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The Beyond Branding blog

August 09, 2003

Beyond complaining... collaboration 

I've always enjoyed discovering websites where customers gather to dish the dirt on the failings of companies. (I've listed a few here). They are often much more spirited and engaging than the sites of the businesses themselves.

But lately I've been thinking about our collective descent into a complaining culture. Just the other night I sat with three friends and realised we spent the first hour telling competing stories of the incompetence of service organisations. Although this was done with apparent glee, in the end I just felt depressed.

Of course, the persistent failure of business to deliver on promises of excellence is worthy of complaint. On the other hand, maybe we should take a step back and look at a system of complaint. Person A works for Company X and suffers regular complaints from clients. He apologises or defends - either way probably feels quite bad at the end of the day - and then goes home. Where at least he can vent his frustration on Person B from Company Y, who rings to discuss some aspect of Y's service.

Person B, of course, has spent her day also dealing with complaining A's and can't wait to get to her home so she can play her part in the great game of complaining.

Effective organisations can, and sometimes do, break out of this cycle by having more level, collaborative relationships with customers. They don't treat customers as kings but as human equals. Problems can be dealt with in a spirit of collaboration instead of conflict.

People say that trust is in decline... but perhaps trust is simply moving... towards the relationships that are more human, where we are not constantly engaged in a cycle of over-promise and complaint. Towards organisations that don't blandly - and falsely - define themselves simply as customer sycophants. Instead they look within for their ideas of themselves... they have attitude and they show customer care by engaging in more authentic dialogues about things they actually care about. Businesses that spring to mind in this category are Howies and Innocent Drinks

Look at these operations and you soon realise you're dealing with human beings not machines, and (for me) there is an immediate, felt response. I feel more friendly and I start to want them to succeed. These sorts of organisations can start to drive out the blands so that we can actually engage in decent relationships with the companies that work with us.

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