Steffan Aquarone

Steff is a film producer and technology entrepreneur who speaks internationally on innovation, entrepreneurship and digital marketing

Judge at Your Peril

Last week I posted the script from a speech I delievered to a group of business leaders in Birmingham about Michael Porter’s concept of ‘shared value’. One of the points he made was that where stuff gets made, matters, because that’s where a lot of your customers live nowadays. Companies can no longer afford to treat some stakeholders (for example, the people on their doorstep, or who work in their factories) differently to others as any one of them could be an important customer.

The same can be applied to the way you talk to people calling your organisation from outside. It might make short-term profitability sense to outsource customer service. But where does this leave the brand and the customer?

Dell famously reversed their position on social media when the number 1 spot in Google’s natural results became a complaint forum they’d thus far failed to have a presence in. Now, when you find complaints about Dell machines, you’ll probably find someone from Dell responding, or at least trying to solve the problem.

The same can’t be said for Ikea. I spent ten minutes on the phone to them today, trying to get through to someone in particular. The operative didn’t know that this person was the marketing director, because all his screen was set up to do was handle customer service enquiries. His system didn’t have any telephone numbers. He himself was able to speak to Anna’s PA, but couldn’t put me through. All he suggested I could do was write.


Nobody in that chain of communciation had any idea what I was calling about, or why I wanted to speak to Anna. They just seemed sure that I was a salesperson, trying to flog something.

The insight I got into their organisation made a big difference to my opinion. Even on its own this has serious implications for a brand. Brand hatred travels faster and further than love. Ryanair was listed last week as one of the top most hated brands in Britain. Short-term profits may be healthy, but for how long? Until fuel prices go up? Or a competitor offers a less frustrating service?

The assumptions firms make about people when they try to get in touch are as insulting as any prejudicial stereotype. Smart brands should be aware that the hats of ‘buyer’ and ‘seller’ are not mutually exclusive – and the same inconvenient truth can be applied to virtually every other ‘stakeholder group’.

Filed under: successful businesses

One Response

  1. Jo says:

    Hi Steff,

    An interesting point – Ikea don’t seem to be doing so well recently.

    From having a very well received viral video of setting 100 cats loose in their store ( ) they have moved on to old school, vaguely sexist, canned laughter adverts ( ) which becomes all the worse when you read a post from a previously loyal customer who was there at the filming: ( )

    What went so wrong? Is this short-term profitability in terms of marketing strategy?

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