The back story goes, the billionaire's personal finance assistant had been forgetting to prepare the tax returns for his offshore companies. Plainly speaking, he had been doing fuck all about that for several years. When that came up, the billionaire swore like the Royal Navy and turned off the autopilot. He personally contacted the head of the outfit that was supposed to look after his stuff — but was basically getting their money for nothing because that personal assistant… but I am repeating myself. Anyway, he contacted them and started crying his heart out. The girl on the other end was listening for a while and then produced something along the lines of "how sad, too bad, your dad". A torrent of verbal abuse was met with the reaction that would have made Dalai Lama stand up and take notice — there was none. And then she replied with, erm… a strong Yorkshire accent, that the question could be solved, on time, for extra pay. As for her doing nothing… well, blame yourself, guvnor.
"Well that's some efficiency" — the billionaire radiated admiration" — "She was the only person who was straight about it. And that MacMillan guy (let's use that name for the story), he's just afraid of me, and so he was telling me porkies."
The zero shits approach isn't endemic to Britain; it also works in the States. The following story has drifted over from across the pond.
One bloke bought a Tesla car. That's an expensive toy, a hundred kilobucks or so. Our solemn hero was waiting for the car to be delivered. The date had come and gone — just porkies on offer. He was a proper fanboy, he kept on waiting. Got friendzoned again. Well, what the fuck — he writes an angry post on a social network; the post goes viral. The reaction of Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla Inc.: refund and ban, forever. So that the guy could never ever buy a Tesla. Musk has a policy of zero tolerance for those complaining about his products.
How did that affect the company's growth? Well… a few months later they had four hundred thousand reservations on Model 3. A new record. Even though the clients do know that they are not getting their cars on time. They might even be in for taking some shit in the process. And still they are coming to Elon Musk and bringing their money.
The client-centeredness myth contends that a pissed-off client means that the business is doomed. Yeah, right. If you are a corporate client of Google, Microsoft, Facebook or PayPal — or any large company for that matter — you should know very well that there's no trace of client-centeredness there. Just a zero shits policy papered over with some tact, and that's about it.
From my own experience running a business, I can categorically state that an attempt to play client-centeredness means certain failure. An attempt to please a client is folly that ought to be punishable by exile from the business professionals' guild. An attempt to listen to clients' delirium is a fundamental mistake. The race for the client is won by those who need them the least. When a man feels that he is surplus to requirements, he starts trying to attract your attention. "The less we show our love to woman…"
In general outlines, the mechanism looks as follows. A sucker client comes (writes, phones) to the office. The office is done by the book — all glass and plastic. Everyone's slicked back, boys in trousers, girls in white blouses with just enough cleavage. Corporate templates and letterheads. All phone calls answered with a corporate tongue twister. And all of these glassy-eyed monkeys with memorised mantras are doing two and only two things: they are going to transfer you to the manager in charge of your query, and when you are done waiting for an identical glassy-eyed monkey to pick up the phone, it is sorry to tell you it cannot help. "Motherfuckers" — you think — "and that's a multinational corporation. What's happening at the rest of them?! I'd be fucked five ways from Fuddrucker's before being told to shove it!" And again and again you are coming back to that multinational lemonade stand monkey cage. Because everywhere else is, actually, even worse.
And then a miracle happens. You wind up at an outfit where normal sane people understand what is wanted from them. And they are speaking a human language rather than corporese. And they are actually trying to solve your problem because they are interested in having you as a client. And then you are spreading your wings. You remember your rights and your grievances. You pay them back a hundredfold, a thousandfold — you play the client-centred idealists to the fullest extent of the vengeance craved by your sado-corporised soul. Or you just dump them, you know — just to show them. You take a timeout, then have new queries and make new demands. In the end, even the most client-centred company realises that it would be cheaper to just tell you to fuck off.
As for big companies — they are big precisely because they had understood that a long time ago. And, instead of client-centeredness, they are investing their energy into finding a niche where the stream of clients does not dry up for reasons unrelated to the company, and where the clients have nowhere else to go. Apart from the sado-corporates same as you. Business is pure pragmatism, what did you expect? There is absolutely no point wasting yourself on real client-centeredness, particularly because it's a nightmarish amount of work. What is profitable is to merely declare client-centeredness, but teach the monkeys only a few polite phrases, all of which translate into "fuck off". The victory in a competitive environment is determined by very different factors.
text, illustration © The Dark Side of Business