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Don’t #$%!#! The Customer

Sounds simple right. Yet so many businesses seem intent on doing just that.

Take Salesforce.com. I’ve been an avid user and fanatic for years. I love the notion of the AppExchange – the idea of integrating more applications with Salesforce as a central window into the soul and activity of customers is very, very powerful. Eloqua is a terrific example of this – you can take every web and marketing interaction and associate it with a contact in Salesforce. Cool.

Now Salesforce has always had a young and aggressive sales team so I shouldn’t have been surprised by this but we start getting messages that we’re about to run out of storage. Run out of storage? Isn’t the concept of software as a service predicated on lots of cheap storage… Really?

No, Salesforce has decided to #$%!#! it’s customers with some of the most punitive pricing I’ve ever seen. guess how much Salesforce wants for 1gig of data? Go on… bet it wasn’t $3,000. The only other solution is to upgrade to the “Unlimited Option” – which for 70 users prices Salesforce at over $200k per year. Suddenly SAS isn’t cheap, AppExchange doesn’t matter, and Oracle looks really, really interesting. Salesforce quickly becomes the last place you want to store ANY data.

One of the universal laws that makes “Don’t #$%!#! The Customer” such a terrific operating principle is – customers will #$%!#! you back with an equal if not greater force.

As I look across my spectrum of vendor and supplier relationships this rings true. I fly less with American Airlines because I can’t use my miles to fly to NZ or Australia – there is about one seat available on every Qantas flight and pretty much no upgrades.

All companies make mistakes but this is very different from #$%!#! the customer. I wandered into the anarchic Apple store at Valley Fair the other day with my dead iPod. The Genius pointed out it probably needed a “shock charge” – which pretty much seemed to me to involve plugging it in. I pointed out I’d done this and would appreciate it if he would take a closer look. The Genius forgot all about me in this process and it wasn’t till 30 minutes later when I asked what the heck was going on that he realized the error of his ways, apologized profusely, agreed that the iPod was dead, and upgraded me to a new iPod on the spot. Love the customer and you’ll get loyalty + love in return. For the same reason I fly Virgin now whenever I can – they are quick to correct mistakes and never forget you have a choice.

Don’t #$%!#! The Customer as an idea gets at a deeper “evil” or blindness that companies commit with intent. Experiencing what is happening at Salesforce got me thinking that two of the most powerful forces driving a company’s inclination to #$%!#! the customer are growth and success. They seem to spawn creed and arrogance in equal portions. Mike at Atlassian is on the right path in incorporating “Don’t #$%!#! The Customer”  into their core values. Every day companies need to remind themselves of this truth – or, run the risk of being reminded by your customers.

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