Listen to What Your Client is Actually Saying

I have recently taken a step into unknown territory.  I’ve written to my Member of Parliament to give voice to something that I believe really matters and which I feel is lacking in politics generally.  For information, I refer to the broad umbrella of integrity. The topic of my grumble, however, is not really as relevant as the response I received in reply. Without wishing to sound like one of those people who make a hobby out of writing to all and sundry to complain about pretty much anything, the reply was so insufficient that it has prompted this month’s blog article!

Perhaps it is the nature of modern politics – and particularly UK politics at this moment in time – but I was shocked, although sadly not surprised, at how little attention was given to what had prompted my communication on the general state of politics. Instead, the MP delivered a response that was steeped in the language of defence rather than actually engaging with a matter of concern raised by one of her constituent voters.

The reply blew back a stream of the standard kind of guff that politicians tend to blow when they have a question they don’t want to answer in a live interview i.e. the sort of response that has the listener/viewer thinking/shouting at the TV or radio; “Just answer the – *add your own expletive here* – question!” You’ll be familiar with the feeling if you watch PMQs.

Perhaps the MP felt like they didn’t need to make the effort, seeing as she represents a government with a large majority, or perhaps she just didn’t like the cut of my gib… but not even attempting to empathise with someone who has gone to the effort of engaging with you is the quickest way to lose you a vote in politics or a client in business.

The expression that ‘the customer is always right’ was coined at the beginning of last century by a group of business owners, including the founder of Selfridges. It was a revolutionary concept at the time because the customer was suddenly placed at the centre of business philosophy (as consumer culture began to transition from purchases of necessity to desirability).

Interestingly this concept fell out of fashion during the bluntness (often bordering on obnoxiousness) which characterised advertising during the Mad Men era of the 1950s/1960s. A predilection for shouting at the audience prompted the 1964 book Confessions of an Advertising Man (by David Ogilvy), to remind the industry; “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.”

Fast forward to 2021 and while social media’s ills are much catalogued, one thing it is very good at is giving a voice to the customer and bringing business accountability into the process (perhaps a little too much some might argue). Businesses have quickly learned that there is no gain to be had in going on the defensive to consumers airing issues in the public domain, but what about in their business relationship dealings away from the demands of ‘The Socials’?

Certainly there is no bigger turn off for a client of a business than to be told by that business that something ‘is not our fault’ with no apology nor effort to address the issue immediately and repair it (even if it wasn’t directly the business’ fault).  On the contrary, the business (or people representing it) which actually listens to their client and owns the issue is frequently rewarded with that Holy Grail of any relationship – trust. While many issues may be beyond a quick solution, the act of honest, non-defensive engagement with a ‘let me fix this for you’ is a quality that is almost universally respected, so long as it is backed by an acknowledgement and a willingness to at least try and resolve an issue.

So the moral of this story? My MP could have had my vote at the next election. If she was smart she would have come back to me, demonstrated that she had heard my concern and asked what she could have done to help or what it would take to change my mind (I made it very clear that a slender majority in a swing seat makes my vote ever more important). This courtesy would have thrown the ball back into my court, allowing me to vent, rant and reason and perhaps reach a state of catharsis whereby I felt like I had at least been listened to…and maybe it would be better after all to give her my support.  But she didn’t, and as a result has lost my vote, whenever that time comes, by simply not listening and acknowledging what I was actually saying and, even worse, not trying to engage with me on a human level.