– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

Confusing customers

IstanbulI am back from my recent business trip to Istanbul. There is a saying in German which translated has the meaning of traveling would be equal to education. In this particular case I had to learn that companies still have a confusing understanding how to manage their customers. We have to keep in mind that there is large number of articles and books available how to manage a stable company – customer relationship and to tackle customers.

When going to the Airport there was interesting news on the radio concerning “Deutsche Telekom”. This is THE largest German telecommunication provider in Germany. This company, which is one of the successors of “Deutsche Bundespost”, faces a strong decline in customers. The reason is that competitors were able to gain its customers by lower prices or even a higher service level at the same price. A major focus of critique has always been the level of customer service, e.g. the time to respond on customer enquiries or customer complaints. I am a customer of this company too; hence I know that it is sometimes very difficult to find out which department really responsible is. So what was the radio message? Due to a lack of staff within the customer care center line managers did order not to respond to a large number of e-mails. I have to be more specific: not to respond on 10.000 of e-mails. I think that is an excellent approach to lose more customers. I am not sure which aspect is more confusing (a) a large organization that is not able to manage human resources appropriate enough or (b) line managers that see customer enquires as less important than setting an organization under pressure in order to shift staff to their departments. I will stress the crucial issue: A large telco company is not able to respond to e-mails in the 21st century. If a large company that sells Broad band internet access is not able to do so, how about the small ones? How does your organization manage a situation where a lack of human capital meets a large number of customer enquiries?


After checking in at the airport I crossed a Lufthansa airport store which offers a wide range of traveling accessories. At the point of sale a promotion for an electronic travelling guide was presented. It was a navigation system for large cities that include directions and recommendations for museums, points of interest and restaurants (etc., etc.). Well I am not really sure about the demand for this device in times of GPS-Blackberrys and Nokia N95, but this won’t be the issue here. The POS included flyers and a full life model of this device. Unfortunately the device did not work or was in its off-mode, its screen still kept dark. Hey folks, that does not make sense…if you present a device this way to attract customers and to focus on the touch and feel aspect (haptic sales signals) you should ensure that it is working. Fixing would be that easy…take a new one from the store and replace the old one. It is a waste of resources when marketing departments develop POS campaigns and these campaigns fail to small minor problems (or because no one feels really responsible for it). Communication and clear commitments between store employees and store manage could avoid these problems. How does your organization ensure that those campaigns will be executed in an appropriate way?

On my way back I got my last training lessons. Lesson one: If you book online with Lufthansa you will need to go to two counters to check in Istanbul. The regular counter for check-in service will find your name it its booking system. But the front end at this counter does not show your ticket number. Hence the counter assistant has to ask you to go to another counter, to pick up your number (you got a small print there) and to bring back that print/number to the check in counter. That causes two questions: Why is this number not on my documents that I received via e-mail and which I did print out at office? Why do both counters not share the same database or have access to each other? I have to highlight that I had enough time this morning and the distance between both counters was not “far, far away”…Does your organization ensure that your customers will have all information on their documents?

Lesson 2: I guess a large number of travelers know this issue and a large number of articles have been written about this: Code sharing – you buy a ticket of a specific airline, pay a fortune for it and end up with a different airline (the so called code sharing partner). Passengers obviously have to accept this approach, no matter whether it means for the company – customer relationship. Imagine this approach would be standard in other industries: You order a MERCEDES at your favorite car dealer. After several weeks you go to your car dealer to pick you new C class Mercedes and sales person would argue: “Hello Sir. This is your new Volvo. Due to the economic situation in the car industry Mercedes did enter production relationships with other car makers to achieve economies of scale. We have a car-sharing-production with Volvo and transformed your C-class order into a Volvo order. But you cannot complain. You get a car with the same technical attributes and the same color. It has an engine with the same horse power, 4 wheels, and a navigation system and will take you safely from A to B. Here are your keys!” I am doubtless that no customer in this world would accept these arguments.

This is an approach that attacks the relationship between customer and company. I basically understand the concept and the economy behind it – but I cannot understand why my boarding pass still argues that I would take a Lufthansa flight when sitting in a completely different airline? It is simply not honest! What does your organization do to stabilize this relationship or to avoid any damages at least?

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