Dissatisfied customers

BIG/GAS (Business Is Great/Government and Academics are Stupid) is a ridiculous but popular theory of how things work.

"If you go into a situation with nothing planned, sometimes wonderful stuff happens." -- Jerry Garcia

BIG/GAS (Business Is Great/Government and Academics are Stupid) is a ridiculous but popular theory of how things work.

The bad news: according to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), not only are consumers just as satisfied with the federal government as they are with the private sector, the federal government's scores are improving, while the private sector's are in decline.

Reader response to my recent column describing my broadband ISP's approach to customer elimination management -- customer relationship management's evil twin -- bears out this wretched state of affairs. In fact, readers accused every broadband ISP in America of the same behaviour. You have to wonder if these guys all went to the same customer disservice school.

The ACSI shows a clear, positive correlation between customer satisfaction and business results. Sure, correlation doesn't prove causality, but business decisions are driven by best available evidence, not rigorous proof. They have to be because rigorous proof always arrives after opportunity has passed.

Which is what makes this sorry situation bizarre: business, which is supposed to care about profits, return on investment and shareholder value, is shrewdly marching in exactly the wrong direction. How can that be? We all know the answer. A colossal accumulation of evidence shows that trying to please Wall St analysts gains a few years of improved stock prices, after which the company crashes and burns. Many business leaders don't care about the crashing and burning. They focus on this year's bonus, which is pegged to stock performance, so they naturally consider Wall Street analysts more important than the customers.

Not too many years ago, this message would have taken the form of "isn't that just too bad", for the audience of this column. Now, CIOs and CTOs actively participate in strategic planning. You help shape the dialogue. To the extent you do, suggest this highly innovative, post-New Economy strategy: increase profits by retaining customers, which you can do by treating them like they're important to you while offering them excellent products at competitive prices.

The evidence favours this approach. It also suggests your competitors aren't using it, giving you an advantage.

Follow the US government's lead. While we're told it's run by faceless bureaucrats who know nothing about what we citizens need, it's acting like it really is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Imagine that.

Influence your company's strategy? Send Lewis an email. Lewis is president of IT Catalysts, an independent consultancy specialising in IT effectiveness and strategic alignment.

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