Customers aren’t going to take it anymore!

In 1976, a satirical movie
titled “Network” won four
Academy Awards and quickly gained a cult-like following.
The flick centers on an anchor
newscaster who’s fed up with
his job and the world around
him. His frustration erupts during a live national TV broadcast
that galvanizes the nation with
the rant, “I’m mad as hell, and
I’m not going to take it anymore.” This protagonist’s action
prompts Americans across the
country to literally open their
windows and shout this defiant
pronouncement.

That was then, and this is
now. Today, it’s not a fictional
character, but the public at large
that has adopted this mantra.
The worm has turned, and now
customers have the power —
and they know it. No longer
do consumers have to
accept inferior products and
dismal service. Most frustrating, according to many
surveys, is the “attitude” that
accompanies many businesses’ lack of follow through and
poor service.

In our Internet-driven world,
with almost instant communications, blogs and chat rooms, the
consumer has come of age.
There is a new movement afoot,
and customers of the 21st century will not be denied!

What does it cost your business when you consistently
break promises and disappoint? Most likely, it’s not only
your potential growth but
your very existence.

Each day that your company
turns on the lights and opens
the front door, you need to be
prepared to keep your promise. Consumers have lost their
patience with apathy, incompetence and rudeness. In
these difficult times, a number
of companies that have been
around for years won’t make
the next cut. This will occur
not only as a result of a poor
economic environment but
because too many companies
just don’t deliver.

Disappoint me once, shame
on you; disappoint me
twice, shame on me.

This cliché sums up the new
“two strikes and you’re out”
consumer mentality. There are
simply too many alternative
companies for customers to
put up with an inordinate
amount of corporate mumbo
jumbo and sleight-of-hand
shoddy treatment.

Take for example the experience of calling a company’s toll-free number. It’s a fair bet that
the caller could be disappointed
not just because the issue may
not be fully resolved but also as
a result of the indifference and
the negative attitude of the
customer service personnel.

On the positive side, there
are still standout companies
that make customer service
their passion. One of the best
is the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain.
If you have ever visited a Ritz
and asked an employee the
location of a restroom, he or
she won’t merely tell you;
instead, he or she will accompany you to the facility. This
can be a bit disconcerting particularly when an especially
enthusiastic Ritz employee initially seems to be prepared to
join you in its typically spotless
oasis of mirrors, marble and
porcelain. Overkill? Perhaps to
some. However, to most, it’s a
refreshing example that the
Ritz and its employees care
about making that extra effort.

Do employees wake up in the
morning and want to do a bad
job? Absolutely not. The problem doesn’t stem from the
employee providing the bad
service but from the employer
that accepts mediocrity and
incompetence. In effect, companies become enablers by
doing a poor job of training
associates and not enforcing
customer service standards.

In the land of the blind, the
one-eyed man is king.

To meet or exceed expectations, a company does not have
to do anything extraordinary.
Most times, just being civil and
moderately efficient will win
over a customer. For a variety
of business reasons, including
expense control and the all too
prevalent personnel cutbacks,
many organizations let customer service go to seed. Make
sure you spend your money and
devote resources to where you’ll
get the best return. Customer
service should be the very last
cut before you’re forced to permanently turn off the lights.

This is a wake-up call for
every owner and corporate
executive to double their efforts
to ensure that they are making
their customers’ life at least tenable, if not easier. Anything less
and you run the risk of becoming the target of newly empowered and technology-savvy customers who know how to make
themselves heard electronically
with a cry that could be heard
from every window around the
world.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988 with a friend and partner. Starting with one store during a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide, with annual
sales approximating $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in 2003 to Boise
Cascade Corp. Feuer immediately launched another start-up, Max-Ventures, a retail/consumer products
venture capital operating and consulting firm headquartered in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Feuer serves
on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and
building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at [email protected].

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