My formal education included four years at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Business Administration and Commerce. During those years, my focus was on two subject areas: marketing and industrial relations. The subject of industrial relations is no longer referred to by that name, instead it’s generally called Human Resources or similar such names. However, it appears that marketing is the subject that has really changed in the years after I left university. Naturally, the advance of society has created countless changes, and many of these changes affected marketing. For example, the internet generated huge changes for “marketers”, especially when you consider items like social media marketing, as just one example. Marketing channels have evolved, dramatically, in the years after my formal study, as have legal issues, advertising, “linked” marketing, pricing concepts, product features, options, and warranties, the applicable ethics of and for marketing, and countless other features.
However, there has been one change that I honestly do not understand, nor agree with. My father was a business man and I was exposed at an early stage to the principles of business, and marketing, and a host of similar issues. Some of the fundamental “rules” of business that I was taught included “make it easy for the customer to buy”, “make the customer feel welcome”, “work on the relationship first and worry about the deal later”, and “ask questions in order to understand the customer better”. Many businesses in Canada still follow these rules, but over the last few years, I assume that larger businesses have been exposed to a new philosophy which seems to completely contradict these old sayings. This new philosophy, as much as I can understand it, seems based on talking to the customer in a language they can’t understand.
On a daily basis, I speak with numerous customer service departments of many large corporations and inevitably the person I end up speaking to (or at least trying to speak to) is not only not fluent in English, their English language skills are virtually non-existent. I spend most of my time on these calls simply saying, “I’m sorry, but I can’t understand you.” Initially I thought it might just be me but dozens of friends have reported these same results. A couple commented, recently, about going to a major Canadian bank to get a mortgage for the property they wanted to buy, but left the meeting after 10 minutes and told me, “We couldn’t understand a word the person said."
While I can applaud corporations for wanting to show diversity, I really think that there must be another way to show diversity, rather than simply frustrating and infuriating your customers so badly that they purchase nothing and walk away angry with the business. I’m not being critical of new immigrants to Canada who don’t speak our language, in fact, I think it’s incredibly unfair to expose these people to situations that can quickly become hostile, and discouraging for them. Come on guys, I’m sure with all the smart people working for these companies that a brief discussion will probably bring out dozens of suggestions on how to show diversity while at the same time being “friendly” to the customer. Now, that’s the kind of marketing that I do understand.
Brian McLeod is a St. Albert resident.