Why is it that when a company has a great market share, they often cease being innovative and begin slow rolling new features or products, or falling way behind in customer service? This has become one of my biggest pet peeves regarding commerce in general, and falls into the category of “Things I never want to be able to say about my company”.

A few recent occurences have gotten me thinking:

  • Verizon Wireless – I recently got a new Blackberry through VZ – the smallest they had at the time. I really wanted a Curve or Pearl, but VZ didn’t carry those and couldn’t tell me when they would start. I’ve had VZ for my cell phone service for years. Service is reliable and clear everywhere I’ve needed it, and I’m overall very pleased with the service for the price, so I didn’t consider going elsewhere (hey, the contract term also helps).
    But!! It seems that VZ is always on the tail end of technology… cool new phones come out from Motorola, Nokia, RIM (Blackberry), you name it… and VZ seems to get them in stock – at higher prices — a year or two after the rest of the world. It drives me batty, and my suspiscion is because that means VZ can get you to pay more for the phone when it finally comes out b/c you don’t have other better options, and means they make higher profit margins even if they didn’t. (I have to imagine the manufacturers sell phones much more cheaply when they’ve been on the market a year or two than at the get go.)
    Alas… VZ customers put up with it and stay with them for the service, so VZ probably feels no urgency to pass along the bennies of cheap tech to their customers.
  • Home Depot – buying floors shouldn’t be a huge issue through a national chain of stores… or so I thought until I tried to do so through Home Depot. Great customer service through the order process… but then you get into the measure, quote, install phase and everything goes to pot. And by pot I mean the lovely ceramic one in your restroom that implies all manner of “icchy” things. (Yes, I said “icchy”. My preferred descriptor isn’t suitable for print!)

    HD bungled a measure. Multiple times, all of which we had to come to around work schedules. THeir quoting staff was extremely rude and never got information in the timeframe promised, and then more than once miscalculated things on the quote or provided the wrong materials on it. When customer service was contacted over the excessive delays and issues, they didn’t respond at all. A manager at the store couldn’t be bothered to speak to me about issues, and instead passed my call to the very person who hadn’t gotten the first quote to me after something like 4 weeks. When I finally got customer service, they didn’t care at all and did nothing to get the issue resolved .

    So I went to another company called ifloor – a smaller online retailer who doesn’t have big marketing bucks and who can’t rest on the laurels of a national name — who did a fabulosu job. Perfect customer service. Great product. Great price.

What is it about these big national chains or market leaders that makes them think it’s OK to stop caring about the service or options being provided to customers? Laziness? Profit margins? Something else?

Sometimes a company doesn’t have an offering available, or an issue comes up in a project being put together for a customer. It happens. It’s not a good thing, but it DOES happen. In my experience, however, the resolution to that is to try to come up with a workaround solution (say, making it easy for unlocked phones to be purchased at a decent price if the company can’t offer their own… or actually working to resolve the issue with the customer…).

Not doing so would imply to me that the company doesn’t care and won’t make the effort. Which as a consumer directly implies to me that I don’t matter, and the company is just out for profit with as little a headache as possible.

This is the US, there are plenty of those companies around. I will never bring my business to some of them again. But I hope and intend that my company will never be that way – the customer always matters; without them, eventually, there is no business!

Notice I didn’t say the customer is always right; I do not think that is the case. That’s a topic for another post. But the customer view is always important, and should be taken into consideration often by any good company – even if it’s ultimately ignored due to extenuating factors. If they are not, there is no point in being in business, because eventually all customers will be dissatisfied.


Caroline Blake is a Partner in 352 and a member of the company's senior leadership team. As a 17-year veteran, Caroline oversees the company's finances, accounting and employee benefits. She is also a Certified Scrum Master and has lead several departments within 352 during her tenure.