By David Fagerlie
Recently, I attended a presentation about the work of a nonprofit organization that was held after hours at a local restaurant. I paid a fee to attend that was much greater than the value of the dessert and a beverage provided; the balance supported the nonprofit. Drinks were brought around and I accepted a glass of juice. Later, one of the restaurant owners brought around coffee. The sight and smell of the coffee caused me to long for it and I asked for a cup. I was unceremoniously told I was allowed only one beverage.
I did not make a fuss then and I have no interest in disparaging the restaurant; but, I now know that the few pennies it might have cost for me to have a cup of coffee was more important to the restaurant owner than leaving me with a positive impression. Although the slice of pie I ate there was excellent, it will not be my lasting memory. Even if the other attendees in our small group also wanted two beverages, the cost to the restaurant or nonprofit would have been inconsequential.
Will I go back there? Maybe, if meeting there is important to a friend. Would I otherwise be motivated to go to that restaurant again when other options exist? Not likely. This was an opportunity for the restaurant to capture future business from people that were there to support the nonprofit but might not know the restaurant. That opportunity was squandered with me. If the owner demonstrated such low interest in customer relations that night, it is reasonable for me to believe I will be treated similarly in the future.
A less obvious outcome of the refusal of a cup of coffee is the perceptual attachment to the nonprofit that was using this venue to promote its mission. From a marketing point of view, when two organizations collaborate both reputations are affected by the performance of each other.
Most people think they know what marketing is. Even many executives in industry think marketing is sales and/or advertising. Sales and promotion are important components of a marketing program; they are not the essence of it.
Marketing is an exchange of values. I give you something you want and you give me something I want in return. It is not coercion nor is it selfless giving. Fostering the perception that the organization or business cares about its customers and backing that up with an outstanding customer experience is more important than any particular sales strategy or advertising. Demonstrating willingness to adapt to customer desires and expectations reinforce to the customer that the business cares about him or her. Experienced marketers know that positive word-of-mouth is the most effective form of advertising.
Customer perception has been important since the beginning of humans transacting business and trade. The stakes for organizations are greater now as consumers have the ability to communicate their dissatisfaction globally using the technology in one’s phone. Trust in the intentions of an organization is paramount to long-term success and the consequences of providing a poor quality customer experience can be dire.
I am guessing everyone reading this article knows that United Airlines had law enforcement remove a passenger from a plane because the airline wanted his seat for a member of the airline’s crew. The man suffered physical harm and his attorney reported to the news media he would require reconstructive surgery.
This incident followed another when United Airlines refused boarding to two girls because the gate agent did not like the girls’ leggings. Both incidents went viral; the leggings incident was tweeted by a woman at the gate who observed what happened and the forced removal of the man was video-recorded by another passenger. On April 22 The New York Times reported that the CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, agreed not to be elevated to the role of chairman as scheduled due to his mishandling the public relations problems from these incidents. The airline’s board of directors is seeking another chairman who will champion tying future compensation to improvements in the customer experience.
Not long ago, president-elect of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, commented that he was going to meet with business leaders and among the topics of discussion would be improvement of the quality of Ecuador’s products. I believe the poor quality of manufactured goods and poor customer service in Ecuador is, in part, an outcome of Ecuador’s self-imposed isolation from world markets by way of high tariffs. Local manufacturers and businesses ignore customer satisfaction knowing customers have little recourse. The lack of concern for the customer experience is evident at all levels, from multi-million-dollar businesses and governments to small restaurants.
Marketing professionals know that the only thing more difficult for a business to achieve than creating a reputation is to change one. Indeed, Ecuador has a monumental challenge ahead to change the perception of low quality and poor customer relations if it intends to compete in marketing its goods and experiences (such as in tourism) in a global marketplace where customer service has been taken seriously for decades. Existing businesses, nonprofits and destinations will have to care more about how the public experiences them. Otherwise new, more marketing savvy organizations and destinations will easily take their place.
David Fagerlie studied marketing management at the graduate school of business at the University of Washington, taught marketing for nonprofit organizations at the university and practiced marketing for more than 35 years. While the chief alumni relations officer for the university his staff produced hundreds of events annually in the United States and Asia. He and his wife retired to Cuenca in 2015.