By: Ibrahim Lahoud

Does this ring a bell: You walk in your bank to perform some transaction. It all starts with the security guy stripping you naked with his looks – the purpose of which varies depending on your gender… – making you feel quite uncomfortable. You get to the counter and the person behind the desk doesn’t even look at you. Finally he or she gives you a simple stare which experts like you can translate into the “What can I do for you?” question. If it is a withdrawal, you might get lucky and get away with it in a couple of minutes. On the other hand, if it is a lengthier transaction which requires more effort…

And there and then, you start wondering: who’s the client? You or them?

This scenario repeats itself in hospitals, travel agencies, airports and any other “supplier” where, strangely enough, a smile and some courtesy could always be welcome. It’s like all businesses that entail higher stress levels insist on having at their counters masochists that thrive on the pains of stressed customers. Why do we have to enter those places with a cramp in the stomach just like our first job interview? I mean come on, who’s after who’s business here?

Forget the “customer service” cliché. It’s about “customer understanding” and that is a science, one that is very closely linked to how we perceive a brand. As a matter of fact, it is an intrinsic part of the brand, a facet that happens to be always facing us, the customers.

I was visiting a client lately who happened to be one of the higher officers. So after the macho security guy, the “I ain’t got no clue” receptionist, climbing stairs and taking elevators, I finally landed on what seemed to be another floor receptionist. She was chewing a gum – you could even tell without looking, just from the sounds she was making – and smoking a cigarette with passion.

What do you think was my first impression? No really!

Amazingly, and we tend to forget, the lowest people in on an organization’s chart can – and do – make the highest impact. Counter clerks, receptionists, drivers, delivery personnel, etc. are often our first contact with a brand; most of the time the only contact.

We all know what a first impression does… And why?

Because first impressions always see us watching our counterparts in their “natural habitat”, simply being who they really are. In our case, they are the true reflection of the organization they work for, and the brand they represent. If brands have their own philosophy, I wonder how a gum-chewing chain-smoking receptionist could project it…

When we see every kind of science being created, we are still waiting for Clientology.

Here’s an anecdote I was told a while ago: A guy calls up his bank to inquire about a transaction. First he’s prompted by the interactive voice system. The transaction he was looking for happened to be number 9 on the IVS. After punching all the right numbers to get to the right executive, he’s put on hold with an annoying elevator music. Finally he manages to get to the right person, gets asked a couple of questions before getting his answer. Total time spent, 5 minutes. The experience made him hungry, so he calls the nearby pizza delivery. The phone rings, a lady answers, he orders his usual pizza and gives his name, which on the pizza place computer, indicates the exact location. He hangs up. Total time, 2 and a half minutes.

And then our guy realizes: A round-the-corner pizza place is more efficient than his bank!

Clientology, like any science relies on understanding the issue, outlining the symptoms, asking the right questions and finding the right answers. I mean come on, we’ve put a man on the moon 40 years ago and we still can’t get it right with our client! All we hear are buzz words and sound bites being thrown here and there by consultants (ironically enough like me) trying to tell organizations how to satisfy their customers. And then… Nothing.

What do customers want? The problem is not in the question alone, but rather in the answers that we race to provide before the customers themselves. But if we really speak to those clients, we will often find out that brands, yada yada…products, quality yada yada… are all a matter of perception.

So the real question would be: What and how do customers “feel”?

Customers feel good about a pretty face or a smile at the reception, a human, not humanoid, voice on the phone, a quick action on a request… Customers feel happy in a nice environment. Before buying a product, clients live an experience. That’s why fast food outlets look casual and fashion shops look classy. That’s why doctors clinics look clean and communication agencies look crazy!

We thrive to “manipulate” the psyche of our clients in an attempt to gain their favor and sell our merchandise. That’s good… Well, except for one detail: We suck at psychology. We have to realize that if we know our brand and product well does not mean that we know who will buy them. In other words, calling those “target audience” does not bring us any closer to the inner working of their brains.

Market research and client understanding are two totally separate disciplines. We need to turn into a Mel Gibson in “What Woman wants”. We need to listen to the inner most intimate thoughts of customers vis-a-vis our brand, services and products, behavior, and messages.

We all know that we seldom say or show what we really think or feel.

There is no morale to this story, but rather a message: We need to start shifting a chunk of our  priorities from the brand and the product to those who actually buy into them. Somewhere, just a little bit of small-company-thinking does help. If we inherit from the latter the understanding of the client and the personalization of the experience, we might earn a PhD in Clientology.


7 Responses to “CLIENTOLOGY”

  1. 1 sou
    April 8, 2010 at 21:37

    s.z. likes this.

  2. September 27, 2010 at 14:07

    Absolutely brilliant!!! Clientology simply does not exist. Everyone is arrogant and seems to think they know better! And a brand’s, company’s, media’s downfall is it’s weakest link, i.e. the chewing-gum receptionist or his/her likes, a spelling mistake, a bad phone service… I once went into a bank in London, with $2 that I had spend days looking for to change into sterling I was so broke. The look, treatment and then refusal to exchange them for me is something I will never forget and subsequently try to have as little to do with banks as possible. But we are such a consumer society, that these brands get away with it. Amen to PhDs in Clientology! 🙂

  3. September 27, 2010 at 14:36

    This reminded me of an old article I wrote for ArabAd magazine. I think it was called “Experience Relationships”
    Clientology, relating to a customer the right way, establishing connections for further business work…etc doesn’t seem to exist yet in most minds, although I believe in our days its relationships that build leaders more than anything else. Whether it is inside the company itself or outside with its customers, the economic/business markets shifted recently from a market of status, rank to a market of relationship, interactivity and connections.

    Another great post! 😀

    • September 27, 2010 at 16:29

      Thanks Gab! Another “wishful thinking” entry. I guess the Lebanese market will take a while to understand that when its economy relies mostly on services, its primary tool is “clientology” 🙂

  4. 5 Octavia
    September 27, 2010 at 15:57

    Brilliantly thought out piece. Love it how you can turn a dry topic into an entertaining and informative read with your engaging storytelling!

  5. 7 Dar El Akhdar
    September 27, 2010 at 19:31

    I’d LOVE to turn into a Mel Gibson in “What Women Want”!!

    Great piece on customer understanding – that’s why I would probably by a Mazda rather than a Mitsubishi in Lebanon! 😀

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


April 2010
    May »

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,248 other followers


Top Rated

Follow me @ ebyking

wordpress stats plugin

Creative Commons

Creative Commons License
Reason To Believe by Ibrahim N. Lahoud is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at ilahoud.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at htt://ilahoud.wordpress.com.

%d bloggers like this: