At many places of employment, if you were to ask what the slogan or philosophy of the foundation of the business is, most of the time the answer would include customer satisfaction and "the customer is always right" as part of the mission statement. I know that at my business, we like to refer to our customers as the boss, and we listen to their needs as much as we can. We also try and always give our customers the benefit of the doubt and work hard to serve their needs.
This is a normal school of thought for how to be successful in business. Even if the customer isn't always right, treat them with a modicum of respect and work to keep their future business. After all, it isn't usually the ones that complain that always leave, polls have repeatedly stated that most customers just leave and go do business elsewhere without giving a business the benefit of the doubt. It is just a small percentage of people that will give a business a second chance with some verbilization. That is why it is critical to listen to customer feedback and to do things correctly the first time. It is vital to keep customers satisfied to maintain a successful business model.
In the comic book industry, I have mixed feelings about the customer service provided and the mission statement involved. Let me get specific for a bit.
1. Comic book Conventions: Conventions are a fantastic opportunity to get feedback live and in person from the customer. There is a one-on-one value that is hard to get elsewhere. The customer has come to you, and wants to see you. That is invaluable. Having books to sell and other commodities that tie in with the product give it a profitability aspect that is key.
So why is it that some creators show up late or not at all? Why are panels filled with self-deprecation and back slapping? Why waste the opportunity to speak with your customers or even worse treat them like cattle, herding them in the direction you think they should go?
2. Internet Presence: After much reservation, I have come to the conclusion that having whole issues or previews up is a valuable tool. I regularly go to DC and Marvel's websites to see what books are coming out, and enjoy viewing the covers prior to the release. It helps me to know what to look for. On the other hand, I went to Top Cow and Virgin's websites and was frustrated that they were not up to date and that the flash features made it hard to navigate. Keep them current, or don't bother.
The internet can be a catch-22 for creators. The interaction on message boards and blogs is a valuable resource. It is a great place to promote an upcoming project and enhance goodwill by positive interaction with the customer. It is a liability for a creator like John Byrne, who is the most obvious example I can think of. He had been considered an icon for so long that to see his unpleasantness and be the victim of it ruined any false illusions of greatness that had been held up for so long.
3. The actual comic book itself: When a comic book is good, it is the best tool of all. Having a cohesive creative team and a quality product is gold. If it works well, it sells itself. Pandering to a creative ego can be self destructive in the long term, such as the creator who always liked to put himself in a book, even if for a panel or two. At first it is cute, but after awhile, it is just plain egotistical.
4. Public Image: A creator like Mark Millar, whose past work has been critically acclaimed, can do a lot of damage to his own image very quickly. Using a mentality of "I'm smarter then you and I know better what you want then you do" has really put a crimp in his reputation. Along with Joe Quesada, their smugness and sense of self-righteousness about Civil War has been off-putting to many customers.
Another example of this is Erik Larson, whose column at Comic Book Resources has unfortunately damaged his rep with customers. His self-assured posts have been good at times; there have been other examples where he has crossed the line into "I'm right and you're wrong". It is a fine line, and henceforth hard to distinguish at times. As the head honcho at Image, it probably would have been a better response to keep his head close to the drawing board rather then use it as a figure head.
Conclusion: I have always been concerned about the varied response to "customers" of the comic industry. I know that we are a vocal bunch, and I know that we aren't always right, but our voice needs to count. To see that erosion of customer service is a shame. I want to see a turn from "we're smarter then you and know what you want" to "what isn't working and give us some suggestions". While I blame the internet for part of this, I see the value in getting back to a more face-to-face approach.
Give consumers a panel at a comicon. Every 50th customer to enter a show gets a golden ticket of sorts and gets to lead a discussion that the business types can learn from. Ask questions, don't just assume.
Check out all types of blogs. Don't just go to the most negative, biggest pot-stirrer. Take a real look around. There are so many diverse comic blogs out here now, and so many fans with positive messages. The most negative ones are sometimes pandering more to the audience then speaking with conviction.
Really work those sales numbers. Do polls about why books are being dropped. Work with retailers. They are the true front line of the industry. They see what is being put back and have great feedback.
Use the communications network that has been set up in ComicSpace. There are many customers there already, and they would be a great resource for polls and/or questionairres.
As with every industry out there, customer service is key. To get feedback, communication is the tool of the trade. I know that with the laws of supply and demand there are many more fans then creators, but without the dollars infusion of purchase, it would all be a moot point.