Be a Nice Person

At some point when I had my back turned customer service just flew right out the window. Corporations everywhere are seeing how much waterboarding we customers can take before we revolt. It’s both the customers and the harried employees of the CEOs and CFOs who are the victims of these customer service rollbacks, as they try to drive investor returns. It’s in every industry.

Still, some companies are great at customer service. CFOs everywhere seem to me to be caught in between two competing methodologies: cut expenses to the bone, beginning with customer service; or use superior customer service as a strategic weapon.

About a week ago I got an email prompt to read a blog post from imATHLETE (a race registration company of which many of you are aware). I bring this up to highlight a company that’s trying to teach race directors how to treat their customers well while not losing money. I have no association with imATHLETE, and I’m not going to reproduce its blog post, rather I’ll just link to it.

They aren’t offering special technology. Active offers this as well, and other registration companies have this tech too. What’s different here is that imATHLETE is exhorting its member race directors to treat their customers better. This is something I don’t see Active doing (on any kind of consistent basis).

As many Slowtwitchers know, I will have no truck with any company that uses drip pricing. Drip pricing is when you begin a transaction on the assumption you’re paying one price (an entry fee, for example) only to find out via a big sloppy kiss at the end of the transaction what the true price is. Drip pricing isn’t even legal in certain countries. Australia, for example. So, if you enter an Ironman you see the entire price, plus the big sloppy registration kiss, at the beginning of the transaction. What difficulty has this caused Ironman? Or Active? It seems to me Australia has been one of Ironman’s success stories over the past 10 to 15 years. I can’t find where disclosing the price you pay at the start of the transaction diminished business.

What imATHLETE is saying to its race directors in this blog post is that RDs can benefit by allowing users to transfer or defer their registration money. It has the tech to make that happen. It correctly points out that people are more likely to enter early if they know they are buying an equity rather than simply a space on a start line on that one day. The blog post goes on to list the other benefits accruing to a race that allows cancellations.

But here’s the kicker. Here’s Reason-1 why this is a good policy: “You Get to Be a Nice Person”.

I don’t want our industry to waterboard its customers. I already get that from my airline, my phone carrier, my mortgage holder, my credit card company, my health insurance carrier, my car dealership. I’m sneered at enough by companies with which I have to do business. I don’t want that treatment from the company to which I pay my leisure dollars.

We are going to build new fields into our race calendar, for races that eschew drip pricing, and that offer reasonable entry deferrals and cancellations. We’re going to highlight these race organizations, in front page articles. We’re going to do our best to make it easy and profitable to treat customers well. It’s not enough just to have the technology. Registration engines, our national governing bodies, our magazines, all of us need to champion the notion that leveraging low- or no-cost way to “be a nice person” is actually profitable.

Rather than shrinking in fear because its customers might be insulted, imATHLETE has struck a lean-forward posture toward customer service. Bravo. This approach will benefit everyone in the end.