The Perfect Storm: Wired and Dangerous Customers
Posted on April 25, 2011 by Chip Bell
By Chip Bell, Author and a new contributing author to this blog.
Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What To do About it; co-authored by Chip Bell and John R. Patterson
George Clooney taught us the meaning of the phrase “the perfect storm” with the movie by the same name. It is a rare combination of circumstances that create a synergistic, negative result. It is the weather version of 1+1+1 is “a whole lot more than 3.”
The worst recession of this century left customers anxious and risk-averse. Even those not impacted directly had plenty of friends who were. It left customers picky and fickle. New normal customers only care about value for their hard-earned income. And, their definition of value zeroes in most on their experience; customers assume they will get a product or outcome they can trust at a price they view as fair. It has also left them fickle–slow to show allegiance to a brand; quick to exit for a competitor at even the hint of a poor or indifferent service experience.
The second component of the “perfect storm” is the change in the service covenant. The service covenant is the unspoken assumption that value will be exchanged for value and both sides of the covenant will play guardian of the experience. With the advent of self-service and automation, the service provider guardian too often seems absent from the encounter. The high-touch is removed from high-tech service leaving customers abandoned and often angry. It’s like a faulty vending machine in a remote location—who gonna call!
Now, for the big kahuna! The internet, with its dramatic and instantaneous power and reach, has enabled an anxious, angered customer to bring an overnight storm to an unsuspecting service provider. Think of it as“word of mouth” on steroids. When power blogger Heather Armstrong (http://dooce.com)had an unresolved issue with Maytag, she simply advised her followers to “boycott Magtag.” With over a million followers, it no doubt cut a sizeable dent in Maytag’s reputation (and likely their bottom line). That is dangerous!
How do we survive a “perfect storm” with customers today? It starts with an obvious partnership orientation. When systems and processes are designed with customers in mind, it is a beginning. When customers are included as partners, not ignored as faceless consumers, it changes the balance. Customers as king (which they are today) is as flawed as service providers as king. When customers are treated as valued members of an important community they become advocates not irritants; respectful not rebellious.
The anxiety of the recession will fade; the internet will not. Customers will always be wired. They do not have to be dangerous if we keep both the “customer” and “service” in “customer service.”