Loyalty is almost totally lost in society today. I mean, you expect Russell from Survivor to tell you, “Look! It’s you and ne till the end! I swear on my children!” and then immediately cut your throat at the next Tribal. All the while grinning that missing-tooth smirk. But apparently that kind of back stabbery is not just limited to Samoa any longer.
A sports star used to be identified with a team. Joe Montana was a 49er. Michael Jordan was a Bull. Babe Ruth was a Yankee. They would start their career with a team, and they would end it there. Now a player’s loyalty is only as good as the wetness of the ink on their contract which they use to bully other teams into adding another zero the next time negotiations come around. One jersey, city or team is as good as any other.
The relationship between dealer and manufacturer is surely no better. Most manufacturers today base the quality of their relationships solely on the amount of your last PO. (I say “most” because there are some company’s out there that do still seem to value the benefits of a long-term, committed, monogamous relationship.)
Recently, our company was unceremoniously dropped by they who shall not be named. Other manufacturers say they want to support the custom side of the industry, but then turn a blind eye (and offer tons a backdoor incentives) to big box stores that can sell far more units. So what if they do so at pricing that is at or — in many cases — below our wholesale pricing? At the end of the day, they are consuming mass quantities, and that seems to be the only game in town that matters any more.
Ultimately, why should they care what the retailer sells, just as long as they are getting their cut? (Of course, they SHOULD care, because if the specialty dealers that provide all the top-shelf education and white-glove support go away, they’ll be forced to sell to the bottom in a market where only price matters.)
In the custom installation business, loyalty is one of the things that we have always counted on. Our life’s blood is customer referrals and — to a degree — repeat business. As I write this, I am sitting next to four filing cabinets that are each 52 inches tall and 24 inches deep. That is a lot of history of completed jobs. (Well, I guess it could be just a bunch of empty file cabinet space, but you’ll have to take my word for it.) And while I won’t say that every customer in those files loves us, but the vast majority do.
But that loyalty too is flagging. In the past, when a previous client would build a new home, it would be a lock that we would do the next one, and then the one after that. But recently we’ve had a few clients that have decided to go with others based solely on price. And they’ve gone with outfits that are two hours away in one case and close to four in another.
When we mentioned that those companies might not be able to service them in the future to the degree to which they’ve become accustomed — you know, accustomed from the type of service that we have been providing for years — they shrug it off with a, “Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”
What prompted all of this was a phone call last week from another client that we’ve done two projects with. He needed a new TV because the Pioneer Elite Plasma we sold him years ago had finally gone to seek its Great Reward. So he calls and says, “I’m interested in a Panasonic 3D model blah-blah-blah. I’d like you guys to install it for me and connect it to my system. And I’d be willing to buy the TV from you if you can match this price.”
Oh, boy! You’d be WILLING to buy it from us? Wow! That’s so frickin’ thoughtful! Really, you shouldn’t have! Because he has boiled everything our company offers — knowledge, support, service, integration — down to merely matching a number.
And actually, that’s not entirely how the conversation went. Before he got to the part about matching pricing, he wanted to discuss several different models and get my professional take on them. Which was the better technology, which did I prefer, which did I recommend. You know, all those things that you would expect to get when calling someone you’ve been doing business with for a while.
But like so many others these days, he wants the Girlfriend Experience, but wants to pay the scary-girl-under-the-bridge-in-dire-need-of-dental-work price. He wants the treatment and warm-fuzzy he gets from shopping at Tiffany’s, Rolls-Royce, Virgin Atlantic First Class (insert favorite costs-a lot-but-offers-spectacular-service name here), but to pay the lowest price he can find at Crazy Salaam’s Internet Bazaar.
So, would it be wrong to have clients initial a box that says, “I understand that you have sold me this item at a ridiculously low price. For this price, I can’t possibly expect you to provide the level of service that you have normally offered in the past. Instead, I agree to expect the level of service that I would normally receive from an Internet retailer. Namely, none. If anything happens to my purchase once it has entered my home, I promise not to call you or ask for any help whatsoever. If I do call you, I’ll fully expect to wade through lengthy phone-mail trees and then leave messages that I know won’t be returned, or possibly be greeted by a surly operator that will say they are transferring me but will actually be hanging up on me.”
Because, loyalty is a two-way street, and if you want me to be here and be loyal to you by providing on going service and support, then I am going to expect some semblance of that in return. And if we’re going to just boil our relationship down to the lowest price, then let’s just clear all the other fringe fineries and niceties out of the way.