I don’t know about you, but I hate returning a product because most vendors make it such a time-consuming, stressful experience. One of the best things that ever happened in commerce, in my opinion, is the introduction of the Internet and e-commerce. In general, e-merchants understand and cater to their customers in a way that most brick and mortar merchants either cannot or will not emulate. Buying is streamlined and easy, and returning unwanted products is usually just as easy.
Because we consumers have access to more information and more technology tools, it’s easier for us to register outrage and dissatisfaction when a vendor makes a mistake or tries to gouge us on price. The recent debacles with Netflix and Bank of America are two of the most publicized examples of how quickly our customer protests can be mounted. Let’s take a look at three reasons why the voice of the consumer is getting stronger and what companies need to do to keep their customers loyal and satisfied.
1. Dissatisfied? Organize a Protest
It’s easy to protest: The Internet offers a wide range of instant communication tools such as email, instant messaging, and services like Skype. If you have a problem with a product or service, you can let your friends and colleagues know with just a few clicks of the mouse. If you are really, really unhappy, you might even create a Facebook page to vent your frustrations or you could harness the technology of your Smartphone and start texting the details.
Social media applications like Twitter are other avenues of spreading the gory details of your fight with Company X, and you could even discover others with similar problems or complaints who are glad to retweet your messages and spread the word. The point is that it is easy, quick and free to tell as many people as you want what Company X did to lose your business, and why they should consider changing to Company Y.
The best real-world example of how to harness the power of the Internet and mount a grassroots protest to a company’s unfavorable policy is that of Kristen Christian, who was the impetus behind the recent Bank Transfer Day, which targeted Bank of America’s ill-advised fee plan to start charging their customers a fee to access their own money. Christian created her Facebook page about the proposed fee in mid-October and the page went viral almost immediately with approximately 55,000 likes to date.
2. Companies Can Run but Not Hide
Data is easily accessible: Before the Internet and one-click accessibility to information, if you wanted to write, call or fax a company to protest a policy or complain about a service or product, you would have to put on your detective’s hat and get ready to do a lot of legwork.
Finding out any details about the offending company might be as easy as checking the product label but it could be as hard as having to drive to the local library and enlist the help of the reference librarian to track the merchant down in a specialized directory. You would have to invest time and energy and the thought of the process can overwhelm you. You might be so discouraged by the enormity of the project that you would just give up and pitch the unwanted item in the trash or donate it to charity.
However, in today’s world, all you have to do search on one of the major search engines and odds are you can find out more than you ever wanted to know about most companies. In addition to finding their physical address and contact information, you can probably find out the names of their officers, their board of directors, and their sales figures. It is much harder for companies to “hide” from their customers who are dissatisfied with their products and services and more consumers are tracking down these companies to vent their frustrations.
3. You Can Replicate Yourself Easily
There is power in numbers: One or two angry customers would probably not have made a blip on the marketing screens of huge companies like Bank of America or Netflix, but when thousands and thousands of your customers start protesting and publicizing their disgust with your marketing tactics or unfair fees for services and products, you take notice.
Again, the Internet has been the key to giving consumers a more powerful voice in communicating with vendors. Most of us would not think of taking the time to create a petition to protest a bank fee and carry it around town trying to get others to sign it. However, most of us would think nothing of setting down at our computers to whip out a Facebook page or mass email to ask our friends and other contacts to join us in a boycott such as Bank Transfer Day. Walking around town with a petition is hard work; organizing an online protest is simple. You can replicate your time and your efforts, and you are not limited to just the people you know and work with. The Internet can connect you with like-minded individuals worldwide.
The Lesson for Businesses
If you are a business in today’s marketplace, you need to be on top of your game in every aspect of your business. Even though the focus groups showed that customers would not agree to a fee for using their debit cards, Bank of America tried to ram one through. Ramming through unpopular policies may work for the US Congress because we taxpayers haven’t figured out how to fire all the politicians in one fell swoop, but it won’t work for businesses. Think Bank Transfer Day if you have any doubts and make sure you have an effective change management system in place before you start tinkering with changes that affect your customer base.
Here are three simple things you can do and remember to keep your current customers happy and attract new customers:
1. The customer is still king. We are no longer limited to two or three choices of banks, retail stores, or other services. If you make us mad or give us poor customer service, we will hop on the Internet and find someone else who wants our business.
2. Loyalty begets loyalty. I’ll be as loyal to you as you are to me. If you treat me right, I’ll keep giving you my business. However, I’m not going to pay you outrageous prices for inferior products or a lack of service. If you try to gouge me on price or make the most of a crisis (think gas prices), I will remember and will vote with my feet.
3. Without customers, you are out of business. The smartest business owners know that it is less expensive to keep current customers than to find new ones. While it is true that any business will have attrition and you will need a constant influx of new business to maintain your client base, keeping your existing customers happy and avoiding alienating them is crucial.
After all, the best salesperson you will ever “hire” is a satisfied customer who will tout your products to everyone. You won’t have to pay him or her a salary or any benefits, and you will never have to spend a penny of your advertising budget to locate those new customers that he or she will send to you.
Share Your Outrage!
What’s your story? Are you fed-up with shoddy products, slip-shod service, and surly customer service reps? We want to hear about your experiences, and we invite you to share your input by using the comments section below. Who knows? You may be the spark behind the next big consumer protest or boycott!
Choi, Candance, “Fed-up consumers plan for bank transfer day,” AP, http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Fedup-consumers-planning-for-apf-2257265750.html?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=2&asset=&ccode=