Stories of brands failing to meet hygiene service standards are many. The angst is possibly more pronounced in the case of brands that promise delight, having raised our expectations. In a market where several categories are far from saturated, this lackadaisical attitude to customer service delivery (forget service standards), is an opportunity for other brands in the category.
Consumer disgruntlement was never heard across so many channels, the most notable of them being online. There exists the view that beyond a point, consumers will give up and simply resign themselves to existing standards. That’s true only if all brands in a category collude to set a certain minimal standard benchmark. It takes one brand in the category to seize the opportunity that arises from this ‘norm’ of taking consumers for granted, and rise.
Let’s take a category many love to bash up online – cellular services. We’re all well aware of those that create fantastic advertising. And there are a few of them. But one glance at online consumer forums will dispel any notions one might have of the track record of some of these brands as far as delighting consumers goes.
It’s not always by intent that the consumer gets short-changed. But the disappointment is real. When a brand promises to delight every time you visit an outlet, and hands you a scratch card for the same, there’s some amount of delight in the experience already. But when you read the instructions after you get back home, wherein you need to key in the ‘code’ of the store (which the person who gave it to you should have provided), there is disappointment. And guess what? You can’t get this code from the helpline either. You need to visit the store again.
It’s also a category where some brands have had to carve out positions for themselves coming in long after players had skimmed the cream off the market. The first movers were obviously blessed with the high ARPU customers, and that makes a big difference in how much can be invested in ensuring service standards in a service industry. The lack of faith in service providers has even become the insight for one service provider’s chosen communication path today.
The picture only gets more grim if we look closely at what happened with Mobile Number Portability. More than a year before MNP was actually introduced, I was part of a research project to find the answer to this question: ‘Will consumers shift?’ What came out of the study was the strong possibility that the process of porting would be made so cumbersome by incumbent operators, that consumers would give up after yelping for help. What also came out was that while a sizeable number of consumers were aware of the shortcomings of their current service provider, they were unclear on the choice of service provider to port into.
The MNP finding proved right. Numerous complaints later, TRAI issued directives to enable hassle-free porting. But it was a case of too little, too late. By then consumers had lost interest in MNP. While the same newspapers that wrote of consumers crying foul ran stories on which service provider gained most from MNP, none got an answer on how many porting requests were rejected.
In the case of several categories, once you’ve bought in, you’re not king anymore. It even gets dangerous, this skewed power equation. I remember interacting with a lawyer on a credit score that his customer’s bank had given him – an erroneous one thanks to a mistake of the bank. On the basis of this score, the customer’s application for a loan got rejected. And the fact that such a record existed against his name was known to the customer only after the rejection. Such stories, as I said, are many.
Even more than consumers choosing brands from companies that do good, they would want to deal with brands that deal with them fairly. That trust deficit is a space that’s begging to be bridged. It will take extraordinary commitment. But the rewards are there to be had too.