Smoke & Mirrors: The problem with customers

Who's the random man roaming the office upsetting everyone? The comms chief finds out.

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 29 Apr 2016


Our bewigged CEO Lynton Spivey has put out an IMPORTANT email saying we have to 'create a memorable emotional imprint' for our customers. A couple of months ago we made an elementary mistake. We asked our customers what they thought of us. You wouldn't do that in a marriage unless you were thinking of ending the relationship and it's exactly the same in business. At least you're only dealing with one unhappy customer in a marriage whereas in business there are thousands.

And of course, it's only the chippy whingers that respond to customer surveys, the people who aren't happy unless they're unhappy. These are the same people who fill TripAdvisor with one-star reviews of five-star hotels. You can probably sense I'm upset. It's not the customers really, it's the fact that we now have to put the customer at the heart of everything we do. That, quite honestly, is the last place we want them.


Had a meeting with our CIO Mike Lamb. IT has never been our strong suit. Hold on, that's slightly unfair. When I think of all our other departments, IT actually comes out quite well. But there is a problem. We know customers don't like 'computer says no'. We also know that our computer is more likely to say 'why don't you f*** off'. Anyway to fit in with our new customer-centric regime Mike did some Customer Journey Mapping and found that most of our customers are standing with bags packed ready for the next flight out. Which is a journey of sorts. What he came to ask me was who the new guy in his department was. This guy didn't say much but kept staring at everyone and asking questions. I said it sounded like a consultant that Spivey had hired after a long lunch.


Peter Barnsworth, our porky CFO, once worked out that customer service was the biggest cost to the business and should be scrapped. He was one step away from saying that customers themselves should be phased out. Barnsworth communicates through spreadsheets so I was a bit surprised when he collared me in the gents. For a split second, I thought it was a Grindr moment but then he admitted that he thought he had a saboteur in the Finance Department because someone had tampered with the nested formulae in his master spreadsheet. He said it with such feeling that if there had been a non-English speaker in one of the cubicles, he would have assumed that it was Grindr time.


Brenda Wayzgoose, our hippy HR director, is in tears. This is actually her default communication method so I wasn't unduly worried. Then she told me that some bloke had been wandering round the department telling her that her beautifully photographed Vision and Value statements were 'meaningless waffle'. While I sympathised with his point of view, I realised that I needed to find out who this guy was. I toured the office and found him in marketing, rubbishing their upcoming advertising campaign. We had a quick chat and it turns out that Spivey had chosen a random customer, literally invited him into the heart of our organisation and given him an Access All Areas pass to stick his fat nose into our business. Which frankly is our business and nothing to do with customers.


Gerald Whiting is our general counsel. I don't want to disrespect the guy but he sucks the air out of any room he enters. In meetings with him, I've seen people literally begin to wither and then fight to get out while they still can. Personally I only ever agree to see him over lunch where I can self-anaesthetise with a couple of bottles of red. That morning Marsha on reception alerted me when our customer arrived and I whisked him up to Gerald to sign an NDA. I told him it was standard procedure. Earlier I had specifically requested Gerald to be thorough. Eight hours later our customer was seen feeling his way to the lift. We never saw him again but we'd left a memorable emotional imprint on him. And that's what counts.

Guy Browning is the author of The British Constitution: First Draft, published by Atlantic Books at £7.99. He can be contacted at

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