What happened to the sympathetic customer? Did they ever really exist? As more people take to the internet to voice their opinions, it appears as though the behavior lives in the extreme; intense support or intense criticism. What happened to the middle ground?
Over the past two decades, consumer expectations have reached new heights. We’ve gone beyond understanding that “the customer is always right,” to “the customer is always right regardless if they are wrong and their expectations are unrealistic.” The new consumer behavior has put incredible pressure on business both small and global to deliver, consistently, regardless of ask.
I’m a big believer in the Human-to-Human movement started by Bryan Kramer (hat tip to Ted Rubin for sharing this point of view). As Bryan states, “The delightful side of humanity holds with it empathy, understanding, and forgiveness, and when remembered in our communication, it ties us together as a common group.”
It seems like such a basic proposition. Something that we shouldn’t have to be reminded of. We are all humans. Those in big business, small business and those buying all types of goods of varying value. Unfortunately, the balance is still off. While we are quick to praise individuals or enter into conversations with one person, we do not offer the same understanding, consideration and patience to those behind the communication lines. Quite simply, we demand more from an entity than we demand from an individual.
Today’s consumer expects things to be faster, stronger, cheaper, flexible and exactly in line with expectations. However, even with our increasing demands for the “Now” economy, we have little patience for error. In many cases, simply because we can’t see behind the curtain and we are frustrated by our detachment from the process. The dichotomy between what we expect and a growing business can deliver is increasing at a rate we’ve never seen before.
As a result, we’ve abandoned the concept of second chances when it comes to our purchases. Businesses have one chance with each individual purchase (I originally wrote this sentence as “You have once chance with each individual purchase,” but the singular reference suggested that businesses were viewed as a community of Humans… which, while true, is not widely accepted). Even if we own multiple products by the same brand, one misstep, one inconvenience, and we’re off to the next thing. Is consumer loyalty becoming a thing of the past?
Probably not, but consumer empathy seems to have vanished… if it ever existed. Recently, one of my favorite bloggers, Chris Brogan, shared his story about a recent Dell purchase. (Before I continue, let me be clear that I have met Chris, I admire his dedication to his community and I think he is a brilliant thought leader. In fact, his blog was the first I ever read and I have read every post since.) Chris is a self proclaimed Dell advocate. He has several Dell products, which based on what I can tell from his posts, have served him fine. However, a recent tablet purchase turned out to have issues with charging.
As Chris details, the customer service process was flawed and the time it took to solve the problem and the hoops he had to jump through to get information and confirmation was excessive. Chris wasn’t looking for a “freebie” or demanding that he, as a recognized industry leader, receive special treatment. His concern was around the average consumer experience. Does this happen often? What if this had happened to someone else?
I get it. I really do. When things don’t go our way, we get “pissed off” and start “bitching.” However, in this case, what appears to be an isolated incident generated a flurry of comments that influenced the perception of potential Dell consumers. This is where I get lost.
For every story like the one Chris shared, there is another that praises Dell, or any other company for that matter, for over delivering on expectations and excellent service. Experiences are individual. Even when we are part of a community, how we perceive, manage or receive that Human-to-Human interaction is unique. Why? Because we are all unique.
While “standards” and “process” exist within organizations; they go hand in hand with error, missed communication and oversight. For every product we love, there are elements that frustrate us. For example, I drive a Ford Taurus. I absolutely love the car, but the Sync system in my 2010 is glitchy and not very user friendly. I even bought my 2010 Ford after wishing I could put my 1996 Ford Explorer Sport in neutral and push it off a cliff. Why? I believed in the brand and the direction it was headed. Am I 100% satisfied? No. But would I recommend Ford to someone looking for a new car? Absolutely. I could also probably state with some confidence that the Sync system is far better now than it was in 2010 (keep me honest Scott Monty.)
The point is, if we truly believe in a Human-to-Human society and Ted Rubin’s Return on Relationship (P.S. Buy the book here), then we should take the time to evaluate the entire ecosystem of our consumerism. Chris has 2 Dell XPS products that seem to serve his needs fine, but I think that message gets lost in his post.
I admit, I’d be frustrated as much as Chris if I went through the same experience, but sometimes we deal with the wrong people. Sometimes we get unlucky and the product doesn’t perform as we expect. Sometimes, we get a lemon. But as we build relationships with brands, how can we as consumers be more helpful and patient in helping them deliver on our needs vs. sharing a solitary negative experience that colors the perception of hundreds of potential consumers?
So, there’s almost 1000 words from me… maybe I’m just in a sympathetic mood. It’s probably because of this guy who apologized to the Delta ticket agent.