The Customer Isn't Always Right

The business mantra for years has always been "The Customer Is Always Right".  I recall reading business school case studies about how comapnies like Nordstrom were phenomenal is how they made sure customers were extremely satisfied--going to unimaginable lengths to send them home happy.  Obviously, at Microsoft, we are very sensitive to our customer satisfaction as we know the connection between satisfaction and loyalty (and thus intent to purchase future Microsoft products).  But in every business I've ever been in, there's always those customers (internal and external) that will NEVER be satisfied.  The ones that completely deflate you because you just can't do enough to make them happy, no matter how hard you try.  Some of them don't care that you are trying to support a business that (gasp!) exists to make money.  Some think their situation is the only situation and, therefore, can't understand why you aren't targeting their scenario more effectively.  I remember listening in on support calls and feeling pity for the engineers in some cases.  It's not that I don't empathize with the customer needs, but at the end of the day, it seemed like they were being a little unreasonable and trying to address the needs would break a lot of other scenarios.  But, like they say, "The Customer Is Always Right".

Or is he/she?

Sprint just announced that they are pre-emptively dumping 1,000 customers.  I have NEVER heard of anything like this.  They're basically saying "you are more trouble than you're worth and we'd rather you be someone else's customer".  At a time when they've gotta be losing significant busines to AT&T Wireless on the heels of all the iPhone defections, it's an incredibly bold move for them to do this.  I can't figure it out.  Is this a suicide mission from a PR perspective ("Sprint only likes you if you don't challenge them") or is this a blow on behalf of businesses everywhere that lose money on these customers when you consider the time they take with customer service reps, the concessions they demand, etc.?  You could say this is like insurance companies that will only insure good drivers or health people in that they need to ensure maximum profitability, but in those cases, the customers are pre-selected.  In this case, they were customers and now they aren't at the behest of the company.  It's like you think your girlfriend is madly in love with you, but as it turns out, you make her sick and she dumps you.  And she wasn't that much of a catch in the first place.  This is definitely a new twist on customer-relationship management.

Now personally, I had Sprint for several years and finally switched in 2005.  I loved their coverage, didn't like their customer service, and really hated their shady shenanigans regarding the termination.  In fact, I've had a grudge against Sprint since they charged me the fee even though I had been with them for seven years, claiming I approved a service upgrade less than 2 years earlier and needed to honor that agreement for two years.  Maybe I did it, but that just woldn't make sense--if I'd sign up for two years, I'd want a cool phone out of it.  They claimed to have proof in that they recorded the call, but I asked them to produce the taped phone call of the approval, they said I'd need a subpoena.  Uh, yeah, whatever.  Obviously, they didn't care that I was angry because I was leaving them anyway.  Needless to say, I will now NEVER go back to Sprint (something that would've been possible if they had gotten the right phones).  Given my experience with them, it makes me wonder--would I have been one of the 1,000 customers because the pulled a shady move on me and I tried to call them on it? 

I suppose any business has a right to refuse to cater to someone if they want ("No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service"), but I am definitely curious about those 1,000 people.  How bad were they?  Were they unfairly demanding or did they just need a lot of help?  I'm also curious about what effect, if any, this has on the other millions of customers.  Personally, I don't think I'd change if I were still with them, but does this affect the climate of trust between Sprint and its customers?  Do you want to pay $1000/year to a company that will kick you out if you challenge them too much or ask for too much help?  I remember a customer once telling me he went with Microsoft because, when something went wrong, he knew exactly who to yell at and he couldn't get that with an open distro of Linux and he didn't like Red Hat's ability to respond to his yelling).  Doing what makes the customer happy has always been the hallmark of a good company--or so I thought. Perhaps this will go by unnoticed. Or maybe this will start a trend.  Something tells me Microsoft won't jump in, but I could think of some people over the years I would have loved say adios to.  Maybe I can still be involved, just for the final say. ;-).