Recently, I had a situation where, as a consumer, I found myself unhappy with a very necessary, health related product purchase. As I attempted to resolve my issues in the most positive and polite manner possible I found myself feeling increasingly “unimportant”, much like my satisfaction, though desired, was not really a priority. The company was willing to make the necessary modifications but only under certain circumstances and in an unspecified timeframe that suited their schedule. My concerns, desires and time constraints were, at best, second place.
I was raised in a society where “the customer is always right” and when warranted, I utilized my “consumer status” to rectify problems, usually with positive results from businesses who wanted to keep my patronage. I made sure to never abuse the process and only complained when a product was truly unsatisfactory or misrepresented. With medical concerns, the situation was assessed and scheduling at a facility was prioritized according to need and necessity. If my case was emergent, I never had a problem getting expedited care.
However, in this day and age, businesses seem to be focused solely on their bottom line. Those who spent years serving the consumer now serve themselves first. In the medical field, patients are often double or triple scheduled, as I was told, to eliminate the gaps (read: lost revenue) caused by last-minute cancelations and actually seeing a physician now resembles sheep being shuffled through the collective turnstiles rather than the comfortable, personal feeling it once held. Furthermore, the definition of “emergent” has appeared to evolve as well over the years and things that were once considered important, like a painful toothache, now garner a two to three month waiting period to be addressed.
Generating as much revenue ergo as much profit as possible has appeared to replace the tedious task of maintaining customer loyalty. It’s as if there are now so many potential consumers to go around that corporate America no longer cares to satisfy one consumer’s needs … if one is lost, three more new consumers will come along to fill that loss. Is that the case? Has our satisfaction become expendable? As society continues to expand exponentially, has the supply of consumers become so great that our value has depreciated in the eyes of the companies with whom we do business?
Playing “Devil’s Advocate”, I wonder if we, the consumers, didn’t do this to ourselves. As our budgets tightened like nooses around our necks, perhaps we became greedy in our demands, trying every angle we could to get something for nothing including being rude when the provider refuses to placate us, finally puts their foot down and says, “Hey, enough already!”
As I watch corporations put their brands out there in the social media world, I continue to notice two primary trends with consumers. They are as quick to voice complaints, sometimes in the rudest of ways, as they are to request (and often demand) coupons, price cuts and special discounts. Since the inception of social media’s popularity as a marketing tool, I have personally witnessed many threats by consumers to change brands. And the irony of it is that in most cases, these are empty, idle threats leveraged by completely unmotivated consumers who aren’t going to change anything solely in an attempt to get something for free. Sadly, they are now so commonplace that they are no longer taken seriously. Have we become the spoiled child too used to getting our way by stomping our feet and, if so, has this attitude that we are owed some type of compensation for our patronage come back to bite us? Will we ever feel as though our loyalty means something again or has the era in which the customer was “always right” seen its time pass?
Much the same as the ageless conundrum regarding the chicken and the egg, I’m not sure which decayed first, customer service or consumer manners. But I do know that, at some point, like the fictional Alice, customer service has taken a tumble down the proverbial “rabbit hole” and landed in some fractured parallel world where the buyer/seller relationship is almost dysfunctional.
What are your thoughts?