Leadership on Point

How Your Customers Have Changed

May 26, 2011 Chip Bell - Guest Author

Customers 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.  Blame it on a scary recession, but the is customers are picky!

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.  And, their expectations for their encounters with you are up 33% over this time last year!  The old “tired and true” is no longer the “tried and true.”

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.   Three-fourth of customers makes a decision not to do business with you based solely on “work of mouse” from other customers.

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.  If you do not sell and service “their way” you will be history!

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 fulfills 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, social media has five times the impact of 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 ten million people have watched.  The Economist blog estimates it cost United Airlines about $180M.

How can you deliver great service to today’s wired and dangerous customers?  Ignore it and you become a has-been; treat it as an opportunity and you create advocates.


Written by  Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson, customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling book. Their newest book is Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to do About it. They can be reached at www.wiredanddangerous.com.