Make Sure Your Company Doesn’t Make This Marketing Mistake…

by Apr 3, 2015Brand, Strategy0 comments

“Most Japanese businesses live by the saying “clients are king”… But the truth is that it doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong. What matters more is how situations are dealt with when a customer confronts your company with a problem.”


AUTHOR’S NOTE: It’s not easy to take the blame when a customer comes to you with a problem about your product or service. Sometimes, you need to look harder to see where you are at fault. This here is a case study that (I think) perfectly demonstrates this very point. Here is a major marketing blunder that companies often make, but should be very careful not to:

Blaming customers (even when they are at fault).

The warranty division of a company receives an e-mail from a frustrated customer. Kelly’s espresso machine is not working well after only 10 months of use. Upon troubleshooting, the warranty representative realizes that the machine has a significant amount of limescale build up because the customer didn’t descale the machine after the recommended number of uses. This was written in the espresso machine’s user guide and failure to descale the machine every 3 months would void the 2-year warranty. What should the company do?

Clients are king.

Most Japanese businesses live by the saying “clients are king”. This means that clients are always in the right. Of course, this isn’t always the case. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong. What matters more is how situations are dealt with when a customer confronts your company with a problem. It is much easier for clients to be passive aggressive or worse yet, spread negative word of mouth given an unfavorable situation rather than confronting the company about it first. So by filing a complaint or by returning a faulty product, customers give companies a second chance to redeem themselves, whether they realize it or not. Businesses need to make the most of these situations, not point fingers.

Back to the warranty issue.

In the case of this faulty espresso machine, the customer is wrong. Kelly should have descaled her machine to ensure its continued functionality. A legal disclaimer protects the company and they do not need to issue Kelly a new machine under warranty. The question is: What should the company do? Let’s say the company refuses to replace Kelly’s machine. She might be angry. She might tweet about her unfavorable experience to her 2.3k followers. She might complain to her family members about it and discourage them from buying that particular machine. Kelly will probably never buy another product from that company again, which is a shame because they make many quality home appliances. These are a few marketing related-implications to consider, but it is clear that the company’s decision will have significant indirect economic consequences.

I would replace Kelly’s machine. But not just to avoid the spread of negative word of mouth. Because Kelly’s warranty claim implicitly identifies marketing problems that the company should address. They should be asking themselves: why didn’t Kelly know to descale her espresso machine? They might realize that Kelly didn’t take the time to read the 34th page of the 40-page user guide, which came with the machine. A machine, I might add, that only has 3 buttons. Of course, one could blame Kelly, but I think that the company is at fault after all. The company should revise the way they educate their customers on their product use. Perhaps, the 40-page user guide could be reduced to a single page that is attention grabbing and easy to read. This simple fix should reduce the number of warranty claims concerning machines that were not maintained properly.

In short...

Pointing the finger at customers is all too easy and can have negative implications. Next time a customer comes to you with a problem, try to think harder about how your company is to blame, even when they are in the wrong.

Feel free to let us know what you think about this article in the comments section.

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Meet the author.

Taro Abarbanel-Uemura

Marketing Strategist

Meet Fortified Marketing's founder and lead marketing consultant. Taro loves reading fascinating articles on various marketing-related subjects, just as much as he enjoys writing about them. When he isn’t savouring a latte while working on his newest blog post, he can be found at a coffee shop in Ottawa's Little Italy, or marathoning shows and documentaries on Netflix.

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