Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is customer really the king?

“Customer is the king” – is a cliché used ad nauseam in business circles. With the kind of buying options available today in every walk of life, even a casual glance at the market only corroborates this claim. Why then do we need to question the apparent truth? That is because it’s only the casual glance at the market place that brings about this belief. The cliché is derived through a static perspective wherein we observe only the market-place instead of people. To question this cliché, we need a dynamic perspective that entails we follow customers through their day to day lives.

This apparent truth would’ve been the absolute truth if customers and vendors were a mutually exclusive lot. This, however, is not the case. In this complex society, any given person is a customer to someone and a vendor to someone at the same time. The increase in options makes the customer more demanding while every increased demand means someone somewhere has to slog at work. The vicious circle ensures that almost everyone works harder, as a vendor, to meet those never ending deadlines. The bigger ‘King’ a customer becomes, the more slavish every vendor in that industry becomes. The circle ensures that the monarchy of the customer, however, is short-lived as he soon assumes the role of the vendor.

An example might help elucidate the point. Consider the hospitality industry. A man is on vacation with his family in a five star luxury hotel. The man expects top class service from the hotel. He ‘demands’ continuous Wi-Fi access, spic and clean rooms, gyms, spas, pickup & drop, travel advisories, smart attendants on their toes and not a semblance of discomfort. Anything less and he threatens never to come back to the hotel. So the hotel makes receptionists, cleaners, waiters, drivers, accountants, IT technicians and many others work overnight in shifts. For every such customer, vendors across many such verticals and/or horizontals are kept on tenterhooks. The hotel wakes up an IT techie at 3 a.m. to fix the Wi-Fi for this esteemed customer having problems watching ‘online streaming videos’. The IT person’s family is frequently troubled with such support calls at night. Often, the family can’t sleep properly, affecting their daytime activities. This IT person is generally competent but badly overworked and this support call is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. He is not able to come and fix the Wi-Fi. The customer on holiday is pissed off, creates a scene and books a room in a rival hotel. The first hotel chain, having lost its ‘kingly’ customer, cancels the contract with the IT vendor providing the support people. The IT vendor that had a contract of exclusivity for the hotel chain in the entire country loses its major customer and takes a bad hit. The news spreads the next day and its shares nosedive. This company is an IT venture of a famous business house of the country. The parent company calls an urgent meeting with all the CXOs to address this exigency. Coincidentally, the hotel guest in question gets a call from his company informing him of cancellation of his vacation and asking him to report immediately. He rues his predicament, not knowing what in the world went wrong to have his vacation curtailed. He is the CFO of the parent company.

In the real world, the circle may not be so small or the strings of events may not be so fortuitous but what cannot be argued is the fact that you begin the trail that ultimately leads back to you. In other words, there is nothing that is not your business. As Justin Timberlake said, “What goes around, comes around.”

So the next time you feel like ditching a vendor for a small lapse of service, think twice: you might be creating a world that ruins your own holiday.