Successful Selling: Your competition is anyone your customer compares you to - Aug/Sep 19

By Sandy Smith

Unless you have been living on another planet for the last few years, you know that today’s customers have changed. In my educational seminars, I frequently ask members of my audience to give me a general profile of their customers. Regardless of the industry-manufacturing, healthcare, retail, financial services, sales and marketing or the U.S. government-the following profile emerges.

Today’s customers are more knowledgeable and informed because of their immediate access to the Internet, and they have more choices and are more selective. They possess high expectations and are more demanding; they have evolved from a passive temperament to an assertive one. In summary, today’s customers can be demanding and high maintenance.

There are many reasons why customers have become more demanding. But perhaps the most prominent influence is the level of service they routinely receive from market leaders like Amazon, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Netflix, Ritz Carlton and Apple. According to customer service guru Chip Bell, today’s customer expectations have skyrocketed. Bell notes in his best-selling book Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About It that “when the UPS or Fed Ex delivery person walks to our front door with a sense of urgency, we expect our mail carrier to do likewise. When the Disney associate treats us as a special guest, we assume every frontline service person will be as friendly.”

I sometimes ask members of my audience, “Who is your competitor?” They immediately begin naming competitors in their industry. Today there is a new reality to this question. Your competition is anyone your customer compares you to.

WHATEVER YOU CALL THEM
Airlines call them passengers; hotels call them guests; hospitals call them patients; attorneys call them clients; and retail establishments call them customers. Regardless of what you call them, those people who buy your products or services are the lifeblood of your business and your reason for being. You cannot fail to meet their demands and expectations and continue to be successful. In almost every case, they have other options.

A couple of years ago, a hospital CEO asked me to speak to the medical staff on the topic of how and why customers have changed. After I was introduced, I began my talk during an early morning physician meeting. In my opening comments I mentioned the word “customer” twice when a surgeon in the back of the room raised his hand and said, “We don’t work at Walmart.”

The room erupted in applause and laughter. After my presentation, the surgeon approached me to talk. Ultimately, I said, “Doctor, I’ll bet that eventually you will change the way you think about your customers.”

He replied, “What makes you think so?”

I said, “Your CFO will explain it to you.” Fortunately, he laughed. After all, he was one of my customers.

TWO TYPES OF SERVICE
In today’s competitive and complex business climate, there are two types of service expectation: help me and fix it. Customers expect help to find out about and get what they want or need. If the process does not go smoothly for any reason, they expect assistance making it right. For example, a travel agent might help a passenger book air travel to a certain location. But if that passenger arrives at the airport prepared to board the plane and learns that flight has been cancelled and has not been rebooked, he or she will demand courteous, prompt, efficient service to fix the problem. This expectation will hold true even if the passenger is not in the most congenial frame of mind.

In most cases, when customers exhibit an angry outburst, that is not their immediate emotional response. Before that, they have become frustrated or afraid and may have anticipated a worst-case outcome. As trying as these instances are for customer service personnel-and that may include anyone in the company that is confronted by an angry customer-these are the opportunities to win over customers for life with a calm approach and a desire to serve. As so much rides on such occasions, it must be done well.

Colin Shaw, founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy (a business consultancy) and a best-selling author, compiled a list of relevant statistics:
• 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain; however, 91% of those will simply leave and never come back, according to 1st Financial Training Services.
• A dissatisfied customer will tell between nine and 15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.
• 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated, according to McKinsey & Company.

THE VALUE OF PROMPT, ACCURATE INFORMATION
I find that one thing that frustrates most high-maintenance customers is to be left hanging without information. Recently, I asked a client who is a hospital administrator what part of his operation generates the most complaints. Without hesitation, he said that most complaints result from long wait times in the emergency department. “Our patients leave without ever being seen,” he reported.

I believe the patient’s frustration is not just based on the waiting but on having to do so without information, like, how long might the wait be and whether they are significant risk health-wise due to the waiting. Through the years, I have learned that when people don’t get information, they make it up and usually adopt the worst-case scenarios.

FINDING THE RIGHT ACCOMMODATIONS
It is widely recognized that women influence the majority of consumer spending in the U.S. economy.

Paco Underhill wrote a book named Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. Prior to writing the book, his research team conducted a study on variables that affect how long a woman will spend in a store shopping. The results from the longest to shortest times were as follows:
• With a female companion: She talks, advises, compares and spends more time and money than if she shops alone.
• With children: She’s distracted by herding the kids and keeping them entertained and rushes her shopping.
• Alone: She makes efficient use of her time and completes her shopping expeditiously.
• With a man: He is obviously bored and antsy and may, at any moment, go sit in the car and listen to the radio. She hurries or gives up and makes plans to return later.

A few months ago, I saw this research scenario play out in real time when I was consulting with a large tile distributor who had nine separate showroom locations. The showroom manager and staff explained that on Saturday couples would visit their showrooms, often with children.

Showroom staff members told me that, in most cases, the woman was focused and detail oriented and asked relevant questions. The man, on the other hand, was restless and pacing. Eventually the woman would turn to the showroom designer and say, “I will come back at another time.”

The showroom staff and I met in a small conference room to brainstorm on solving this problem. The solution was to create a comfortable area for men and children, including comfortable chairs, business and sports magazines, and a flat screen TV with a convenient remote control. Next to the seating area was a play area for children. The result was dramatic. The showrooms became busy most of the time, and sales increased.

In his Forbes post, “Today’s Customers Demand Customer Service on Their Terms,” Shep Hyken sums up the situation, “Today, customer demand is about meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations, in other words, their demand for customer service and experience. You must meet customers on their terms, when and where they want.”

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