An open letter to a closed brand
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about some competition to your business, something which you haven’t experienced since 1985 when Cantel joined the wireless revolution. This threat of competition has put your company under a great deal of scrutiny and has served as a lightning rod for dissatisfied customers to hail the potentially competitive environment as a triumph of business. Your reaction was to write an open letter to your customers to tell them how wrong they were for feeling that way.
You didn’t seem prepared for the negative responses from both media and consumers which resulted from both your letter, and a sound bite given by one of your competitors to the press to say that Canadians pay a fair price for their wireless services, when many respected sources have definitively proven otherwise.
This has given rise to two problems from the same kernel of consumer dissatisfaction. They are: Not listening to your customers. In the age of social media, this is not an option in the new economy. It’s inexcusable in a world where customers are used to getting real time answers to their questions, and getting action on their requests. If Porter Airlines, Metrolinx, or McDonald’s can open their brands to consumer feedback (and have had their share of controversies to answer for) then you are more than capable of doing so. If your company infrastructure resists change, change your infrastructure.
Your customers view the coming competition as their Hail Mary to see positive action from you and the other wireless providers in Canada. Canadians have complained vociferously that their plans are simply too expensive compared with their American counterparts, and you have done nothing about it, because there isn’t any competition to force you to do so. You’re relying on the economics of being the only gas station in a small town, and consumers aren’t having it anymore. A poll by The Globe and Mail found 93 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with wireless services in Canada. Yet with this level of dissatisfaction, you still needed to be legislated out of some of your least consumer-friendly practices.
Your second problem, from a marketing perspective, is that you chose an old media method like an open letter to express your opinion about the coming competition. This is in direct opposition to how most Canadians feel about the issue and is the very reason this market deserves competition: you seem too old fashioned a company to compete in the modern marketplace and this letter only served to draw that to the average Canadian’s attention.
Now that you’ve accomplished the exact opposite of what you set out to do, how can you recoup?
Start soliciting advice from average Canadians and act upon it. Closed brands will not survive the next 10 years of market forces. Only brands that embrace an open model will be left standing. The brand that gives the people what they want will survive.
You should proactively change your pricing model, so that you can squeeze out the competition before they arrive on your doorstep. Forget that by your estimation that an American firm might be given an “unfair advantage.” Instead, pay attention to the market and the consumers which drive that market.
Give Canadians a reason to shop Canadian. When The Hudson Bay Company looked like it was headed to the retail graveyard in 2007/8, Bonnie Brooks took the brand back to its Canadiana origins, and brought back prestige to the aging brand. Five years later, HBC now owns Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. You have an opportunity to trade on your place in Canadian history, and forge a new, more equal relationship with consumers, by providing the best customer care in Canada.
The fact that Canadians, who pride themselves on shopping with Canadian firms would give their money so readily to an American company should be a grave warning to you that your company is inches away from irrelevance. If you choose to ignore what Canadians are readily telling you, you do it at your own peril.
A consumer who is weary of paying 88 dollars a month for a Smartphone