Now that we’re in another lockdown, with all the difficulties that entails – staff on furlough or “let go”, orders drying up – customer retention becomes even more important than usual.
Unfortunately, it may also become more difficult.
After all, how can good levels of customer service be maintained if there are fewer people around to give it?
Fortunately, I believe there is some good news though. In my experience of having purchasing power in both schools and local authorities, there is a high degree of inertia when it comes to choosing suppliers, especially in the short term, and where the amount to be spent is below a certain threshold.
There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, if I wish to buy another two or three computers for my department, it makes a lot of sense for me to buy the same model (or its successor) as the ones already in place.
It means I don’t have to write or rewrite user guides in order to help people adjust to a different way of working.
Secondly, I’d prefer to buy from my original supplier, because I already have an account with them, I know the way they operate and their timescales and, if I’ve developed a good relationship with them I might be able to phone and ask for something with the promise of the paperwork later or speak to a dedicated account manager.
In other words, it’s much less costly in terms of time and hassle for me to remain with my current supplier than to start hunting around.
And in the current situation, where I’m having to prepare both online and school-based classes and I don’t even know if the school will be open next week, I should think this sort of inertia is even more likely to be in evidence.
But remember the long-term!
The economist Keynes famously said that in the long run, we’re all dead, but companies in the ed tech sector cannot afford to adopt such an off-the-cuff attitude.
At some point, a school will need to upgrade or expand its hardware and software infrastructure.
That’s when it will remember how well they feel they’ve been treated.
For example, if the supply of an item has been delayed, people might well have been sympathetic to the excuse “It’s because of Covid-19” back in the early days of the pandemic.
But unfortunately, there has been a sort of “excuse inflation” in which the currency has been devalued so to speak.
How else can you view news that one organisation has delayed the publication of a report completed in 2011 – because, they say, of coronavirus?
Or take the cases where people, through no fault of their own, have had to cancel holidays or other purchases, and been told they were not entitled to a refund.
The fact that some companies have given refunds or at least credit, suggests that the problem is not so much in the small print but in attitude.
Perhaps “attitude” is too small a word. It’s really a matter of company culture. In a previous article I wrote:
People are going to remember the companies that went the extra mile, or at least the extra 100 yards. And they’ll remember the ones that said, “Sorry, we’d love to help, but Covid19…”
I think that’s right. It’s especially true when the cost of going the extra mile is close to zero.
For example, I recently emailed a company to say that a DVD of theirs that was included in a book I bought from a shop in London didn’t work on my laptop, because the operating system had changed.
I asked them if there were any updated drivers for it.
They responded by apologising for the fact that there weren’t, and then asked if they could give me a free subscription to their premium service instead.
That’s one company I’ll be recommending when the occasion arises.
Their response was a far cry from the mean-spiritedness shown by some companies since this crisis began.
It’s also benefitted them because at no cost to themselves they have recruited another word-of-mouth advocate.
Considering that I wasn’t a customer of theirs, and was feeling a little annoyed when I first contacted them, that’s quite a feat!