – especially at a management level –  but not to the customer, you are creating an experience of disrespect or even hate to your customer. As the slogan says “Think different”.

My second experience was from an online furniture store called Cielo. Earlier this year I bought an office chair online from them.  After a few months I began to slowly descend while seated – often on a video conference – my head comically sliding down the camera frame while talking until I could jump up and yank the lever upwards. Funny to the other folks on the call – annoying to me. I wrote the company and indicated what happened & requested a repair. The response that came back was that they could not assist in any way until I recorded a video of myself showing how this was happening.  Tough to do since I had to be on the chair while filming (the customer service agent helpfully suggested I ask someone else to film me as I slid down to the ground while sitting on the chair). This being a slow and intermittent experience it would be quite a feat and quite a long video to produce.

The question behind these two experiences is – what are you really trying to convey to your customer about the relationship you have with her?

In the case of the iStore I guess the message is “your time is not valuable to me, you can keep coming back until we are ready to help”. In the case of Cielo furniture the message is more direct “We do not trust or believe you and until you can provide video evidence that there is a problem with our product we will not help you in any way”.

There may well be good reasons for both of these policies (in the case of Cielo probably just a drive to make warranty repairs as hard as possible), but if you are in charge of customer care,  here are 3 tests to apply to any new policy.

3 Handy tests to apply when introducing a new customer service policy:

  1. Place yourself in the frontline to explain policies that convey disrespect to your customers for a few days before signing them off. Get a sense of how explaining that policy might feel to a low paid frontline staff member.
  2. Take the messages that your policies convey and write down how they might make the customer feel. Next try them out on your spouse or best friend. Next time your husband or wife calls and says there is a problem with the car or the front door lock – ask him or her to send you video evidence that this is indeed so as a requirement to help.
  3. Write the essence of your customer service policy as a tweet and consider what would happen if you posted it on your Cielo Facebook page or iStore Twitter feed – would that enhance or detract from the brand?

As organisations grow and as we do more and more business online an chasm can easily open up between the lofty brand promise your company presents on its web-page and the reality of the customer experiences. we all know about the dark practices of some shady ecommerce sites. Sadly these same dark practices can easily infiltrate generally well intentioned businesses.

You should hold off sending NPS and customer satisfaction surveys until you have truly tested your customer “care” policies by way my 3 tests above.

The best ways to avoid your customers ending up feeling like you hate them is to give much more authority to your frontline staff to call out policies and practices that convey disrespect to your customers & to apply the 3 tests to any new policy emerging from finance, compliance, operations or any other part of the business that is not customer facing.

No business can be sustainable if it – even inadvertently – tells your customer to go step on a Lego!