As companies grow bigger and more global, customer service in many quarters is feeling more like dealing with a caring mom and pop enterprise than a mega-company. That’s clearly the attitude of such companies as Costco, which has been making me feel right at home since 1999. (Full disclosure: I’m an unabashed, biased Costcophile with an article in the August Costco Connection that addresses building and showcasing customer loyalty and service in times both good and bad.)
Costco favors consummate customer service over lots of clever, pricey advertising and marketing. In the 21 years since I joined, their reliable and consistent valuing of me as a customer has been unwavering. Their policies have remained consistent, even as trends and COVID tribulations have ripped through the economy at-large and led to wholesale disruption at many companies.
Their current COVID-related policies do impact some activities including prohibiting return of certain items such as toilet paper that were subject to hoarding. And, some state and local regulations have impacted operations selectively. But, for the most part, they have stayed true to their bedrock protocols—including exceptionally liberal product return options not available at other companies.
In short, Costco goes extra miles to show respect for and acknowledgement of their most important commodity—customers. Their decades-long dedication to this core value has enabled the company to grow exponentially through excellent word-of-mouth and high reviews.
In many ways, it’s like the popular mom and pop store of old that had positive buzz throughout the community for its customer-caring ways. Now, that community is worldwide but the same drivers–liking, trusting and respecting those you do business with—haven’t changed.
The pandemic has forced many companies to rethink their customer service programs to show more caring and compassion. For example, lenders have reached out en masse to help borrowers whose livelihoods have been compromised. They see that it’s good business to work with borrowers facing tough times, in hopes that borrowers will reward the effort with loyalty and longevity going forward.
Supporting customers has been Costco’s philosophy all along. Given that roughly 91 percent of members renew annually, they certainly have loyalty and longevity among present customers—along with a huge network of raving fans that continually sings their praises.
Overall, Costco is in good shape financially, has an engaged and loyal workforce, maintains excellent supplier relationships, and even keeps shareholders happy much of the time—a noteworthy accomplishment in sharp contrast to the laissez faire “shareholder value at any cost” philosophy that is increasingly being challenged throughout corporate America.
A recent New York Times article frames the debate and movement away from what Joe Biden calls “shareholder capitalism.” The articles notes in part, “…former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, joined in the criticism. ‘It’s way past time we put an end to the era of shareholder capitalism, the idea the only responsibility a corporation has is with shareholders,’ he said. ‘That’s simply not true. It’s an absolute farce. They have a responsibility to their workers, their community, to their country.’”
Nearly a year ago, another New York Times article detailed similar views from top CEOs: “Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say…Chief executives from the Business Roundtable, including the leaders of Apple and JPMorgan Chase, argued that companies must also invest in employees and deliver value to customers…Nearly 200 chief executives, including the leaders of Apple, Pepsi and Walmart, tried on Monday to redefine the role of business in society — and how companies are perceived by an increasingly skeptical public.”
The article continues, “Breaking with decades of long-held corporate orthodoxy, the Business Roundtable issued a statement on ‘the purpose of a corporation,’ arguing that companies should no longer advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, the group said, they must also invest in their employees, protect the environment and deal fairly and ethically with their suppliers.”
Costco has been on the right track all along. Now, the rest of the world is trying to catch up. It’s way past time.
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Mark Lusky | 303.621.6136 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience. Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage. Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.