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May 23, 2011


by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

We marketers talk blithely about how our clients / customers want a ‘relationship’ with our brands and products. Relationships are built on respect. When the chips are down do we really respect those who pay our salaries?


One of SA’s largest teleco’s doesn’t have a complaints telephone number. What? The same company which spends hundreds of millions ‘building a relationship with me’, through advertising, loyalty programmes, competitions and sponsorships can’t be bothered to have a number I can call from the phone they supplied, when I have a complaint? No. I should email them. It’s just more convenient that way – they can schedule responses during work hours. I have adopted this approach in my relationship with my wife, Mrs F: Every time I get “we need to talk”, I say “no dear, I handle complaints during office hours. Send me an email.” Obviously I follow up with flowers – I have a relationship to maintain.

Many call centres are created with more thought about operational efficiency than respecting the paying customer. An endless array of voice prompts, followed by the good news – you have only 15 minutes to wait for an operator. Mrs F calms down tremendously after I put her on hold for a quarter of an hour of badly recorded telephone muzak. Often she even forgets what she originally called about. I follow up with a surprise gift (expensive jewellery works better than lingerie) – after all I have a relationship to maintain.

Never apologise. It makes your organisation look like you actually have something to apologise for. This is the approach adopted by a certain (allegedly tipsy) judge who crashed his Jag into a wall, remember? Worked for him. Blazon it out. Be aggressive if you have to, but never say sorry! What? I only tried this once with Mrs F. Being in a relationship is all about apologising early and well when you have (to misquote Google rather than Mrs F) ‘done evil’.

The sad reality is that in some organisations marketing is a sort of bracket around a rather inflexible organisation, which frankly would be more efficient without the bother of ‘customers’. Marketing (noun not verb) sweet talks customers into believing there is some sort of relationship. The operating business treats them as a unit of production and marketing then spends more shareholder money trying to make up.

Wouldn’t it be better to simply decide what relationship we actually have with our customers and be consistent? Is it a simple transaction: I have something you want, pay me for it and go away? (Ryan Air charging for in-flight toilet use; ladies of the night.) Or true love: (Lady Gaga’s ‘Little Monsters’ [maniacal fans]; Mr and Mrs F)?

So on behalf of our customers everywhere, I will leave it to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of soul and her seminal hit we have all danced drunkenly to at the end of a good party:

“I got to have (just a little bit)
A little respect (just a little bit)”
[Respect from the album ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You’ 1967]

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