Customer is NOT a king-learn to deal with it!

The saying "Customer is a king" is just not true in most of the scenarios. May be the intention was genuine when this phrase was framed but it doesn't hold good in mass markets like India.
Let us analyze this in little detail and understand why I am saying so.
In order for customer to be king, following should be true:
1. Lots of options to chose from- different service providers,products and services
2. A sort of saturation in the market- companies should fear losing existing customers as there're not much prospects left to acquire afresh
3. Premium margins- margins or profits made per customer is too high to let them go
4. Fear of legal actions- Where consumer laws are strong and any customer initiated court case can have financial and PR implications

But above are not true in India for most of the services and products.
1. Customers' options are largely limited. In terms of cab aggregators there're only 2-3 major players per city. When it comes to airline, only 4-5 options, same for mobile operators, self drive companies and many other services. You can complain for a few days but eventually will be forced to go back to them as there're not too many alternatives.

Consider the following:
Uber and Ola: Every other day there'll be few posts on FB how Uber or Ola cheats or not serving properly. But then there're not too many alternatives, so those who complain will be eventually forced to compromise

Indigo: When video of Indigo staff beating a passenger went viral lots of people commented as if they will never fly the airline again. 2-3 months since the incident, Indigo planes are flying full. Similarly we get to read occasional rants on all airlines but airlines almost always get away without compensating affected customer, without suffering any serious business loss

Flipkart vs Amazon: Customers of online shopping portals regularly rant about delayed delivery, faulty products etc

You will find dozens of such examples.

2. There're ample growth opportunities still untapped:
For most companies, it is lot easier to acquire new customers than trying to satisfy a disappointed existing customer. They can simply launch a marketing campaign float a 10% discount code and several hundred new customers will sign up. This is far more effective and practical than trying to appease an existing customer who's thoroughly disappointed. Because India is a mass market and lots of prospects still out there waiting to be signed up as a customer, most companies do not care to give quality customer care or take care of their existing customers if that means spending lots of effort and money.

3. Margins are too low:
To add to previous point, profits per customer is usually very low for most service providers. Many companies (like flipkart) might actually be subsidizing your purchase with investor money. In such cases their focus will be on numbers and volume, not satisfaction levels of existing customers. With wafer thin margins, companies can't afford to deploy huge customer care team or have a generous policy that is customer friendly (refunds, replacement etc). So the tactic will be to delay any compensation/resolution and hope that most customers give up in frustration. It is fine for most companies to lose a few disappointed customers as long as they keep signing up new customers and overall sales growing.

For many companies, customer is just a number. More the number of customers they have in their data base, more money they can get from investors, more margin they can demand from their partners/service providers. So a customer being happy/unhappy doesn't really matter.

4. No fear of legal actions: 
Court cases drag for years so most customers won't bother to file a court case for small amounts. This is also a major factor why customers are not treated well by Indian firms. Most customers limit their frustration to venting on facebook and temporarily shifting to competition, till they face some similar issue with competition too, after which customers will be forced to return to earlier service provider.

So what can you do as a customer to protect your interests?
I don't have any magic solution, but below is how as a consumers/customers we can deal with service providers

#1: Stop assuming you're a king/queen. A business transaction is a give n take business. As much as a company wants your money, you need their services. Understand that providing a service has lots of variables, dependencies and failure points. Few of these might fail at times. Most online platforms like Uber, Booking.com etc do not OWN anything- service delivery is done by 3rd party and there can be some erratic behavior at times as each stakeholder tries to optimize their profits.  Keep a buffer for such failures and be little considerate towards the service provider. Example: Food delivery may get delayed due to traffic, flights get delayed due to various reasons and so on. Be prepared for some minor inconveniences, given that you've not paid any super premium price.

For many companies there is a compulsion to strike a balance between customer and partner. You may be an upset Uber customer, but Uber team also needs to keep their driver partners happy. If they impose too harsh measures on the driver, driver, who was serving 100 customers a week will shift to Ola. So it comes to letting go of one customer vs one driver partner, Uber in all probability will let go of the angry customer and retain the driver. This is the reality. So it is important to be fair, reasonable and back with evidence while escalating big time.

