Is customer-centricity in digitally connected world a myth?

With the advent of technology and the ease with which people get connected to a network, it has become necessary for businesses to have their customers at the core of their strategy. The visibility and the scale that a social media/digital platform offers to the both sides of a business transaction can make the experience enriching for the customers. At the same time, it provides businesses an opportunity to know their customers and learn their buying behavior so as to serve them better in future. But it could also turn into a disaster if businesses don’t live up to the expectations set by their customers. A single bad experience of a customer can reach the millions within no time and the business is then destined for doom, at least in the near future. Companies put a lot of effort nowadays into things like business analytics, artificial/business intelligence, machine learning etc. to make most of their business efforts.

Although I admire the use of technology for creating a better experience for the customer, I would like to share some insights from my recent experiences with some of the technology giants that makes me question their business goals. The two companies I am going to discuss here are HP and Uber.

I’ll try to keep the story short and focus on insights. To start with HP, one bad service by their support guy resulted into too many damages for my laptop and the estimated budget for repair given by HP was around INR 25K (after 10% discount given as a token of appreciation for the time and it had cost me). The discussions, negotiations and bargaining took more than a month but it the end I got it repaired from a local shop for less that 10% of the estimates given by HP. They never inquired why I didn’t get it done from their service center. I think this has to do with the kind of faith they have in their service.

Now coming to the Uber part, it was the worst ride ever had. The driver was drunk, I was getting late for my flight, he was running out of fuel with no clue whatsoever where the nearest gas station is, he was just roaming around the city not listening to my requests and finally dropped me midway. I was in no mood to pay him for the service but Uber has its own way of doing things. Once they produced the bill I raised a complaint regarding the same and somehow managed to get the refund for the ride. But this was not the end, one month later Uber deducted the same amount from my Paytm account linked to it. It was frustrating as I have to go through the same pathetic customer support again.

Let me share few similarities and most of them turn out to be the real learnings.

  1. The speed with which your complaint get processed is directly proportional to the visibility of the complaint i.e. a complaint on twitter gets addressed way faster than the one raised using mail, a call or the customer service portal.
  2. The same is true with the magnitude of compensation you get. So you make sure you do a good damage to their reputation on social media if you want a better service. The approach as such is not my way of doing things but this is what these businesses have exposed about their so called customer-centric approach.
  3. From the above two points, we can figure out easily that it has nothing to do with the customer satisfaction. Businesses focus on their reputation, image in the public and anything that can generate more money for them in future. Value addition, user satisfaction, enriching experience etc., all this is for an MBA grad. For businesses, money is what really matters, even if comes at the cost of customer experience.
  4. The so called “On-demand” services, the ease with which you can demand the services turns out be a horrible experience when it comes to complaint redressal as it has to be done for free or for a lesser profit margin at least.
  5. On top of all this, one more observation I made with the customer support portals is that these are designed to make it hard for the customers to use. Uber won’t service your further requests if the original complaint is older than a month. But yes, it can charge you for a service, good or bad, anytime. This is why I prefer paying in cash over linking my wallets to services like Uber.
  6. Businesses like HP don’t care about the customer issues because once you buy a laptop from them you are not one of their prospective customers for at least a couple of years. With Uber, they can refund your but won’t let you go(as I requested later) because you are one of their target customers and few more rides would definitely compensate for the refund amount.

In short, when connectivity goes beyond an unmanageable limit, connectedness is all that matters, not the customers. This holds true for individuals also who take pride in having too many connections on various social media platforms. Interpersonal relations and skills get affected once you become too focused on numbers and the reach. USE technology, BE human!

Originally published at wordpress.com.