Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Consumer activism

The four of us are a bunch of extreme consumer activists (my 3 partners led the movement and I reluctantly joined, but am a total convert now!) and we rarely go through any service without positively or negatively reinforcing the quality of it! We've had long crusades against service providers like Hutch (in one case, Bhushan made a Hutch shop stay open for 2 hours after its closing time!), Reliance, CCD, and some infinite restaurants! But, we've also given some amazingly positive feedback to the staff at Blue Dart, Curries and Subway in Ahmedabad, sometimes even call centre employees who actually get things done! So, we are constantly evaluating the products we buy and the services we get, and have almost made a religion out of not settling for "unfair" treatment, but also going out of the way to appreciate service excellence! But, the point that I often end up thinking about is what the front end staff of these companies, that do an overkill of slogans like "Customer is King", is incentivised for! Several times, the problem just boils down to wrong incentive structure! I wonder whether the incentive is to satisfy the customer's need or just give her an illusion of it, and whether feedback is collected out of a desire to improve or just to demonstrate that desire!

But, I guess the balance is slowly tilting in favour of the consumers with each passing day, and hopefully the information age will bridge the final demand-supply gap that allows companies to make profit in spite of doing a shoddy job of what they themselves state as their dharma! The man, who uploaded a video of his apartment on youtube and actually got Unitech to suddenly respond to complaints that had first been made ages ago, has really shown us the way to creative consumer activism without having to literally raise our voices! So, one thing that companies are surely beginning to realise is that they cannot get away with the "hit and run" strategy of ignoring a few dissatisfied consumers here and there and hope for information asymmetry in the market!

Of course, as long as I am the evaluator, it's damn powerful and exciting!

But, the real question for me now is what I will do in my business to enhance the customer experience that I have, so far, considered sacrosanct for any business! Will I forsake short term rewards to gain that edge in maximizing consumer experience because that is what creates long term value? Will I go out of my way to invest in front end staff who I can grant enough power to actually solve consumer problems and not just be punching bags for them? Will I be able to create systems and processes so robust that the customer is actually the King, no matter who serves him? Will I be able to create a company that actually believes in the power of consumer activism and bows down to it without being unceremoniously forced to?
Well, to my mind, the only answer is that if I want to survive in the long run, I bloody well will!


  1. Consumer is king, imho, means exactly that - a figurehead monarch with no real powers or abilities to take things into his own hands.

    That said, consumer activism is good, but not in pockets which is what its like right now. If someone was to come up with a nationwide system for redressals of issues - that was NOT a government entity, but had enough sway over the system - who knows? Curiously, why did you have the hutch store open way past its closing time anyway? Just to prove a point that you could, or was there an actual reason there? :)

    As for the end - charitable thoughts, but a teeny bit impossible to implement on a practical scale. They would work while the company was small, but not when you burgeon like crazy, and have multiple levels between the people in the boardroom, and those manning the front desk.

  2. << Well, to my mind, the only answer is that if I want to survive in the long run, I bloody well will! >>

    I guess, if its "survival" that you look at, you would soon realize that you can survive without making the customer the actual King.

    But if you do hold on to this passion and conviction, I see a greater chance of you realizing it.

  3. I have found that one biggest way to get this guys to respond is to put it on blog. I have some problems with one photo/camera shop in Bangalore called GK Vale. And I put it on my blog and then this manager replied and all. I just hope that they do improve the service.

    But I was just wondering if you or any of your friends have tried approaching consumer court for anything. I would like to get that experience. The consumer courts in Bangalore are literally not functional.