We live in a customer centric society. Consumers don’t just go shopping anymore; they want to be comforted by a brand. Been to a ball game lately? These are experiences that have a sporting event as the backdrop. People in our society seek an ever increasing degree of satisfaction whenever they purchase something. Ultimately, this manifests itself in wanting the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price. How did we get here? Who is to blame for this mentality?
I offer two companies. First, is Taco Bell. In the mid-1980s they did something radically different. They introduced the value menu in fast food. This was like getting a pay raise. All of a sudden you could get a taco for 99 cents – and a full meal for not much more than that. This move started a price war that the fast food industry continues to fight today. To confirm that the fight is still on, what is the first thing you look for when you walk into a fast food restaurant? For the majority of readers, it is the value menu - often featuring a 99 cent price point.
An interesting, and often overlooked point, about this shift in that industry is that Taco Bell made dramatic operational changes to their system to support the introduction of the value menu. They moved some of the food preparation out of individual stores and into central commissary kitchens. They also began using other pre-prepared items. This lowered their cost structure enabling them to charge less. In this case, they enjoyed a true competitive advantage. Other chains were forced to mirror pricing but were slow to introduce an updated operational model.
The other firm I blame is Fed Ex. Before FedEx if you wanted to send a letter from New York to Atlanta, or anywhere else in America, let alone the world, it would easily take 3 – 5 days. With the introduction of FedEx, we could send a letter around the world with the reasonable expectation that it would get there overnight. Today we still send material cross-town, via Memphis, to make sure it gets there overnight.
Still other changes have made the consumer more demanding. The final push to this customer centric society is the internet and our new ability to access information related. If you want to know where your package is, how much your balance is, or what your car insurance may cost, all you have to do is get online and after a few clicks, you have the information you need. Don’t forget the ever present Wal-Mart and the impact that is having on consumer expectations. Some reports indicate that over 60% of Americans will shop in a Wal-Mart in any given month.
All these changes mean one thing – your customer is more demanding than ever. Often business to business sellers will argue that the person buying from them isn’t using their own money so they don’t really think this way. How else are they to feel? If most other purchases in their life are met with superior customer service and value, you can expect that they have the same expectation of you. Truly sophisticated buyers may in fact know your business model and the attendant challenges with delivering superior service, but that does not mean they don’t shop at Nordstrom or Wal-Mart and have a standard they would like to see all buying experiences attain.
So, what have you done lately to make sure you are delivering the experience that your customer truly wants? Notice I didn’t say to deliver what they expect; their expectations may not be very high. Do you know what they truly want? On time and on budget is not what they want – they expect that, it is what you do for a living. Imagine you are purchasing a brand new automobile. You have waited six weeks for this baby to show up at the dealer and you are truly excited about the prospect of picking up your new machine. The day you are to pick it up, you took the day off to polish the floor of your garage and you drive your old trade-in to the dealer. As you get out of the old clunker, the salesman greets you with a genuine warm welcoming smile and addresses you by your name. You honestly feel welcome as your old car silently disappears from the picture. The salesman is beaming as he congratulates you on your purchase and invites you to walk with him. As he rounds the corner to the new vehicle delivery room, he stops and looks you right in the eye and with total seriousness he says, “You are going to love this car. We went all out for you. In fact, we even put tires on it for you!”
Are you dazzled? Probably not. Don’t you expect the tires when you buy the car? What does your client expect when they buy from you? Are you delivering? Even worse, what do they not expect and are you delivering that? All too often we mistake the satisfied customer, the one who doesn’t complain, as the loyal customer. They may just be waiting for the next viable vendor to show up. You must ask how you are doing. And you must ask in many ways; surveys, follow-up calls, face-to-face and what ever else is appropriate. Additionally, everyone in your firm must be able to ask – and that takes some training but the payback is in the form of increased customer retention because you show you care. This retention generally shows up in market share and as profits.
The changes in customer buying practices over the past decade are permanent. Disregarding this new reality is a strategy for business failure. As a consumer you are demanding and have expectations. The people who consume what you sell are demanding and have expectations to. Do you know what they are? Ask them. 24/7, It is all about them.
Wally Adamchik is President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting. Visit the website at www.beaFireStarter.com. He can be reached at 919-673-9499 or wally@beaFireStarter.com.
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