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Raissa Carey

Quality Insider

Are You a Responsible Customer?

We must all help build quality into products and services

Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - 17:59

I come across countless articles, columns, and blogs about poor customer service daily. People can present their frustration and pitiful experiences in the most creative, peculiar, hilarious, and shocking ways. Most of them just want to vent, but others are determined to give their expert advice on how companies could improve their service. With all the finger-pointing and good discussions out there, I couldn’t help but wonder: As a customer, do I have any responsibility in a company’s poor product or service?

I have been, I am embarrassed to admit, the worst kind of customer there is. I don’t answer surveys, I don’t give feedback, I don’t participate in customer rewards programs, and now that I think about it, I’m not even loyal to any particular company. I do whatever is easiest for me at the time. If something goes wrong, I huff and puff, and go on about my life. I really never thought of my role as a customer, as long as a company operates as expected without numerous product recalls or really rude employees. That is, until a couple weeks ago, when Gap Inc. decided to change its logo.

Only a few days after the company unveiled the new logo—a clean, modern-looking one—the Gap switched back to the old one, following the request of thousands of dissatisfied customers who shared their opinions about the new logo on Twitter and Facebook. The Internet was flooded with blogs and news stories on the topic.

“We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo,” Gap posted in its Facebook wall. “We’ve learned a lot from the feedback. We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowd sourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.”

It wasn’t Gap’s response to its customers that got me thinking; it was the great power all those people had on the company’s way of doing business. For the first time, I thought about the concept of customer responsibility.

Communication—isn’t it one of the main factors of any healthy relationship? So to have a healthy customer relationship, companies must learn what they’re doing wrong, they need to know why they’re doing it wrong. At the same time, customers need to proactively interact with the companies with which they do business.

“With the information age, there’s a whole other level of transparency,” says Gary Tucker, senior vice president of the Global Services and Emerging Industries Division of J.D. Power and Associates, a market information firm that performs detailed studies about customer satisfaction, product quality, and buyer behavior. “Before the Internet, consumers were operating pretty blindly.”

Today, customers worldwide are able to share experiences and be advocates of their needs as end-users. At the same time, the way companies treat their customers has a direct effect on how consumers interact with them.

In fact, consumer advocacy is becoming a key focus of businesses, according to a recent customer experience report from the market research firm Harris Interactive. According to the report, word of mouth is the No. 1 influence on consumers’ purchasing decisions (76%), while 49 percent of people said they make their purchasing decisions based on customer reviews and online feedback. Seventy-nine percent of consumers that have had a negative experience with an organization told others about it, and almost everyone (97%) would share their experience via word of mouth. Sixty-six percent wanted to discourage others from buying from that company.

As effective as it is, word of mouth can be dangerous. Destructive criticism, badmouthing or posting belligerent blogs about negative experiences (you can find thousands of them online) won’t help companies improve. Understanding our role as customers, and interacting with businesses in a responsible and respectful manner can greatly influence the outcome of what could be a bad experience. Responsible customers offer feedback and solutions, accept apologies, give companies a chance to make things right, and treat their employees with respect.

In the end, companies rely on customers to prosper, just like kids rely on their parents to grow to be independent, dignified adults. Flourishing companies give customers many channels to share their experiences. Caring parents teach children by setting good examples—including showing how to be responsible customers. And that’s what my two sons will get from now on.

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Raissa Carey