“Before you get into any relationship, you should get out of it!”

That may seem nonsense and, of course, impossible, but it’s when any relationship ends, or when the going gets tough, that you really know who you are dealing with.

Lots of companies tell you that, as the client or customer, you are central to everything they do. They really care about you. Then, when a pandemic comes along and everyone is under pressure, you find out which companies just pay lip service to that view and which ones live it.

The pandemic, and its many lockdowns, has allowed some companies to show their true colours and treat their customers poorly. It has felt at times as if customers and clients have been forgotten as the focus has been on:

  1. simply staying in business – for those which struggled for survival, or
  2. staying on top of the business – for the companies that experienced a business boom.

Either way, the client has often been an also-ran as people have implemented processes that put their clients last.

All companies had to safeguard their staff and customers and new procedures had to be put in place. It was easy to see which companies were thinking about their customers as they took different routes to accomplish this.

Some restaurants decided that the safe way to deal with the menu was to

give customers a one-use paper one. This dealt with the danger of contagion, when we didn’t know how the virus was transmitted, but made it easy for diners. Others decided that the customer should be made to download the menu using a QR code and give personal details along the way. This, even if you only wanted a glass of wine at an outdoor table!

Staying with hospitality, the best example of the ‘pandemic says no’ is one recounted to me by someone who recently wanted a pizza delivered to his home. He asked for a ‘half and half’ pizza and was told that he couldn’t have one because of the pandemic!

In service industries, too, there are examples. One head of sales instructed a would-be client whose call he had never returned ‘contact me by email’. When the client said ‘it was just a quick question so I thought a call would be quicker’ the response was ‘no, my voicemail is a mess. Email me’. So much for client care!

Or the customer who phoned to complain about her WIFI service. The call started with an automatic message telling her ‘Our company is great…….’ She then had to ‘Press 1 for……’, ‘Press 2 for…..’ and so on until she finally got to where she needed to be. Then she got the final message – ‘Our offices are now closed’!

I’m sure that everyone will have had at least one experience which has left them in no doubt that the company that they are dealing with just doesn’t care about their custom. The culture of a company comes from the top so companies that treat you like this are showing that their senior people don’t really value or respect you. If you really want a client focused culture where your customers are cared for and given good, respectful service, the people running the company must believe in that culture. They must work hard to promote, preserve, and protect it. The last two years have shown us clearly which companies were run by people who hadn’t bothered to do that work.

As we return to normality, I will be listening to companies saying that client service is at the centre of all they do, but I will be remembering how some of them treated us when the going was tough. If they didn’t bother to care about my custom in the tough times, they won’t be getting my custom now!