Do Your Customers Really Come First?

How often do you make a call to a business, only to hear the frustrating refrain, “Your call is important to us…


No matter how often companies say their customers come first, the reality is often somewhat different. We know intuitively that customers count. They pay the bills, after all. But so often, other priorities creep up, pushing the customer further and further down the line.

Here are a few examples:

Not So Rewarding

Not long ago I joined Staples Rewards program. Soon I started getting promotional emails and one for copier paper caught my eye. Staples lured me in with a coupon offering an extra $5 off a case of paper purchased in the store rather than online. The advertised sale price of $24.99 was great to begin with, and stopping by on my weekly round of errands to save an extra $5 seemed worth the trouble.

At the register I learned that the advertised price was the net amount after an “Easy Rebate.” By “easy,” Staples meant I could fill out some paperwork and wait for them to mail me a Visa gift card. If I wanted to buy the paper, the real price was $49.99.

In effect, my “reward” was the privilege of being mislead. Staples didn’t want to reward me at all. They simply wanted to sell more office supplies.

Missing Miles

An article in The Wall Street Journal reported on musicians flying with cellos – a rather large instrument – having to buy extra seats for their instruments. According to the article, some passengers had been encouraged to open SkyMiles accounts for these companion instruments, only to be informed later that this was against Delta’s policies.

One unfortunate musician, Lynn Harrell, lost the miles in both his account and that of his cello. A Delta spokesperson was quoted as saying, “An object doesn’t have a loyalty experience.” An object doesn’t buy airline tickets, either, but that doesn’t stop Delta from selling the ticket.

The real issue is that Delta (like all airlines with frequent flyer programs) doesn’t offer incentive miles to acknowledge customer loyalty. These programs are designed to encourage people to fly Delta more often. They are profit-driven, not customer-centered.

Limited Support

When updating apps on my iPad the other day, I noticed that one update required the latest operating system from Apple.  Although my iPad showed I had the latest software, the version number didn’t seem current so I did a little digging. Come to find out, my original iPad can’t get the latest iOS from Apple because it is no longer supported.

This happens all the time with technology products, so I wasn’t terribly surprised. However, my Google search on the topic uncovered many irritated customers, several with iPads they had only owned for 18 months or so that could no longer be updated. If I had paid nearly $800 for my iPad, I’d have been unhappy, too. (I got a deal on a refurbished one instead.)

As passionate Apple customers, the people posting online expressed outrage that Apple was putting more emphasis on new product releases than on their customers’ need for products with a long functional life.

Overcoming Ambivalence

If any of these scenarios strike a chord of familiarity with you, then you know how it feels to encounter the “We love our customers…sort of,” attitude of many businesses.

You might even recognize similarities here with your own company’s business practices. Perhaps you’re thinking, “We’d go broke if we did everything the customer wanted.” I’m not suggesting that you do, but let me challenge that position for a moment.

Businesses exist to serve customers, not to turn a profit. I know that sounds like heresy, but profit is a by-product of doing a good job meeting customer needs. When organizations lose sight of the fact that customers are a critical ingredient in business success, you get policies and processes that are more focused on ROI, efficiency and employee convenience than on serving customers.

This can work for a while – months sometimes even years – but in the end it leads to a downward spiral. Customers love to hate businesses like these. They leave as soon as a viable alternative becomes available, and business falters.

Before this happens to you, ask yourself, “What happens when we put customers first?

When you focus on meeting the needs of the right customers (because you can’t serve everyone), you’ll discover that they share their experience with others, and they want to repeat it again and again. They become truly loyal rather than artificially so.

These customers are more profitable than those that feel no choice but to do business with a company. Turning the cycle around and putting customers at the forefront of business decisions makes an indelible imprint on an organization. Happy customers create profits and fuel growth.

Who could ask for a better combination?

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}