You can bank on customer needs

AS A former employee of the retailing industry, I was taught that if you gave the customer what they wanted you would have a business, and a customer, for life.

Today’s businesses appear to operate to a different mantra. Nowadays, it seems that they are in the business of not providing what the customer wants but of forcing the customer to comply with what the managers and shareholders think is more appropriate.

Take the case of banking. As most of you know, a major reason for the high fees currently charged by banks for their services is that they are attempting to change consumer behaviour by penalising customers for using less cost-effective services.

To the banks, over-the counter service, ATMs and telephone banking are all more expensive propositions than internet banking.

Because there are sufficient customers in the community who still want to use over-the-counter services, they are being penalised more heavily in fees than those who use the alternative of internet banking.

Due to customers’ resistance to change, the banks have adopted the deliberate strategy of forcing them to comply with the banks’ more cost-effective requirements rather than provide the services that the customers want.

Like many others in the community, I am finding my need for personal service more difficult to satisfy.

My current banking outlet has just been closed. I have been told where the alternative banking outlets are. None of these suit me, either in terms of location or time.

My solution? I have taken my banking requirements to a credit union where I know the people behind the counter and can have a chat while I conduct my business. Their fees are also cheaper.

I have not converted to internet banking, despite the claims of more convenience and speed.

I have thus refused to comply with a strategy that makes me behave in a way that does not satisfy my needs.

While some may think my behaviour is non-progressive and deliberately resistant, to me it is an example of exercising my consumer right of choice.

We all know that we cannot stop progress or the inroads of technology. Yet there is an old, tried and tested principle of business which is being forgotten and overridden. If people do not get what they want, they will go elsewhere.

So the next time you consider a cost-effective practice for your business, stop to think for one moment about the customer. Is it to assist your customer? Or is it to assist you?

Ideally, both the needs of the customer and the business should be met. However, this can be achieved best by giving the customer what they want, rather than forcing them to comply with business practices they are neither comfortable with nor want.

Professor Leonie Still Director, Centre for Women and Business Graduate School of Management, UWA

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