Business growth is a natural by-product of success. It’s obviously a good thing because it generates profits for owners, returns for shareholders, and jobs for the unemployed. But growth can also have one profoundly negative consequence for a business when it results in a lack of customer service and a failure to keep on viewing customers as the most important aspect of continued success.

This is especially true of businesses that have grown to the point where they now monopolise their industry or market. Two examples spring immediately to mind – cellular service providers and banks.

While it’s true that there is no clear monopoly of either of these industries by a single business, each is dominated by three or four mammoth organisations. They spend millions of rand a year on glitzy advertising campaigns aimed at winning bigger share of the market by promising consumers the world,but then invest very little on ensuring those promises are met.

While it’s certainly not alone, FNB is a good example. Their current ‘switching to FNB’ advertising campaign is excellent. There can be no doubt that it is working to win them a steadily growing share of the banking customer market. But I’ll be interested to see if they really do put their money where their advertising mouth is in terms of servicing their new clients.

If FNB is really serious about delivering what it is promising, I wonder if they will run a customer survey amongst their new banking clients in six months time and ask them how happy they still are that they made the switch. Or will all these expectant new FNB clients simply have been relegated to account numbers and annual report figures while a new, clever ad campaign targets the next batch of hopeful banking customers.

Cell C is another good example. Their ‘Ask Trevor’ campaign of last year made it seem like they were really serious about delivering excellent customer service as a way of differentiating themselves from the other cellular monoliths. Since the campaign budget dried up, however, nobody has heard anything more from “Trevor”. Last I heard he was doing comedy acts in America. I wonder who has taken his place as Customer Experience Officer at Cell C. Or did they simply close that door and remove the sign?

And these are just two examples. Empty service promises are a dime a dozen from SA’s many monopolies. Just have a look at any consumer watchdog site and the names you’ll see listed most often under the complaints section are the big names in business. They could argue that this is because they have the most customers; but the reality is that they also have the most money and resources to make sure those customers are extremely happy. They’re just not spending it on that.

As you may have gathered, I am more than a little sceptical of the service promises of massive, monopolistic organisations. In my experience, most of them merely pay lip service to customer service. Few, if any of them really do anything to truly differentiate their service delivery from that of their competition. The experiences they offer their customers are severely lacking in WOW factor of any shape or form.

All of which makes me wonder how long it is going to be before they are actually losing customers to smaller businesses that may not have millions to produce clever ad campaigns that promise the world, so instead they are quietly getting on with the job of actually delivering it to their growing numbers of happy customers.

By: Nathalie Schooling