Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thank you, come again.

Americans are becoming more tolerant of piss-poor service, and it's really ticking me off.

After reading about some poor schmuck in Illinois who was harrassed after not showing his receipt, I couldn't help but think about a few "customer service" examples I've encountered recently.

I can't help but wonder why companies would mistreat the very people who give them money. But you know what I've figured out? If the company is big enough (McDonald's, Bank of America, Wal-Mart), the economics of scale work in their favor. They don't care if someone has a bad experience because there are millions of experiences happening every day.

But even local businesses suffer from stupidity. Just recently at work we had a lady win a year's worth of flowers at our Women's Expo. We hooked up with a local florist to deliver the flowers every month. After a few months, the winner called us up and said the flowers she was receiving were dead. So we contacted the flower shop to figure out what was going on.

Now this is where the smart business owner says, "Gosh, someone's unhappy, and they know people, so I'd better treat them right." Instead, the owner called up our winner and yelled at her. And on the next delivery, they left her dead flowers along with a note of how much all of this was costing our credit union - and a message saying "You ought to appreciate what we're doing for you."

Uh huh. Appreciate dead flowers. Sounds like a smart business decision, doesn't it?

Entrepreneurs can shoot themselves in the foot with this type of behavior. Our flower winner is going to tell us, and tell her friends. We'll tell the people we know, and so on, until the flower shop shuts down because of an excess of dumbness.

This is the free market system at work, of course, and the thinking goes that competition and comparisons will lead to an evolutionary system - where only the fittest companies survive.

Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. Those giant corporations, like Microsoft, are so huge and so ingrained in our everyday lives that a few unhappy customers won't stop people from, say, using the latest Office software. It's hard to imagine a full-scale boycott of Microsoft. People just aren't as organized as they used to be.

Locally, however, a group of people can have a big impact. Smaller businesses have more to lose, and so their reputation is everything. Some businesses can save a lot of money by not advertising - they let word of mouth and referrals do the fetching for them.

But if the word of mouth involves four-letter words, all the advertising in the world might not save the bottom line. And that's the way it should be.

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