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Sunday, August 22, 2010

What should companies & customers commit to each other?

In response to “Decency is a Customer Role,” Wim Rampen introduced me to the company customer pact – an open call for companies and customers to share responsibility for building “long-term relationships that lead to trust, strong communities, and sustainable businesses.”

While it is an intriguing idea, I’m still undecided as to whether I’m in favor of this version of a company / customer pact, or any such pact for that matter.

I’m a fan of standards in the service environment as sources of performance measurement and shared expectations. This includes standards for dialogue between company and customer. But something tells me that in the service environment – the type of business the Company-Customer Pact is most intended for – there are too many heterogeneous inputs across industries & companies, among differing customers & service providers, and in highly variable environments to make it practicable.

This pact has limited scope, addressing primarily company-customer dialogue. Much attention is paid to respectfulness, responsiveness, good intentions and clarity, and provides a good foundation for mutual respect. Missing, however, is mention of pther important company commitment characteristics, such as reliability, empathy, and assurance. In fact, the pact may actually undermine loyalty, as so much of the important company-customer interaction lies in non-communication service aspects not covered by the pact.

Finally, in committing to a conservative standard, companies may actually be limiting their ability to delight customers on all attributes.

In the end the company / customer pact may just not matter much. In any company / customer relationship, companies have the short-term leverage and customers have the long term leverage – it’s a good balance. Companies that exert the short-term leverage without consideration for customers’ ability to vote with their feet eventually get what they deserve. Good companies are going to live comfortably above the minimum standards, while bad companies will live comfortably below it, which may beg the question whether such a pact is needed at all.

So how about it – am I being too hard in what is a generally agreeable initiative between companies and customers to establish a baseline for their interactions quality? Should the pact be expanded to cover a broader range of the company / customer relationship? Should it be abandoned altogether?

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