When an Organisation Becomes too Successful



By Marie-Therese Phido

I lost my ATM card in one of the hypermarkets along the Lekki axis and had to rush to the bank to cancel the card. When I got there, I made four transactions – cancelled the card, transferred money to another bank’s account, collected cash and got a new ATM card. I thought the new ATM card was temporary, only to be told that it was permanent and I did not need to return to get a permanent one. I was really surprised about the ATM card being permanent, because it takes five working days in my main bank. All of these transactions enumerated above, were done in 30 minutes; all done professionally, with good customer service and ambience. To say I was impressed is an understatement.

The next week, I had to apply for a dollar ATM card. I went to my main bank. The first thing that strikes you as you entered the banking hall is the crowd. Then, it finally got to my turn to apply for the card. What I needed the card for was extremely urgent, and my thinking was that the rules of waiting a few days to get your card had changed. I was perplexed when I was told to come back in five days to collect the card.

I then enquired, if the collection was extended because it was a dollar card? I was told no, that all cards are processed within five working days. They said, if I had requested for a naira card I would have been given a temporary card that I could use for a few days before my permanent card was ready and I could also get a ‘one- use’ dollar card. Both options were not satisfactory. I did not see why I needed to come back.

I then told them that I had gone to another bank the week before and had gotten a permanent ATM card within a few minutes after cancelling the old one. As I was trying to explain my previous experience to the lady in order to help ensure that her superiors got this feedback, because I felt maybe they were unaware of what their competition was doing; that permanent ATM cards could be gotten in a few minutes. She rudely shut me up in mid-sentence by telling me to come back the next week to collect my card.

As a chastised customer, I meekly left. Four days later, I got a series of text messages and emails, telling me my card was ready for collection. Again, I was perplexed as the collection location stated Awolowo Road branch, Ikoyi, even though I had requested for the card at the Chevron branch on the Lekki axis which is close to my current location.

I then rationalised that maybe it was because I opened the account on Awolowo Road and dollar cards must be gotten where you originally opened your account. I struggled to get to Awolowo Road, only to be kept waiting because the customer service staff could not find the card. I then explained that I had actually requested for the card at the Chevron branch, but was sent messages that the pick-up was at Awolowo Road.

I shared the messages, which they then used to search. The result of their search, was that they had traced the card to their Chevron branch and that was where I should go back to pick up my card. I shook my head and told them they had lost it.

Studying the historical trajectory of this bank, my conclusion is that they are suffering from the perils of success. They have become very successful, with a large retail customer base, strong financial performance and good will. Many banks use them as a benchmark for the acquisition of retail customers. I suspect they are also working hard not to fall into the same mess that this bank has gotten itself into by growing too fast in a short time, that meeting the needs of their customers has now become burdensome to them.

It is clear that for my main bank, “success is a huge vulnerability”, according to Robert Herbold, who goes on to say, “it is important to realise that people and companies fall into this success trap. It happens to entire companies and departments, and to individuals within organisations. All are susceptible to the perils of success”.

Walter Winchell also said: “Nothing recedes like success”. In the book “Self-Destructive Habits of Good Companies”, written by Jagdish Sheth, a professor of marketing strategy at the University of Atlanta, notes that the average lifespan of companies decline as that of human rises. Seven issues were highlighted for businesses to address, starting with denial, arrogance and complacency, which can lead companies to avoid reality and not face tomorrow’s needs.

The fourth destructive habit called competence dependency, happens when the core ability that has sustained your organisation becomes obsolete and non-competitive, as new companies with new ways outpace you. I strongly believe that if my main bank that I have an attachment to, does not work to quickly solve these service problems that they have had for some time and are appearing to be in a state of flux on how to solve these service delivery problems, competition may soon outpace them and leave them far behind.

Customers are becoming tired and impatient with their poor quality of service. This poor quality is also experienced when you use their online platforms, which are cumbersome and unfriendly. My experience is that it takes too long to perform transactions on a normal day. On other days, the platform does not work especially in the afternoon when there is likely to be heavy customer traffic. The norm is that the transaction times out.

The fifth is competitive myopia, because many companies define competition too narrowly that it misses threats entering into its business. I do not think my main bank is suffering from this issue. They are very aware of their competition, but seem to be at a loss on how to solve the customer service issues they obviously have.
The sixth is cost efficiency, where cost rise and margins fall as the scale of the organisation grows. The seventh is territorial impulse, culture and turf wars.

Herbold offers two guidelines to ensure continued success:
• Be as aggressive as you were when you just started or were lagging behind. Keep the sense of urgency you exhibited when the competition was ahead of you.
• Develop a culture that constantly questions all practices at all times. Constantly probe for new and better ways of doing things.

In conclusion, Sheth says and I agree, “the leader who embraces change, whose very philosophy is based on predicting and preparing for tomorrow’s world will not only shake his company out of yesterday’s self-destructive habits but will also escape the shackles of tomorrow’s”.

– Marie-Therese Phido is Sales & Market Strategist and Business Coach
Email: mphido@elevato.com.ng
tweeter handle @osat2012; TeL: 08090158156 (text only)