Have Brands Forgotten that The Golden Rule makes Money?

Simplicity is the essence of the golden rule

Everyone wants to understand what is being offered or expected and simplicity helps make that clear. It shortens the distance between people. It is an indication of consideration—that a company has taken the time to move complexity out of the way and to provide maximum value to a customer. In contrast, complexity is a thief that robs us of money, time, patience, confidence and trust. Why then, are so many companies complicating the customer experience by making them jump through hoops to get the best deal?

The perturbing issue is the underlying reality that companies are relying on the complacency, ignorance and time-deprivation of their customers to charge them higher and higher amounts. So much so, that there is a growing niche for businesses calling on behalf of customers, complaining, renegotiating and taking a cut of the savings as their fee. Cable bills and phone bills are of course on the hit list. A simple call suggesting cancellation renders immediate savings. In fact, it often leads to a customer service representative reminding you “to call at least once a year to see if we have a better deal available.” This suggests that consumers have to protect themselves because companies will take advantage unless we squeal. 

Most unsettling is the thought that the companies and government agencies overcharging us do so through guile. They thrive on the complexity of their rate systems. Has anyone ever felt confident that they had found the lowest possible airfare or hotel rate? Do patients ever know for certain how much they will pay for a health care procedure? In each of these cases there are just too many variables to be considered and deliberately so.

Is this type of convolution and gobbledygook consistent with the brand values of these companies? Hardly. One major telecommunications provider posts this code of conduct: “Integrity and respect underscore everything we do.” Another cable provider echoes the sentiment with its own statement that “our brands continue to stand for integrity, trust and respect.” When did feeling nickeled and dimed become consistent with trust and respect?

Companies need to realize that the brand experience overshadows the brand promise—that the brand experience is the path to customer loyalty. Simple interactions, imbued with a sense of fairness, make customers feel valued. Transparency and honesty are the bedrocks of building that trust. Making existing customers feel that they will be taken advantage of if they don’t maintain a vigilant stance is shortsighted.

While annoying, cable, phone and satellite radio are all relatively small expenses.

More tragically, there are many bills where the dollar amount is significant and the harm of overpayment crippling. ABC news reported last year that an audit by Equifax found that hospital bills that totaled more than $10,000 contained an average error of $1,300. There are companies who “grieve” real estate taxes and audit the shipping and postage fees of businesses, saving thousands rather than hundreds of dollars.

Industries that help the consumer make more informed choices benefit from greater trust. In the 1970s, the introduction of Unit price information printed on supermarket and drugstore shelves provided the price per unit of measure. Knowing the price per ounce of something quickly allows the shopper to compare price across brands or sizes of the same brand. Similarly, recently mandated disclosures of mortgage fees help borrowers compare offers as have simplified disclosures of bank overdraft fees.

I admit that I have a greater than usual interest in this subject; my job title is Chief Clarity Officer and I have organized an entire conference on March 30 in NYC to showcase those who are conquering complexity (details at callforclarity.com). For decades, I have championed simplicity as a competitive advantage and a consumer right. I improve people’s lives by simplifying complicated and confusing experiences, products and services for consumers, patients, citizen, borrowers, investors and students. Brands who hire a simplification consultant are the ones who understand that trust is built on simplicity. To be simple is to be brave.

Irene Etzkorn is Chief Clarity Officer at Siegelvision and believes complexity is a thief who must be apprehended. Siegelvision helps organizations achieve clarity of purpose, clarity of expression and clarity of experience.

Shkumbin Mustafa