Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The customer is always wrong

This is a guest post from Engtech.

The expression "The Customer is Always Right" was first used in advertising by Gordon Selfridge in the late 1800s, but has been around for centuries in who knows how many different languages. Yet it is a mantra that seems to be falling by the wayside in modern
business. From the corporate point of view, the 21st century consumer is right less often. Corporations attack our pocketbooks from numerous fronts:

  • an abundance of user agreements telling you what you can or cannot use,
  • product purchase contests now use pins and require registrations to build up direct marketing databases,
  • hints at online retailers doing targeted price increases using your shopping habits to increase the price of items you are likely tobuy,
  • digital rights management (DRM) technology -- a fancy way of saying "even though you paid for this you don't get to own it and dowhat you want with it".

I didn't like it when gift certificates changed to gift cards with expiration dates, although I understand the logic behind it. (It's done for accounting reasons.)

I hate that if I make a mistake booking a flightand I don't correct it within the grace period that I still have to pay a rebooking fee (and the original expensive fare) when rebooking to a cheaper flight. I understand it is a necessary barrier to prevent people from switching flights willy-nilly, but it sucks. (Always triple check your itinerary well ahead of time). The corporation has you bent over and at their mercy; business as usual. Pray they use lubricant.

But what really makes my blood boil is the underhanded stupidity that you can only get when the person is right in front of you. It's easier to ignore the short-sightedness and psychosis that is assumed from an unseen evil corporate overlord. It isn't so easy to ignore a cashier in a green golf-shirt and clear plastic gloves who's standing face to face with you.

Subway: Eat Fre$h

This first story is a simple one, I'm sure every consumer has experienced something similar at a one time or another. This was back when Subway still accepted "free sub" stamp cards (before the widespread counterfeiting made them too cost ineffective). My significant other and I bought two subs as a Couple Unit(tm) and we were soundly informed that we were only allowed one card per customer.

So we paid for them separately and USED OUR CARDS thankyouverymuch under the disapproving glare of the manager-slash-owner. (And have exercised out rights as consumers by never returning to that specific location.)

The second story happened today. The Subway location near my work offers daily 6" sub specials for $2.49. Today's special was the Italian BMT (Pepperoni, Salami, and Ham). Meanwhile, the 6" veggie delite vegetarian sub was $4 + change. For those of you who are not Subway aficionados, there is no difference between a veggie sub and any other sub with the meat taken out.

So, something that cost Subway less in both ingredients and time was considerably more expensive than the special. If you fancied a veggie sub, you might think you could ask for the special but leave the meat out. In the words of StephenR. Covey, this would be a prime example of thinking win/win. I save a buck, Subway saves some cost on ingredients. But instead it was a clear example of No Deal. The only way to get a veggie sub for the low-low-price of $2.49 is to buy a meat sub and throw out the meat in front of them. You can't even ask for "meat on the side, please".

As a carnivore, I fully understand the desire to subsidize your business on the backs of the omni-lacto-hippo-vegans and visible minorities who avoid meat products for "religious reasons". After all, our ancestors didn't fight this long to get to the top of the food chain only for us to start giving up ground now. Maybe the refusal to play ball was really a neo-conservative judgment on my perceived left-wing hippy vegetarian societal choices?

Or maybe they were afraid what might happen if they started down that slippery slope:

  • trying to exchange two different 6" subs of a lesser value for a footlong sub,
  • trying to switch cookies for chips in your sandwich, drink and side combo,
  • or trying to substitute a $2.49 cold-cut trio (turkey-based ham, turkey-based salami, turkey-based bologna) for a genuine turkey breast sub.

They're absolutely right of course. Increasing your business by making choices that benefit the consumer while saving your business money at the same time is the first step down the slippery slope to anarchy. Arbitrary rules are always a better way to go than allowing people to make independent, intelligent decisions based on changing circumstances.

Besides, the customer is always wrong.

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