The Shifting Balance of Power

It started as a normal conversation with my Broadband supplier. I confirmed my name, phone number, address, and then held the line whilst preparing to go through the usual rigmarole of deals, decisions, and disclaimers until I could renew.

Then, an odd thing happened. We got into conversation about football:

Him: Who d’ya support?

Me: Arsenal

Him: Good man! Do you know the pub on the corner of Elwood Street?

Me: I do! Go there quite often

Him: I nearly bought it a couple of year ago

Me: You should have! You’d be better than the people who run it now.

Him: They’re my friends

Me: Oh.

Him: So, let’s look at what contract I can offer you…

It was like that I-wish-you’d-made-the-food-for-this-wedding moment in Love Actually, except I was now facing a tortuous few minutes to see what my punishment was going to be, dealt out in broadband speeds and HD add-on prices. At that moment, I felt like I’d  been a bad customer, and as Matt Walsh excellently wrote a couple of years back, maybe I was now going to get bad service because of it. 


I heard about another example of this shift in business / customer relationship recently, when Rachel Botsman gave a super talk at The School of Life’s BusinessWise conference. Talking about Uber, she told a story about a trip to New York, where she’d let he father use her Uber account to ferry the kids around whilst she was working. So far, so good. Returning to Sydney, she suddenly found it impossible to get a ride, and it was only when she eventually got an Uber driver to agree to pick her up, she found out why. Her customer rating had plummeted, and after a bit of gentle prodding the driver revealed that the last few reviews were filled with comments about the kids leaving the car in a mess, making loads of noise, and generally creating havoc.


There’s a more subtle change in the relationship too, in a belt-tightening world where large profits are frowned upon by all except the stock market. Traditionally, business have tried to guess what customers want, provided it, and then crossed their fingers and hoped people would by it. But this high upfront cost model is under threat, with a shift towards proof-of-concept and rapid iteration. At a breakfast this week I heard about Queremos, a company flipping Supply & Demand in favour of the businesses. Essentially a crowdsourcing service, wannabe gig-goers pledge money upfront to get a concert funded, and then get first dibs on the ticket when the artist agrees to play the show, knowing that they and the venue will be guaranteed to make money. Win – Win…


This re-setting of the relationship between businesses and customers should be a good thing in terms of improving people’s behaviours. Will Hotels begin rejecting customers if they think they’re going to be too noisy and disturb everyone else? Will restaurants refuse your reservation if they know you haven’t turned up to the last three bookings you’ve made? Perhaps banks will refuse you an account if you’re seen to be a serial (trivial) complainer?

And perhaps the same re-setting can happen in the other direction, too. How long can banks keep charging if you want to pay off a loan early? What about train companies, who keep fining people for not understanding their complex ticket structure and charging triple for buying a ticket on the day of travel than the day before?

And, of course, broadband companies. Surely they can’t keep up the rule of charging you if you want to cancel your contract, especially if it was agreed out of sheer embarrassment and a sense of apology?

I guess I’m about to find out…


I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.

3 Thoughts

  1. Maybe resetting the relationship between business and customer is not such a new thing, I’ve been turned away from campsites for being a member of a same-sex group, restaurants for wearing lycra and a myriad of clubs for wearing the wrong type of shoes…

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