Notes from the field of public involvement

Wednesday, 03 May 2006

Review of stupid companies 2006

Despair - Frustration - Resignation -  Curiosity: Colin Adamson's Cocktail of Feelings on reading The Stupid Company by Philip Cullum published by National Consumer Council February 2006 (available at  http://www.ncc.org.uk/publications/stupid_company.pdf)

Reading this brought on the familiar mix of feelings - despair and frustration succeeded by resignation and curiosity. Despair and frustration because it seems that no-one ever learns anything and companies are still committing the same stupid mistakes that they were 25 years ago. ( I wrote the first NCC publication on this theme of the value of customer care in 1982).  Resignation - nothing ever changes in spite of good evidence that change will work.  Curiosity - what is actually going on here? Is it too easy to say that companies are stupid because they have not learned the lesson that good service to customers is profitable? If companies are stupid, does it follow that consumers are intelligent?

Should we be starting from a different but perhaps a more interesting and productive premise - companies are intelligent and they sell stuff for a living. So why, if they are intelligent, do they risk so much by pissing off their customers? What else is going on here?

Philip Cullum gathered his evidence about a year ago from a survey of 2000 adults and 6 workshops in England plus ad-hoc research from a number of other sources including the NCC research with young people reported on in Shopping Generation, July 2005. 

He comes up with 5 key attributes of the stupid company:

He goes on to say that people are getting increasingly angry according to John Kemp and his Customer Care Alliance colleagues in their 2005 study of UK Customer Care. Two thirds said they felt extremely and very upset about their most serious problem.

All good knockabout stuff - rotten companies; disaffected customers as featured endlessly on You and Yours. We may be saddened by it and disappointed and maybe angry. Are we surprised by it? No. Are we bored by this? Yes. Does the NCC have anything new to say on this? No and it should. That is the other saddening thing - neither the symptoms nor the cure seem to have moved on according to this account.

For example, their consumer agenda for action asks for 5 things:

Why not add:

I think the NCC and customer service professionals should move things on. 

Both businesses and their customers need to work with harder questions armed with new data. We can then begin to answer some of the questions about customer satisfaction and its impacts on profitability now, taking account of what has actually happened in the last 20 years. There have been some really interesting developments:

NCC can work with others to find this sort of thing out and get beyond the unfocused grumbles of consumers and the apparent stupidity of organisations. I would love to see them try.

It would be great to get your views.

Colin Adamson | Send feedback