It was Karl Marx who said religion is the “opium of the people”. My basic understanding of his theory and thinking here is that when things go wrong and we mortals cannot comprehend it, religion can put it down to God. More specifically, that God works in mysterious ways.
In short, we have to swallow events and the consequences of them, and hope that God has a plan and that it will all be okay in the end. A strange way to open a business comment column, but as I watch big business and, more in-depth, the tech giants gain more and more power, I feel that they want us to ingest some of their opium.
Basically, we have to swallow whatever service and products they sell us and not ask too many questions. But it’s hitting a tipping point for me as they grow more powerful with more geographical and digital dominance. If we as customers, consumers and users do not stand up to them when the service and products don’t work, then they will start to believe that we believe they work in mysterious ways also, and we will just become cannon-fodder and a monthly subscription.
Only this week, I had a poor experience with a tech company. It’s a taxi-hailing venture I use fairly regularly. But on this occasion it was a little frightening. So, I complained and stated my case for the prosecution in a measured fashion. What I received back was a vanilla response that did not address the safety issues I raised.
My question to you now is what would you do? Leave it and think that it is not worth it? That you are only a tiny blip on its radar? Or perhaps take your complaint to the next level? I did. I escalated my complaint and this time the receiving party fully understood the charges I was laying against them and, as a customer, I needed a proper response.
The matter was dealt with and the tech giant refunded my fare, which was a very kind gesture. More importantly, they said they would take action on the safety points I raised. Well done! But, are we becoming a little anodyne and failing to object in general when it comes to accepting bad service or products from many of these big businesses?
Are we too malleable to bad service we receive? My fear for all of us is this. As these big companies get their digital and commercial tentacles deeper into our lives, will we reach a point when to complain is futile as they have the power to “switch us off”?
Like all good relationships, it’s fun and all lovey-dovey at the start as they compete for our business. It feels good when the sign-up works well and we get a frictionless product zapped into our mobiles and tablets.
But, as they acquire tens of thousands more customers, that special feeling disappears and it’s business as usual. But this is the key for me. Having been a “loyal” customer for years, when something goes wrong, does the algorithm ensure that we are treated with respect and as if we were a new piece of business?
The art of complaining when service is not good can be tricky at times. But, if we do not hone this art when service is indeed poor, then we will allow big tech to profit from us without demonstrating that we are valued customers.
Perhaps the insurance industry is a model they could look at, where each year as a customer who drives carefully, we get a discount or no-claims bonus. In this industry there appears to be a recognition of partnership in doing the right thing for each other. I’m not so sure that Silicon Valley has this ethos at its venture-capital-driven heart. But we as customers must always remind them of why they exist.
Good customer service makes your day, but we don’t usually say much about it. Bad customer service spoils your day. So, make sure you say plenty and get recognised for the good money you are paying. And don’t swallow corporate opium. There are no gods involved here, only humans.
l Jim Duffy is co-founder of Moonshot Academy and author of Create Special.