I was one of the speakers at a recently concluded Customers’ Experience Management Conference, 2018 that help at the Lagos, Nigeria. In my presentation, I sought to answer a rhetorical question, whether the Customer was Really King?.
It was a little mind bugging, because we all thought we knew the answer and as goes the popular cliche, “Customer is Always Right”, and so Customer Must Be King… In my pre-presentation discussion with some of the participants and some facilitators, it turned out, we were not sure anymore who was king. The customer? Or the goods & service(s) provider? Could the customer be king without the service(s) provider? Who would he be king over, if there were no goods and services provided by the service providers? Perhaps the goods and services provider should be king? But then, where would we place the customer in the equation? In the middle of the discussion, we were not sure anymore who was king. I threw in more probabilities that provoked more discussion/ debate.
Richard Branson said that the employees in organizations, should and came first. He submitted that if the employees were well treated, they would in turn treat the customer right. So then, perhaps the employees were king(s)? Or they were service providers to the king? Some of the contributions actually sounded like one or two of the discussants had a sneak peek into my slides for presentation.
Not quite long, after lunch, just when everyone had had their fill, it was time for me to attempt to answer the question… was the customer really king? My audience did not know what to expect, just a handful had heard me speak before. It was going to be a herculean task to keep my esteemed audience awake, but yet also do justice to the question.
Just to underscore the significance of the topic, I asked my audience to imagine with me the World Cup Finals of Russia 2018 that just ended, between Croatia and France. It costs over USD$2.3bn to organize the finals and the entire Mondial might have cost a little over USD$14.5bn. I asked my audience to imagine with me, that the 80,000 seater stadium was completely empty by the time the 22 players from Croatia and France came out of the dugout unto the soccer pitch. I asked if they thought the World Cup Finals 2018 might still have been played in an empty stadium without spectators?
I did not think so… It would appear the footballers would assume they were in the wrong stadium. No matter how well prepared they were for the World Cup finals, it would be guaranteed to be postponed if there were no spectators in the stadium to watch the match. This is because the football match was actually for the delight of the spectators even though they are often ignored and taken for granted. If all the spectators were absent from the soccer finals it would not hold. Is the customer king yet?
Just before my audience would weigh the weight of an 80,000 seater stadium being empty for a football final, I created another scenario. This time I asked that they should imagine a church service on a sunday, or a jumat service on a Friday where the Pastor and or the Imam had prepared a very good message for Sunday or Friday, but the pew was empty. Would the Pastor or Imam proceed with the service? We moved to a very busy shopping mall like Shoprite and also created a scenario where for a whole week all the shops would open for business, but no customers. We guaranteed that within a week most of the shops would shut down as their wares may go bad for the perishable items and the payment of overheads of the other shops may drive them to shut down. Lastly, we went into banking halls and also assumed no bank customer visited the bank in a week while the bank was still open for service.
It was submitted that in all these scenarios, the customers would decide whether or not the event would hold. The customers are just being called different names for different occasions, but they were the same people who moved from the stadium to the churches and mosques to the shopping malls and to the banking halls. At this point we were nearing home, in our assumption that perhaps the customer was actually the king. Sometime in Nigeria in 2001 during the advent of the GSM. The sim cards were sold for NGN25,000 in the first few months. Some lawyer actually organized a customers’ protest and asked the customers to switch off their phones for just 24 hours. This was to test the kingship of the customers. The compliance level was over 80% and by the end of the 24 hours telecommunications service providers confirmed that the financial loss of 24 hours of customers not making calls on their phones and not being debited was huge.
Where we still debating to give the customer his crown as the king? The new set of customers these days do not complain, they do not fuss, they do not show any annoyance when badly treated. They just leave and never return. These new set of customers have ruined so many businesses and have caused business owners to go bankrupt because they refuse to treat their customers right. Statistics show that a typical business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers. Only 96% of customers just go away and 91% never return. They never return to that bad service provider. Further statistics show that 68% of customers quit business/ service providers because of an attitude of indifference towards the customers by owners, managers or some employees of business/ service providers. Furthermore, a typical dissatisfied customer will tell 8 to 10 people about the poor services provided and the problem encountered with the service provider. It takes 12 positive service incidents to make up for one negative incident. In spite of the foregoing, businesses and service providers are not observant enough to realize why their businesses are going down the drain.
In the 1980’s companies began to realize that the balance of power was shifting from sellers to buyers. The customer’s message was:
Give me what I want, how I want it, or I’ll buy from someone who will.
Today the message has been expanded and amplified to:
Give me what I want, how I want it, when I want it, at the lowest possible price, and make me feel special, or I will buy from someone who will.