When complecency sets in

I really felt like reconsidering my choice of waakye seller this week. I have been a customer of this woman for far too long. At least, that was how I felt as I stood there and she bypassed me and kept serving one customer after another. I have known this particular woman almost all my adult life. She started selling waakye right before I went to secondary school and she is still in the business. The fact that she has been in the business for the better part of two decades is an indication of how good her food is. I have always been convinced that if there ever were a national awards for waakye sellers, she would, at least, be in the Top 10.

Just a few days ago I was there to buy lunch. There were just about three other customers in front of me but just before it got to my turn, this woman decided to serve another woman who had come to meet me there. When the seller realised that I was not too pleased, she smiled and said, “But you, you are my customer so I know you understand.” What had happened was a classic case of customer service complacency—and it is a very common customer service issue.

Many of the poor customer service stories we hear of on an almost daily basis can be traced back to this canker. Complacency is what causes a business that starts out well to fall by the wayside because of poor customer service. Complacency is what causes an event organising firm to begin putting up substandard shows after years of putting great shows. Complacency is what makes a hotel start out as a five- or four-star facility and within a couple of years fall below a one-star status.

When organisations start behaving as if “they have arrived,” they are in danger of becoming complacent. When procedures and processes are placed on “autopilot”, the organisation is about to get itself into a region of complacency. When employees start treating customers as annoyances instead of blessings, then complacency has set in.

The scourge of customer service complacency happens mostly with businesses that enjoy monopolistic advantages over the competition. It is true that there are other waakye sellers in my neighbourhood but, without a doubt, this woman’s beat them all. In that regard, she is almost a monopoly in the entire neighbourhood. To businesses like her, the customer really has nowhere else to go, regardless of the quality of service, so then anything goes.

It is true that familiarity breeds complacency, as was said by Rick Warren. When a customer becomes a familiar face around the office, chances are that familiarity would creep in which would lead to complacency. There are individuals whose daily routines involve transactions with particular businesses. These include those individuals who have to go to the bank daily to pay the previous day’s sales. It also includes those who provide external catering services to offices all around the country.

More often than not, the quality of service we mete out to those individuals is often not the very best. We become so used to them that we do not think there is anything wrong with delaying them a few minutes while we serve other customers or passing a poor comment here and there. We lose all sense of urgency when serving these clients because they have become like one of us. Our rationale behind all these inconveniences is that we expect those customers to “understand.” That is complacency at work.

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What service providers seem to forget is that the customer might not complain but that does not mean that the experience has been pleasurable. If this pattern continues for a while, it would not be long before the customer starts becoming open to the competition.

Ironically, complacency sets in when organisations perform consistently over a long period. When an organisation is regularly awarded for being the best in its industry, it is quite easy for that organisation to fall into the complacency trap. When that organisation allows its many awards to get to it, it is just a matter of time before complacency sets in. When an organisation that became known on the market for something special stops doing that special thing, you do not need a soothsayer to tell you that complacency has set in. A complacent satisfaction with the present quality of service is the chief bar to the pursuit of higher quality.

One of the best cures for complacency is the other C-word—Competition. Competition, especially the kind that comes swift and hard, can kick out complacency in a way that shakes the very foundation of the organisation. Competition is the one thing that can kick a business off its high horse back to the ground.

The heady days of the liberalisation of the Ghanaian financial sector to open it up for players from the sub-region readily comes to mind. Many of the existing banks, who had enjoyed years and years of near-monopoly, had to wake up to the reality that things had changed for ever. Some banks are still reeling from the shock of the aftermath of those reforms.

I had a personal experience during those days that really taught me never to be complacent with my customers. A customer who had been doing good business with the organisation I was working for at the time just stopped doing business us. I was tasked to go and find out what would cause such a good customer to stop doing business with us. It was shocking to hear the woman as she enumerated the countless number of times we had treated her with complacency.

Unknown to us, this seemingly good customer was a long-suffering one. She was with us because she did not have many options. And when the options came, she was gone. What made our situation more pathetic was the fact that she was won over with a simple counting machine. Yes, a counting machine. Our competitor gave her a counting machine as a gift and she was gone!

One way to overcome complacency when it comes to serving your customers is to become wary of complacency, especially whenever you are dealing old customers. It is natural that the relationship might have developed to the point where the customer has become more than just a customer. Sometimes, these kinds of customers become friends. However, that is when complacency sets in. You must therefore be on your guard always, especially when dealing with those customers who have been with you for a long time.

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In dealing with customer service complacency, it is also important that the organisation sets the highest standards across board. All customers, regardless of how long they have been doing business with the organisation, must be treated with the same high standard. All promises made must be necessarily fulfilled. Reliability and responsiveness must be highly valued commodities in the organisation.

Relationships with every customers—rich or poor—must be most valued. This is not to suggest that an organisation should not segment its customers according to the value they bring to the organisation. There is nothing wrong with having premium customers who are given preferential treatment. This can be done but not at the expense of the other customers.

It is also important to constantly survey your customers to have a feel of what they think of the relationship. Asking customers about their perceptions of the relationship gives you a good idea of whether the organisation is being complacent or not. As you review and evaluate the company’s performance, it becomes easier to see if the organisation is going off tangent. In my experience, customers are most often willing to share their views of the relationship with the organisation. The problem is with the complacent organisation.

When complacency sets in, the organisation does not even give its customers the listening ear. It is complacency that makes it difficult for certain organisation to accept the fact that a complaint is not really an affront to the organisation but rather a gift from a customer. When complacency sets in, organisations become blind to the many opportunities that a customer complaint presents. They fail to realise that within the complaint are key deficiencies in the organisation’s offering—deficiencies that, if corrected, can lead to greater growth and profitability for the organisation.

Complacency results in organisations blatantly refusing to take the blame for even issues that are clearly their fault. Such organisations readily get on the defensive when customers complain about anything. They forget that in an argument with a customer, they might win the argument but lose the customer.

In combating complacency, it is important to point out the crucial role that top management plays. The direction from the top must be made crystal clear. Every single individual in the organisation must operate with the mind-set that complacency is not tolerated. When the boss is not smug when dealing with customers, it becomes very difficult for those at the front-line to do so. The issue of complacency must therefore be a major agenda at all staff training sessions. It must be hammered into the minds of all staff.

Businesses must never forget why they have been set up—to serve customers. Therefore, the customer should be at the centre at all the organisation’s decisions. As has been discussed, complacency is something to be avoided when dealing with customers. Many organisations have found themselves in trouble with a customer just because the business was complacent. Complacency is a silent business killer.

Anyway, I am yet to take a decision on the waakye seller. I really do not know what that final decision would be because in spite of all her complacency, her waakye is still second to none.

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