Are you trapped in an abusive customer relationship?

“Monopolies are fun, everyone should own one.”
Attributed to a well known cable mogul in his cups

Remember what it was like to have to deal with the phone company or the cable company or the electric company or the gas company when they were the only game in town?

Marketing?  Don’t need it.
Customer Service?  Who cares.

And they didn’t.  After all they had us where else could we get what they had to offer?  However, once you introduced serious competition into the mix they got religion really fast.  Unfortunately, too many other businesses act like they are monopolies when it comes to dealing with their loyal customers.

I guess that they feel that since we have always been there we will continue to be there and it doesn’t matter how much they abuse us and take advantage of our relationship.  And you know, there is some truth to that.  Human nature makes us reluctant to change.

Look at political parties for example.  As a consumer of government, I have always voted for one party and one party only.  No matter what bad decisions they made, scandals they created and promises they leave unfulfilled.  Now logic says that I should look around at some of the other brands, perhaps give a newer one a shot, but my emotions tell me to put my X where I always have and then brag about how loyal I am to my party.

Another good example is how we consume our media.  I was a religious watcher of the CBS evening news since I was young.  But the product has changed, and I don’t just mean anchors, the entire format of how the news is presented has changed on CBS and recently I have switched over to NBC, though I feel strangely unclean about it, like I am being treasonous.  Thinking rationally, I have made the right choice but my emotional ties to the CBS Evening News make me uncomfortable about my decision.

It’s like living in an abusive relationship.  You know that you should get out, but you can’t seem to take the first step.  It doesn’t matter how bad we are abused, we justify why we can’t leave.

Then there is the interesting phenomena (luckily not widespread) of businesses that thrive because they treat their customers badly – usually these are diners and restaurants that cater to the masochistic.  People flock to them like lemmings because it’s cool to be abused.  It’s like the old Monty Python sketch about the man who goes looking for an argument and is mistakenly sent to being hit on the head lessons.

And so we take it, the bad service, the excuses, the lack of responsiveness and we make the excuses, “they didn’t used to be like this” or “it was so much better the last time” or the perennial favourite “he must be having a bad day”.

Often bad customer service erodes a business slowly over time, until one day the owners look around and wonder where all the customers have gone.  It can also happen to entire industries – the American autotive industry being a good case in point – where after years of manufacturing products with quality, fuel economy and safety issues finds itself in a crisis of massive proportions.  This was an industry where customer loyalty used to be a matter of pride – “I’m an Oldsmobile man.”  Now, it has been surplanted by foreign manufacturers who did respond to real customer needs and concerns.

And this should be a lesson for us all, that customer loyalty and emotional attachment only goes so far in an abusive and unresponsive customer relationship. 

Some signs you are in an abusive customer relationship:

“Your call is important to us.”
“It says so right here on page 44 of the contract.”
“Sorry, that’s our policy.”
“If we made an exception for you we would have to make one for everybody.”
“That’s not my department.”
“I’ll get back to you right away.”
“I can’t give out that information.” 

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