It is time to stop unfairly marginalising lower-income consumers, says BrightHouse chief executive Leo McKee.
Knowing customers’ needs, concerns and expectations is fundamental to any entity providing a service proposition.
This principle applies not only to enterprising businesses, but has equal resonance for providers in, for example, the voluntary or public service sectors.
Retailers well understand this customer service principle, and the most successful examples work assiduously to ensure that understanding the customer is at the heart of their business.
Understanding customers and their behaviour is an imperative to which we at BrightHouse subscribe. It is particularly crucial for us because a substantial number of our customers are from lower-income households.
This is an arena that in some respects is underserved and, to its disadvantage, is often misunderstood.
Lower-income groups in Britain are frequently subject to adverse commentary. Recent television programmes - such as Benefits Street, or Skint - have tended to portray an image of widespread fecklessness and a propensity to extensively milk the benefits system.
Clearly there are individuals who seek to exploit the system. However, I would strongly refute the notion that such characters are representative of lower-income communities.
I spend considerable time in and around BrightHouse stores throughout the country. I observe, speak and listen to people who frequent the stores on their local high streets.
“Clearly there are individuals who seek to exploit the system. However, I would strongly refute the notion that such characters are representative of lower-income communities.”
Our experience is that, in the communities we serve, the vast majority of people have a strong work ethic, are conscientious citizens, and are proud of their homes and families.
The existence of a benefits safety net fulfils a valid purpose for individuals and for social cohesion.
Life isn’t easy for many of them, but there are numerous examples of tenacity and resilience in overcoming difficulties. A source of strength for many is to live in communities where relationships are long-established, and where people trust and rely on their neighbours. A helping hand is almost always available.
Our customers in these communities well appreciate the limitations of their financial resources. Value, and prioritisation of essentials, are important to them.
They prefer to have a reliable washing machine in their kitchen, instead of spending money on frequent trips to the laundrette. They are glad to have a comfortable sofa in the living room when friends and family come around to visit.
It’s apparent from media and other sources that, for the UK, there’s some cautious optimism around various ‘green shoots’ indicating economic recovery.
But let’s consider. Without the active engagement of the millions of our fellow citizens who are in the ranks of the lower-paid, the prospects of recovery will be severely impaired.
Yet there seems to be an escalation in overtly demonising the poorer sectors of our society. Barely a week goes by when we don’t get a request from a TV company wanting to make a fly-on-the-wall programme on BrightHouse and its customers. We say no to them all - why should I expose my customers to the often unfair derision we see expressed in some of these documentaries?
On the contrary, I’m proud to serve our customers and to do our bit as they strive to shape their welcoming and comfortable homes.