The Customer is God … really? – A Day of Ironies

Devangshu Dutta

March 15, 2008

Today is supposed to be celebrated as “Consumer’s Day”. I find that ironical, given a personal experience of poor service that occured yesterday whose effect is still lingering and will linger for another 2 weeks (with profuse apologies from 3 different people on the retailer’s side, for the delay, bad quality etc etc).

There is the saying: “Customer is King”. But it does seem that the days of kings are past.

Mahatma Gandhi went a step further and declared the customer to be God. But there may be problem with that as well – after all, how many people actually listen to God? And for all the “god-fearing” intent, how many actually act upon their morals (or their customer-service policy, in this case)?

The “God” of discount retailing, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, is reported to have said that the customer was the one person who could fire everyone in the company, chairman down, by deciding not to shop at their retail store. Unfortunately, many today would probably respond: “No problem, I’ll just get myself another job.”

To my mind, one of the biggest issues that causes poor customer service is the lack of ownership – someone in the retail or service organisation to actually feel that the buck stops with them, and they can take care of the problem. Much of problem lies in the processes and the structures that disempower the individual employee, but some of it is also personal conditioning.

Another key issue – transparency in approach – is highlighted in an article in today’s newspaper by Pushpa Girimaji [Advantage Consumer: Customers love transparency!]

However, how is this for another irony: the same paper presented a quote from Joseph E Levine – “You can fool all the people all the time, if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough!” Unfortunately many organisations view the consumer through this lens rather than the earlier one.

How was your day as king / god / consumer?