Can Bill Gates Make Friends?

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.
– Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and world’s richest man

Set aside the magnificent irony of the Microsoft chief, whose company has more unhappy customers than any other in the world, since Microsoft has done little but create more new problems with each succeeding operating system beyond Windows 98 and ME. Microsoft has not learned what its customers want, instead focussing on what is best for Microsoft.

For “unhappy customers” in the quote we can substitute mistakes and failures, including errors of omission. Many products today offer warranties on their products, but trying to get any of them to honour their warranty is like pulling teeth. If you phone or write to most companies, their first question is usually a variation on the wording “What did you do wrong?”

True, in the past many people have cheated on warranty claims, but their cheating happened most often because the product they bought performed not nearly as long as they expected or had a right to expect given the warranty period. Poor engineering or poor quality management made cheaters out of many honest people.

Toyota will take over as the world’s largest auto maker within a couple of months of this writing. The three major North American auto manufacturers and many in Europe struggle every year to make a profit, let alone a good profit.

Most people I have spoken to agree that Toyota’s quality is superior to that of the North American products. Even though Toyota’s prices for the initial purchase are higher and its parts are priced considerably higher, people buy the cars that they believe will give them the best service over a long period of time. Even cars a decade old reflect this in their resale prices.

Wal-Mart became the world’s largest retailer a few years ago. Wal-Mart may have many weaknesses, but its product return policy has an excellent reputation. They have learned that customers stay happy and return to buy more when they know they can return products that don’t work out for them for some reason.

Dependability and service stand at such low levels in customers’ minds for so many businesses today that people will flock to any business that offers good service and dependable products. Provided the price is reasonable and enough people know about the business, people continue to buy service and dependability.

In our personal lives, we can learn the same lessons. The man who services my car complained one day that almost no one stops by his place just to visit as a friend. He is usually in a grumpy mood, though he can be charming when he is in a good mood. When I have stopped at his place to chat, he usually doesn’t manage to find time. The man has no friends because he doesn’t know what people want from a friend. He is old enough to have learned and he must have lost many potential friends over the years.

I have met many people who have been married more than twice. Most complain that their second (and third) spouse had the same weaknesses, bad attitude and habits that the first one had. Many women have found themselves in abusive relationships several times. These people didn’t learn from their mistakes, didn’t learn what made their “customers” turn bad on them.

Personal relationships don’t come with warranties, unless you call a prenuptual agreement some sort of guarantee. People have one chance to form each lasting relationship and many opportunities to destroy them.

First we must make the right choice of person with whom to develop a relationship. Then we must know what is needed to cement a relationship and keep it together through its ups and downs. Without that second condition, the relationship will fall apart at the first sign of serious trouble.

Mr. Gates may be the world’s richest man, but I wonder if he follows his own advice on a personal level. Does Bill Gates have friends that don’t care about his money? Has he learned what people really care about in a friendship?

As for Windows, we can only hope that someone comes along with an operating system that works as well as its advertising says it does. No one at Microsoft seems to be paying attention to the complaints of its customers.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, striving to show the connectedness of many of life’s activities.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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