Do We Believe In Our Own Customers? 

Yesterday I checked myself in for a Digital Detox. I left less than 90 minutes later.

I’m in Sri Lanka – and my usually reliable travel research had failed me. 

The resort we arrived at was truly beautiful but the rules on display froze my heart: 

  • No mobile devices were to be used other than brief periods in the morning and evening 
  • Food was served at set times around a communal table
  • Wake up call was at 5:30am followed by exercises and chanting 
  • No alcohol was allowed on or near the premises
  • A quiet-time curfew was in place from 7:30pm

I’d been travelling since 4am, done a safari and had spent over 5 hours in a cab. The things I needed most were a cold beer and Instagram. 

But this wasn’t a place to indulge in earthly pleasures – mine at least. I needed to get out.

Realising they had my credit card details – I prepared for a fight. I checked the terms and conditions and saw they had the right to take the full cash amount for any cancellation. They could take me for nearly £700 right away. 

Here’s the thing though: they didn’t.

They believed me. That a genuine mistake was made and the strict regime at “The Sanctuary” wasn’t what I had planned.

Instead of arguing the case they diligently checked that my card hadn’t been pre-authorised. 

They gave me access to their (previously off limits) wifi to search for a new place. 

They even offered for us to join them for lunch, complimentary on the house. 

They ordered a taxi for us and we left.

How often do we genuinely believe our customers?
That they aren’t out to rob us , to cheat us, or to get one over on us?

All of us say we are customer-centric. There isn’t a mission statement or set of values in existence that fails to suggest that we aren’t uniquely customer focused.

But it’s largely BS. Put it to the acid test and you’ll see that at the moment of truth most of our policies and procedures are designed to make people NOT believe that customers are telling the truth. 

A recent exercise we did in Bromford Lab showed 16 possible escalation points (I.e you need a manager if you want to do this for a customer) – in a single procedure.

A piece of work we did a few years ago showed that applicants for social housing faced over 30 questions and background checks. All aimed to ‘minimise risk’ to organisations. 

By contrast I recently had to contact Fitbit as the band on my fitness tracker was peeling away. They sent me a new device no questions asked.

When I broke my Kindle the first response from Amazon was “We’ll sort the problem out later – our first priority is to get you a new Kindle”. 

Back in the public sector I was told last week by our hospital that it could take two weeks to a get a prescription for some tablets to the local GP. We offered to pick it up and deliver it ourselves but were told it “wasn’t protocol”.  

The social sector exists on the basis that people are not to be trusted to manage their own life and wellbeing. By regarding people as passive recipients rather than as active informed customers it has become blighted with a culture of needless bureaucracy, checks and balances. 

The whole sector language of waiting lists, excess demand and channel shift puts the cause of all problems firmly at the feet of the public. How dare they put such demand on services?

Those with the power – the people who designed such inefficient and wasteful systems in the first place – have gotten away with it.

But maybe not for long. 

  • In a digital age the holy trinity of customer service is simplicity, transparency and autonomy. 
  • The organisations who think of their customers as burdens they have to bear are destined for extinction. 
  • Those services that treat people as problems to be fixed will be disrupted.

Designing services that believe in people – or eradicating needless ‘service’ altogether – takes a huge leap of faith. Believing in people often doesn’t look good in a business case. 

Empowering people to depart from policies where they can see it will damage a customer relationship takes real leadership and skill. 

If your organisation is run by accountants you’d never let a customer walk away £700 better off. 

By letting me do just that the hotel saved hours dealing with complaints to them, the booking agent and my credit card company. 

They also made sure of my recommendation to potentially thousands of people.

Trust in organisations is eroding – the standout reputation we can develop right now is one for believing in people. 

 So let’s start. 


I’ve not included a link to the health resort in this post as I’ve suggested some changes to what I think is a misleading online presence. If you’re interested in a a digital, alcohol, meat and noise free stay in paradise I offer my condolences. 

Seriously – it looks amazing if you’re into that. Message me and I’ll pass on the details 😉    


3 thoughts on “Do We Believe In Our Own Customers? 

  1. Excellent points Paul but I will give the resort a miss. I could probably leave the iPhone behind but alcohol?? I’m not good at communal dining either.

  2. I’ve just been reading the Whitehall Effect by John Seddon as my girlfriend’s undertaking some Systems Thinking work and this seems to relate to that and my wider experience. So many needless checks and balances put into place because of a low expectation in people / services. I used to see this when I worked in public engagement too – people saying that if you asked people what they wanted they’d want a new swimming pool, but I never ever saw any evidence of that type of response from people.

    Great post Paul, as per usual!


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