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The ‘Winners’ of the ‘Can Customers Really Trust Them’ Olympics

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The 'Winners' of the 'Can Customers Really Trust Them' Olympics

The truth – something most humans would HOPE they are surrounded by, yet in reality are rarely exposed to.
 

From politicians; to acquaintances (and sometimes friends); to family – the majority of people in the world will regularly be either the deliverer or receiver of a white lie. Whilst it is difficult to deny that politicians are perhaps the most frequent exponents of the ‘mistruth’ , there are others who are possibly even more prolific at ‘pulling the wool’ over the eyes of others.

If there was an Olympic gold medal for ‘not telling the truth’, commercial organisations (companies that customers interact with on a daily basis) may well be at the very top of the podium. It seems awful to be writing in such a negative fashion, but as always, recent experiences of my own have led me to exploring the issue.

I have been on this planet for over 43 years – for 26 of them, I have been the proud owner of an automobile. During that time, I have had to take a variety of four-wheeled vehicles somewhere to be maintained. Whether it be for a standard service, an MOT or for a specific piece of work, as someone who knows absolutely NOTHING about the workings of them, I have had to buy the skills and expertise of people who do.

So here is the thing – in 26 years, I have never – and I mean never – come across a mechanic who I am completely comfortable is telling me the truth. Last week, our family car (a Renault Grand Espace that we affectionately call ‘The Beast’) went into the service department of a main Renault dealer in the UK. We have used the main dealer on the last few occasions in the belief that they MUST be trustworthy if the manufacturer puts their brand name above the door. How wrong we were to make that assumption.

The first warning signs that something may be ‘afoot’ is the fact that this garage charges a fee just to investigate the problem. Even if we have told them what the problem is – such as the air conditioning does not work – they charge a fee to confirm that is the case. Some will argue that they need to get to the root cause of the problem and so an investigation fee is justifiable. They will also argue that they need to investigate the problem so they can advise how much it will cost to fix it. I call it ‘daylight robbery’. I will get to dentists in a minute, but this is a little like a dentist charging you a fee just to diagnose that you need a filling in a tooth. Customer friendly it is not.

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Consider the profession of law. For years, many lawyers have operated a model where they charge a fee based on their time. Some will charge their clients for anything and everything. If a client takes up one second of a lawyers time, they are likely to be charged for it – a phone call; an email; a letter – it does not matter what it is, the fees all add up. When I consider my own business, it would mean that if I were to follow this model, I would need to be charging most of my clients huge sums more than I actually do. If I were to do that, I would probably not have any clients at all.

What makes this situation even worse, is that when it comes to anything requiring technical or expert ‘knowledge’, unless the customer possesses that in depth knowledge themselves, they are at the complete mercy of the ‘expert’ they are seeking the help of. When a garage tells you what needs to be done to address ‘the problem’, we are almost completely unable to determine if they are right. We were told by our Renault garage that a spring at the front of our car needed to be replaced…… a spring that was only replaced six months ago…..really?!

They told us it had cracked – they had no recollection of having replaced it six months earlier….. very convenient. Our problem is that we have no idea if they are telling us the truth or not – but can we afford to risk not doing what they tell us needs to be done? Every time we take a car to a garage – any garage – we are told that things need to be done that require us parting with our hard earned cash. We genuinely have no idea if it is money well spent or not.

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I have been told countless stories of dentists who have performed ‘work’ on people ‘unnecessarily – who deems the work to be necessary in the first place is surely the ‘expert’. Yet if the expert is right, why do so many customers think they are not telling them the truth?! Then we get to tradespeople – plumbers; electricians; builders – can we trust the majority of them to tell us the truth?

I recognise I am painting a very negative picture that accuses entire industries and professions of being untrustworthy – it is without doubt that there are genuine, authentic, customer focused mechanics, dentists, plumbers, lawyers and so on! However, I have had so many experiences that make me disbelieve, it is no wonder that I and others make generalisations. The fact that online companies have been created to help us find ‘honourable’ trades people (like Checkatrade.com and ratedpeople.com),  almost tells its own story! The entire Financial Services industry has a regulatory initiative called ‘Treating Customers Fairly’ – if we could trust them in the first place, would this really be necessary?!

When my wife ,Naomi, was pregnant with our eldest daughter, Ciara, we attended a brilliant childbirth class. During the class, the lady running it, Jo, gave all of the couples present pieces of card, some tape and some glue. Jo asked us to construct a box. Without questioning her, we all proceeded to merrily make a box out of the materials we had been given. When we had completed the exercise, Jo asked us: “Why did you make a box?” “Because you asked us to”, was the collective response.

Despite having no idea why Jo asked us to do it, we all willingly did it ‘just because’ she had asked us to. Jo was trying to make a very important point – if a Doctor says you need a Caesarean Section, will you ask why or will you just agree without question? In life, we are too willing sometimes to take an experts word – but sometimes, even the experts are wrong.

So who do you think are the ‘winners’ of the ‘can customers really trust them Olympics’? For me, mechanics are definitely top of the pile – and in this version of the Olympics, that is not a great thing. I will continue to try and find one I can actually trust, but I am still not sure how I will succeed. That is why I am a huge advocate of consumers voicing their opinions about GOOD, HONOURABLE, GENUINE professional experts – we need everyone to shout from the rooftops when we find one – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – these people need to be highlighted to others. People and companies will continue to mistreat customers if they think they can get away with it – I hope at some point in the future that will become far more difficult, if not impossible to do.

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