These Aren't Your Old-School Customers

Chip Bell and John Patterson's new book Wired and Dangerous explores how the customer relations field has changed rapidly with the advent of new technology and new options and how businesses need to update their ways of dealing with those customers or risk shutting down.

In this post, Chip and John list five ways in which customers today are different from customers yesterday -- and what this means for you:

1. Yesterday: Unhappy customers would write a letter to the CEO or ask to speak to the manager.

Today: They post a rant or complain on Yelp or their blog or Twitter or start a Facebook page against the business.

Why You Should Worry: The presence of social media and the internet means that this is no longer an issue between a customer and a company, it’s a public brawl and everyone is invited. Worse yet, people have the tendency to believe the customer, so you’re suddenly feeling threatened by a whole bunch of people you don’t even know.

2. Yesterday: Customers would raise issues and then wait a reasonable length of time for the business or company to address those issues

Today: Customers raise issues and want resolution or compensation immediately.

Why You Should Worry: We are now an instant gratification-based culture, which means that anything other than an immediate positive response runs the risk of being seen as stalling for time or worse yet, completely ignoring the customer. If you don’t have a strategy and process in place for immediately addressing such issues, you could end up in trouble.

3. Yesterday: Customers had three channels of communications with organizations: face to face, a phone call, and snail mail -- accessible only Monday through Friday from 9 to 5.

Today: Customers have unlimited channels of communication that includes a “party line” (social media) to all their friends available 24/7.

Why You Should Worry: Unless your company's channels are congruent and customer-centric, the customer will use his or her own channels to destroy your reputation before you even wake up the following morning!

4. Yesterday: Customers paid most of their attention to getting what they wanted or needed, not to the experience associated with that acquisition. If you offered a quality product or service at a fair price, you could stay in the game.

Today: Customers demand a great experience in addition to a high-value product or service -- and at a fair price. Also, they determine how good your experiential offer is by comparing their experiences with other businesses they interact with. This is why mom-and-pop shops are competing with Amazon.

Why You Should Worry: With customer service expectations increasing by 33% a year and with the many great service providers from whom they draw memorable experiences -— Zappos, Nordstroms, Disney, etc. -- if you are not constantly enhancing the quality of their experience, you will be left behind by those who are.

5. Yesterday: Customers were relatively subservient to a few established and often corporate sources of consumer advice -— they bought what Madison Avenue, MTV, and Hollywood told them to buy.

Today: Customers are king -— they are empowered and emboldened by their capacity to influence the marketplace through the Internet and social media. These customers also wield more power than their corporate counterparts -- the most carefully massaged piece of publicity for any product can be readily undone by an anonymous consumer's clumsy rant.

Why You Should Worry:
The idea that the customer as king is as flawed as the one that argues that the organization as king because neither approaches are sustainable today. Smart businesses build the principles of partnership into the design and delivery of service to customers so that both parties have a vested interest in the success of the product.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

While I agree that the new social media is making customer opinion more visible, I also believe that human beings are reasonable. If someone posts a rant on Yelp, but the majority of the other comments are positive, most people will balance those two factors. I personally would consider someone who posts a page on Facebook to complain about a company a little obsessed and not to be trusted.
Customers have *always* been interested in a fair price and a good to excellent experience. The difference is that internet retailers have been able to slash prices so much that local retailers haven't been able to compete on price. But customers, who are basically smart people, are beginning to wake up to the importance of a local economy (see the 3/50 Project, for example) and are willing to pay a little extra to support local businesses.
I don't understand what the metric is for the claim "customer service expectations increasing by 33% a year" - how is that measured? Is that overall for every retail segment (electronics, furniture, groceries, etc)?
Finally, I know some businesses who are famous for lousy customer service, poor products and a dreadful shopping experience that have been going just fine for years because they have the one thing that outweighs everything else: convenience. No matter how many people rant about them, tell their friends about their horrible experiences, and give bad reviews, the companies are still around.