Relationship management in a Philippine context

Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

THIS is specifically not about the type of relationship management exemplified by the following joke [which probably less than half the population would find remotely amusing . . .]but there is some relevance:

Husband’s Text Message—“Sweetheart, I was hit by a car outside the office. Jenny brought me to the hospital. They have been making tests and taking X-rays. The blow to my head though very strong hopefully will not have any serious or lasting injury. But I have three broken ribs, a broken arm, a compound fracture in the left leg, and they may have to amputate the right foot.”

Wife’s Text Response—“Who the hell is Jenny?”

The joke though does serve to demonstrate that not everybody has the same view as to what is important to the other person in a communication.

There is the example of the joint study by Chinese and American universities on
why Americans were busy adopting Chinese babies. The Chinese parents and grandparents thought that this was because: Chinese children are “well behaved,” “they are good looking,” “they are more intelligent” and “they are stronger/more resilient.”

The American adopters unanimously said they were adopting because they “felt sorry for the children.” A fine example of cultural differences in value systems.

The ability to identify what the customer or other entity in a relationship thinks is important is critical to successful relationship management.

There is a vast range of business relationships between seller and buyer, or service provider and customer, but an important differentiator to relationship type is the desired length of the relationship.

You would not expect the single purchase of a crocodile’s skull by a visitor from Manila from a craft shop in Puerto Princesa to be the basis for establishing a long-term relationship for example, whereas if you are a bank taking in people’s deposits and giving them loans or credit cards it would be expected that a long term relationship would be established. But most business should ensure that the customers see value in establishing long-term relationships whether buying a crocodile’s skull or looking after people’s money.

To sustain a long-term relationship the customer must in addition to seeing value and benefit, feel “needed” and above all respected.

Commercial banks alas do not pay any heed to this other than in a sipsip sort of way to customers with big account balances [not that I would know this from personal experience as I have never had enough money in a bank to attract the sort of fawning and obsequious behavior that they can be so good at]. And let’s be honest they don’t actually have anything to sell to people which is of value.

They do, however, particularly after the advent of business process outsourcing, excel in harassing their customers if required repayments are a day or two late.

They terrorize their errant customers and manipulate the law to aid their terrorism. As the Archbishop of Canterbury [the head of the Church of England]has said banks should do what is right rather than what they can legally get away with. A fine example of the abuse of unconstrainable commercial power, because in a capitalist economy people do need to borrow.

Big business in the Philippines doesn’t really need to pay any attention to customer relationships as in most cases the customers have nowhere else to go anyway (take for instance Meralco). Even if they do occasionally have somewhere else to go, such as toll roads, the alternative is so unattractive as to make it no real alternative at all, or the “competitors” have got together and stitched up the market anyway.

Where the SME community could really score would be in providing really first-class customer relationship management. But it doesn’t really seem to happen very much, there is still this overly legalistic approach to warranties and responsibility and the overwhelming desire to convince the customer that it is they who are wrong rather than the seller or provider.

Many years ago in the UK Marks and Spencer majored on customer relationships.

It was well known that if you bought something from one of their stores, if it didn’t fit or you didn’t like it or you had changed your mind, even if it was an unwanted gift you could just take it back and either get an exchange or get your money back without question and without any fuss. Through this they established a widespread reputation for fair dealing and very good quality customer relationship management, and even now that legacy lives on [even in the Philippines franchises]albeit not to the same degree it used to operate.

Acceptance of responsibility even though not necessarily warranted for customer complaints and attending to those complaints with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of courtesy and speed is not costly nor is it a reputation damaging practice. The now hoary and dispensed with old adage “the customer is always right” may be worth reviving to score competitive advantage, unless of course it really is the case that all Filipino customers really are cheats and scoundrels.

Mike can be contacted at


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