Last year, I moved to Delhi, or Gurgaon really. We bought several air conditioners from Hitachi, and we were sitting pretty because, as far as we were concerned, these air conditioners were amongst the best, and you really cannot find fault with Japanese technology, can you?
Anyhow, one of the air conditioners had problem during the warranty period, and the company sent technicians ten times, to try and fix the problem. They could not, and in the process, broke a part of the wall. We then pressed them to replace the faulty air conditioner, and then the saga started. Excuses, long silences, trails of emails, until we caught a lucky break. We managed to catch one of the top guys, and he decided to help out. At this point, the service team of Hitachi suddenly became extremely helpful, and the air conditioner was replaced, but not before they tried to palm off one of a lower capacity.
This got me thinking of a fundamental question – when does the sale end?
As per commercial law, the sale is deemed to be complete when the payment for the product or payment is made, and when the product or service is delivered. After the warranty period, you pay for additional service, and this is fair.
Yet, it does not answer the fundamental question – when does the sale end?
I think that, when you view this from the perspective of commercial law, then the question has already been answered in the paragraph above.
However, if you reframe the question, and ask – “when does the relationship with the customer end?”, then I believe that you will come up with an entirely different sort of answer.
The answer could well be, that the sale does not end until until the relationship with the customer ends. When you view things this way, then I believe that you will even look at the way in which you train the service team, and even in the way that you treat them. Normally, sales offices are nice, clean, sparkling and designed to impress. The sales person falls over himself/herself to make the sale, and then disappears! Now, in the case of business to business sales, the sales person is called a Key Account Manager, and is responsible for the account, and for ensuring that the account is well serviced.
In business to consumer sales, this concept does not exist, and I can understand, because there are simply too many customers. Sales are made via agents or distributors, and this person / agency is the sales face of the company. Yet, when it comes to a problem, then the hapless customer has to go through the hazy maze, wade through telephone systems where he/she has to punch endless numbers to get to a disinterested voice at the other end, and then to try and cut the proverbial Gordian knot!
Companies measure performance by financial metrics. Sales and stock returns are two such measures.
Countries talk about GDP growth and deficits
Countries like Bhutan talk of the Happiness Index.
Now, if companies are required to publish independently monitored customer satisfaction surveys in their annual reports, I am sure that the approach and attitude towards customer management will change.
The answers to the two questions will be different.
1. When does the sale end? When does the sale really end?
2. When does the customer relationship end? When, really, does it end?
Questions worth pondering, I think!