The New Face of Customer Service?

Rating: 4 votes, 5.00 average.
I was speaking to a sales person who recently left the Ricoh Direct Sales organization. They informed me that Ricoh Direct (RBS) is now charging their customers to accept phone calls for meter read submissions or when they place supply orders. The charge I am told will be $12 per phone call. Ricoh's goal is to have all of their customers use the My Ricoh website to submit meter reads or order supplies. This is a fine goal and should save Ricoh money and resources if all of their customers will do what they want. But is what's good for Ricoh good for their customers? If you ask me it seems a little heavy handed. From my experience customers like to have choices. They resent being told "do it our way or pay the price". I know that I resent that type of attitude when dealing with my vendors.

You may be thinking that $12 per call is not a lot of money. I doubt that you are thinking that, but for the sake of discussion we will assume that you are. If you as a Ricoh Direct Customer were to make one call a month to submit your meter reads, and one call a month to place an order for supplies for your Ricoh copier, and one emergency call a year on top of that, it would cost your company an extra $300.00 a year to do business with Ricoh Direct. For some companies that would be the equivalent to an extra lease payment a year!

Many years ago I interviewed for a Systems Engineer position with Ricoh. The interview took place in a nice hotel in Cambridge, Ma. The manager who interviewed me told me that he was reading the book Agenda by Michael Hammer and it was all the rage among the Ricoh managers. So I went out and bought the book and read it. While some of the book was outright nonsense, there was one thing that i learned from that book that every manager should know, and believe, and live. And that is "Your company needs to be easy to do business with"! Maybe Ricoh management should put Michael Hammer's Agenda back on the summer reading list. Because forcing their customers do do it their way or pay the price does not make Ricoh easy to do business with.

I think the problem stems from the phrase "Our Customers". Our is a possessive term. When you say "Our house" or "Our car" or "Our dog" you are saying these things belong to us. We own them. If you say "Our Customers" with the same connotation, you do so at your own peril. Having a customer give you their business is a privilege, and that privilege (like all privileges) can be revoked if it is abused.

I understand that Ricoh wants to streamline their back office and make themselves more profitable. But doing it by aggravating their customers seems foolish. Maybe Ricoh Direct has been watching "Home Depot" or the Airlines to get tips on customer service. Home Depot has installed multiple self service registers where you get to ring up all the items you bought yourself. I refuse to use them, because if I wanted to work for Home Depot I would have filled out a job application. One time when I went to check out at Home Depot there were literally ONLY self service registers available. I told them not to worry, because I would go to Lowe's and I am sure that they would be happy to have one of their people check me out. They promptly had a manager open a register and check me out. YEAH, for competition!!!!

How about the Airlines and their "customer service" (I use the term loosely)? Flying use to be an elegant way to travel. But now it's like taking a greyhound bus. And there are soooooo many hidden fees. If you check a bag = pay us, (now) if you carry on a bag = pay us, if you preselect a seat = pay us, if you want to change flights = pay us. With Ricoh's new policy of charging their customers if they dare to call Ricoh you get the worst of both scenarios. You are either forced to do self service, or you are nickeled & dimed with hidden fees. I am sure that this is something the Ricoh Direct Sales person will NOT bring up when they are trying to sell you a copier.

So what is a customer to do? Vote with your feet! Take your business to someone who doesn't take your business for granted. Home Depot has Lowes to keep them honest, Ricoh Direct (and all Direct Sales) have Independent Dealers who sell, service, and support the same exact brands as the Manufacturers Direct Sales force sell. Which means you have a choice. If RBS doesn't appreciate your business take it to a Ricoh Dealer. I bet they would be willing to take your call and NOT CHARGE YOU! If you are really annoyed at Rioch you can take your business to a completely different brand. But if you do, consider a Dealer rather than the Manufacturers Direct Sales Branch. The independent Dealers have not only survived but thrived over the last few decades because of good Service & Support after the sale.

Let me ask you a question. Who buys a car directly from GM or Ford? No one! You buy a car from a local dealer because they have a reputation for good service & support after the sale. Copiers & Cars are very similar in many ways. They cost about the same, and both require highly skilled technicians to keep them running well.

In my opinion Ricoh's new policy is short sighted and ham fisted. It is NOT the new face of customer service in the copier industry, not as long as their are independent dealers providing quality service & support on the same exact equipment. Give one a call, they won't charge you for it.

That's My $0.02
Vince McHugh

Updated 05-01-2014 at 10:20 AM by VinceMcHugh



  1. dalecosp's Avatar
    Boom! Hey, "webmaster" --- can you give us a like button for this?

    Nice post, Vince.
  2. Rob Scalfaro's Avatar
    Ricoh is a terrific company and I can understand the logic of this from a financial perspective, but from the Sales & Marketing side I certainly wouldn't be doing this.

    I'm sure some of the clients will begin to use the on-line resources, but only after developing some bad feelings in the process.