Are there some businesses which inherently lend themselves to bad customer service?
I think the answer is yes, and I point to the mobile phone and personal computer industries as examples. Both industries have reputations for lousy customer service, and both suffer from what might be called the Two Logo Problem.
The Two Logo Problem is when you buy a product and there's two (or more) logos on it. For example, you buy a computer, and it says "Dell" and "Microsoft." Dell provides the hardware, and Microsoft provides the software. Or you buy a mobile phone, and the phone reads "Verizon" and "Nokia."
So when something goes wrong, where is the customer supposed to go? To Dell, or to Microsoft? If everything is working properly, the customer should be able to get good service whatever happens.
But in practice this doesn't always happen. If business is a little slow this quarter, or Wall Street is putting the screws on for better profitability, it can be all too tempting for one company to dump some of the support costs on its partner: "PC running a little slow? Sorry, you'll need to call Microsoft on that one. It sounds like a software problem." This doesn't even have to be a management policy; it may simply be the consequence of pressuring customer service reps to reduce call times and support expenses.
(By the way, don't read anything into the fact that I'm picking on Dell, Microsoft, Verizon, or Nokia in particular--they're just convenient, recognizable names.)
Inevitably, the customer feels like she's getting the runaround.
On the other hand, if there's only one logo on the box--for example, "Apple," which has consistently scored at the top of the pack for customer satisfaction with its technical support--the customer always knows where to go for help, and the company can't push her off to some other company.
The lesson is obvious: business partnerships are great, but make sure the customer knows which company she's doing business with.