Connecting with Today’s Wired & Dangerous Customers

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{3E7CCD07-A998-4A9C-8A9D-1A8C70522B05}Img400Customers today are Picky–more cautious in their choices (and they have many more choices) and interested only in getting obvious value for their money.  They are well-informed about choices, smarter in choice-making, and selective in whom they elect to join.

They are Fickle–much quicker to leave if unhappy.  They not only show a lower tolerance for error, they will exit just on account of plain old indifferent service.  The hype of a brand name means little in deterring the disappointed customer’s exit.

Customers today are Vocal–more apt to rapidly (and loudly) register concerns with their higher standards for value and their expectation of getting a tailored response.  They assertively tell others their views of service; they also listen to fellow customers’ reviews and make choices without even giving the organization a chance.

Finally, they are Vain–expecting treatment that telegraphs they are special and unique, not just one of the masses.  This customer narcissism has been forged both through the pampering provided by service providers as well as their new found muscle to get their way in the marketplace.

This Picky-Fickle-Vocal-Vain moniker represents a dramatic shift in what is required to insure customer loyalty–the stuff of growth and profits.  That shift has resulted in customer requirements for value being very out-of-sync with the tried and true methods organizations have relied on for years.  When front line employees deliver service that fulfils the customer’s stated needs, they are taken aback when customers give them less than satisfactory grades.  When a small gaffe triggers volcano-like customer uproar, front line employees believe they have met a deranged deviant with an attitude problem, not just a typical customer acting on instincts honed from countless disappointments.

And now, for the big kahuna!  Today’s Picky-Fickle-Vocal-Vain customers are also wired.  Word of mouse has replaced word of mouth as the most viral means of gossip, grousing and groaning about last night’s slow restaurant service, yesterday’s rude sales clerk or this morning’s glitch on Acme.com.  Today, internet connections, whether blogs, tweets or other forms of social media, have five times the impact of traditional word of mouth.  The average post is read by over 45 people today.  And, the viral effect is enormous.  When songwriter Dave Carroll had a run-in with United Airlines over damage to his guitar in their baggage handling, he penned a song and hung it on YouTube.  Over 14.5 million people have watched.  The Economist blog estimates it cost United Airlines about $180M.

Recently John’s son Chad complained about the speed of their internet connection. John told Chad to call ATT U-verse (their provider) and handle the issue. Chad scheduled a technician for a Sunday morning appointment. The technician did all the right things by calling ahead of time, showing up as promised and walking Chad through all the steps involved in improving their internet speed. What blew John away when he walked in to check on things was how the technician ended the conversation. “Please call the 800# if you have any questions or any more problems or if you like you can call me or my supervisor directly on our cell phones and we will be delighted to assist you.” He then handed Chad a document entitled “Service Promise” which detailed the steps he should have followed (and he did) as well as the contact info for him and his supervisor. That is how you connect with today’s wired and dangerous customer!

What steps are you taking to more effectively deal with today’s customers?  Ignore it and you become a has-been; treat it as an opportunity and your create advocates.

Adapted from Wired and Dangerous:  How Customers Have Changed and What To Do About it by Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson (SF: Berrett-Koehler May, 2011).