By Ben Henry

A large number of Jamaican companies take the attitude that customers are replaceable. That attitude is beginning to haunt them. Only monopoly providers of a service or product can entertain that attitude and get away with it because of the "hostage" status of their customers.

Harvard Business School's Jones and Sasser call customers who have few or no alternatives hostages when the organization that they deal with is a monopoly. However, the stinging accusations of "god awful" service delivered by Jamaican monopoly providers of service/product have propelled them to clean up their act somewhat. The fact remains, however, that Jamaican consumers of these products or services remain hostages.

Some service organizations' sole purpose in business is to get as much as they can from the customer. But savvy customers know who these organizations are and are "firing" them. I fired my service provider of Digicel cellular phones. I would visit this company often to buy phones and calling cards as presents for friends and colleagues. One day, I went to buy a phone and noticed a cologne gift set. I went to the salesperson and asked for a $200.00 reduction in the price. He replied that he couldn't do that; he would have to call the boss to get permission. He did and the boss said all he could do was a $50.00 reduction in the price. I asked to talk to the boss whom I know quite well, because he is the son of a friend of mine. I told them that the offer of a $50.00 reduction is an insult, especially when he knows the amount of money I spent at his place. He began to talk about the low profit margin on colognes - an explanation quite boring - and the $50.00 reduction was all he could afford.

I have not been back in over a year now and I will never go back. My friend's son is totally unaware of the Principle of Reciprocity in Business. It says that if you do something nice for your customers, they will feel obligated to do something nice for you - refuse to let any competitor get between the two of you. The competition is now getting the thousands of dollars I spend every year buying cell phones and calling cards as gifts for people.

Many business people are so shortsighted it makes you wonder how they continue to be in business. They could be making a lot more money if only they look at cultivating a long-term relationship with their customers. Do little things for your customers. By extending yourself, you distance your company from your competitors who are after the sane business. If you do this long enough and strong enough, you will eventually develop the partnership to the point where the competitors don't have a chance against you.

Research findings reveal that 84 percent of all sales in America originate from the recommendations of satisfied customers. A referral to a new customer is worth ten times more than a cold call. It is 16 times easier to sell a satisfied customer something new than it is to sell something to a brand new prospect.

The lifetime value of a customer comprises the "present value" - the first time sale you make to him or her; the "future value" - the revenue potential from that customer over a specified period of time; and the "referral value" - the new business the customer brings through positive word-of-mouth advertising.

There is a little Texaco gas station in Ewarton that I have patronized for several years now. I like to spend my money there because they treat me as a person rather than as a customer. If I am leaving Kingston to Montego Bay or vice versa, I don't usually fill up my tank with gas. I buy just enough gas to get me to Ewarton where I fill up my tank. Sometimes I have to turn off the A/C in my car in order to have enough gas to get to Ewarton to spend my money at my favourite gas station. That is loyalty for you.

I know of at least two companies that take real good care of their customers - Jamaica International Insurance Company (JIIC), and H.D. Hopwood and Company. From time to time, JIIC spends its own money training the employees of its brokers. H.D. Hopwood also spends its own money training pharmacy clerks, employees of the pharmacies that it sells its products to. These companies have embraced the Principle of Reciprocity in Business and are profiting from it.