Let’s begin this article with a short story that began 4000 years ago. This happened in the cradle of civilization itself, Mesopotamia, specifically in Babylon. A customer named Nanni bought some copper ingots from a merchant called Ea-Nasir. Unfortunately, this shrewd merchant not only sent Nanni sub-standard ingots but also treated Nanni’s servant (who was to fetch the ingots for him) pretty badly. Nanni expressed his displeasure by writing on a stone tablet in cuneiform and sent it to Ea-Nasir, and with it came the world’s first-ever recorded complaint letter sent from a customer to a business owner. Here’s the full translated text if you’re interested: Tell Ea-Nasir: Nanni sends the following message:
When you came, you said to me as follows: “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!”
What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe (?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and Umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.
How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.
Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.
— Leo Oppenheim, Letters from Mesopotamia
It turns out that our scheming merchant does this on a regular basis. He hops from city-state to city-state running off with people’s money. And this story ends with the archeologists finding an entire room full of complaint letters for Ea-Nasir, stacked on each other. Our little scamper thought it was funny to keep all the complaint letters for himself. This all happened in c. 1750 BCE, that’s 4000 years ago. During this time, people weren’t even using iron for their weapons yet. Let that sink in! Honesty, openness, and clarity must be integral to a company for it to survive in a sea of competition. Now more than ever, people are looking for big, companies to be more transparent with them as well as be more emphatic. This is something that’s important for small businesses as well and you can begin by employing this as a social media marketing strategy where you cultivate openness with your customers by engaging with them in social media and replying to their questions and valid criticisms.
Companies can even be more transparent in things such as their web analytics, and perhaps reveal things that maybe aren’t too palatable in the immediate perspective such as drops and dips in their charts like say in, stock prices, how much resources are unused, attrition and turnover rates among employees and the like. This may sound counter-intuitive but the trust that it will foster among investors and clients, in the long run, would be immeasurable. This will show that you are a company who minces no words and gives out things as they are. People will acknowledge this goodwill shall spread this through conventional social media practices or in their emails.
This age of information that’s delivered in such high speeds has been beneficial in terms of bringing businesses up or down. If Nanni were to live in the internet age, what would his recourse be in that situation? He could have easily recorded what happened on video, made a tweet about it, made a Youtube review or wrote a Google review about it. If Ea-Nasir was running a big enough company, the mainstream media could have picked up Nanni’s tweets and made national headlines because of it. Alas, poor Nanni could only write in his tablet (a stone tablet at that) and Ea-Nasir got to keep it for himself, locked away from everybody.
If your company does not have a clear strategy on how to be more open to your customers yet, begin this holiday season! Spread some good honest cheer to your customers by making them feel they are a part of the growth of your business.