#2: Learn to differentiate between genuine problems and cheap tricks.
Some failures/delays etc could be genuine and not an intentional fault of the airline (example, fog delaying incoming flight might be a genuine delay but an airline deliberately denying hotel to Indian passport holders alone might be a cheap trick. If you feel that the problem is genuine, give them one more chance. If you feel they are tricking you, see if you can collect some proof and do share with others in relevant online platforms.

#3: Identify one off incidents vs repeats
Some failures are exceptional and do not happen every day or with everyone (Example- A passenger getting beaten up). Yes, it was unfortunate but we can move on. While some other things can affect everyone (Example: Bangalore cab guys asking cash payment for airport toll). You should be able to distinguish an incident for its likelihood of repeat occurrence and plan accordingly. For example, if airport toll cash payment is getting a problem, stop reloading Ola Money, use cash payment.

#4 Try to form groups of consumers- like if your IT park has 1000 employees, see if you can form a group of these people. If a cab company is repeatedly trying to fleece customers by charging 4x premium, for a few days collectively decide not to avail cabs. Even if it is not convenient try to use city bus or auto for a few days- this should send a message to concerned companies. Nothing hurts more than drop in revenue. Similarly create/join relevant facebook groups to learn from each others' experiences and how you can avoid being tricked or precautions you can take.

#5 Evidence is the key:
Where possible/felt required, make it a habit to record things (like customer care making various promises or cab driver asking for cash despite cashless payment etc). A clear audio/video recording puts lots of pressure on the companies as against a plain text accusation.

#6 Keep exploring alternatives
Reduce your dependency on any one type of service/service provider. If you're depending too much on cabs explore other modes like bus/train, self drive rentals etc. This gives you enough confidence to try a backup option if you feel your preferred service provider is not respecting you or trying to trick you.

If you're dependent fully on food delivery apps may be you should try walking to nearby restaurants or try cooking something at home as a backup option. Less dependent you are, less likely you'll get frustrated.

#7. Know your rights:
Sometimes not knowing your rights can let a company deny you certain facilities. Example, what are your eligibility if a flight is cancelled or a baggage is lost? If you know your rights you can quote them while talking to staff. If they realize you're a no nonsense person fully aware of your rights and process, they are less likely to fool you around.

Knowing your rights also limits unnecessary arguments- like a low cost airline may not provide hotel accommodation for minor delays- your fighting with counter staff over this won't help.

#8 Be prepared for filing a case in consumer court.
If you're cheated or abused, do not hesitate to file a court case. However slow the process is, many consumers have eventually won compensations. In India most of us are either lazy or don't want to waste time and effort on legal process-so many companies get scott free despite being on the wrong side. Only if more n more consumers start realizing their rights and fight for it, companies will think twice about ignoring consumers.

#9: Appreciate good service
Most of us are thankless when a good service is rendered. We take it for granted. We only make a cry on social media when something goes wrong. Appreciate good service and let them know. It helps boost morale of the staff, kills negativity on the net and gives credit where it is due.

#10: Keep vigil and try to outsmart the service providers
Do you know that just like how you rate a Ola/Uber driver, driver rates you as a customer. This means companies also try to track how good a customer you are and may not have any hesitation to get go of low value/poorly rated customers

Companies use lots of analytics and machine learning trying to extract more money from their customers. For example Uber was known to induce surge pricing for customers whose batter is running dry. Ticket booking websites use cookies and try to increase prices for those who are desperate to book. Your online activities are constantly tracked to decide what kind of ads to be shown to you. Shopping malls use several visual and psychological techniques to make you buy expensive/unnecessary items. The list goes endless. Only way to stay ahead of the curve is to keep reading and learning about these tricks and try ensure that you're not trapped by them. Always maintain a sense of what is essential and what is a reasonable price for this, so that you can sense any traps. This means some effort on your part and not blindly trusting what the app or shop tells you, but it might be worth it.

Customer being a King is true in some scenarios- like luxury hotels-there're 100s of them so hotels usually can't afford to disappoint a customer. Similarly high value customers do get treated like a king. Other ordinary folks should be careful.

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Happy 2018

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