So here’s the thing, as a customer, our basic needs really haven’t changed much in the last 1000 years or so. We get hungry so we eat, we work because we need money (lottery winners and really rich people aside), we play because well it’s fun, and we sleep so we can do it all again tomorrow.
What has changed, however, is the size of the marketplace; the number of businesses competing in that marketplace; the way we can communicate with each other and businesses and the expectations we have as customers towards those businesses.
The customer’s circle of Influence
Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, introduces the concept of the Circle of Influence. His definition was that the Circle of Influence encompasses those concerns that we can do something about. If we apply this definition to the marketplace and the consumers within it then the customer circle of influence is the market reach, we as individuals, have to share our experiences with others. It is our web of influence over the market and the businesses which exist in that marketplace.
Things have changed just a wee bit....
The customer’s circle of influence has changed dramatically over the years. Gone are the days of crafters bantering their trade with one another, where the local village was the marketplace. Our expectations were simple; if I give you my sheep you plough my field, fair deal right! We knew the crafter by name and by reputation, good or bad. We communicated with each other via word of mouth or by the odd letter. A crafters reputation could easily be ruined in such a small marketplace. However, because our circle of influence was limited the crafter could always pack up and move to the next village.
Next came the industrial revolution, mass production, scaling up and self-service were the name of the game. It was all about quantity rather than quality. The connections to the businesses we bought from were less personal but we didn’t really care because we were getting goods we never dreamed we could have. We believed you if you told us that yes, this is the right fridge for you Mrs van der Werken. You were the expert after all. If you delivered shoddy work I may just use that fan dangled new thing called the telephone to spread the word, but really my circle of influence was still pretty small considering the size of the rapidly growing marketplace. My voice as a customer was being drowned out by the sheer quantity and diversity of goods being manufactured.
Next up the digital age, and wow, has technology changed the way we purchase goods and the way we perceive our role as customers. Through the internet, we have been given the power of knowledge and thus far more control over the buying process. We all have computers, internet, mobile phones, we use social media relentlessly and much much more. Companies are global, most of the time we have no idea who the business owner is, but we are all connected. We like to research information before we buy, meaning that sometimes we know more about your products than you. If we don’t like what we see, how we are treated, the feel of a place we move on to the next company but before we do we post one little comment on social media telling our friends and family instantly what shoddy service we received at your hands…… it may not always be correct, or polite or fair but that’s the way it is now. Review apps, social media, it’s right there at our fingertips just waiting for us to share our thoughts with the world.
The Age of the Customer
So we have come to a place where our customer voice is heard and has an impact.
The bottom line is that as customers our circle of influence is almost unimaginable in reach, but it’s a fact. So as business owners, as leaders in business and as employees in businesses we really cannot ignore the fact that if we don’t start changing the way we deliver our customers experiences and if we don’t find ways to make that experience worthwhile we are highly likely to lose the customer to our competitors.
None of this is news, but still, it remains a big problem to any business. Bad reviews spread, quickly, to thousands, millions even. We have seen it happen and it isn’t about to stop anytime soon. The customer circle of influence over the marketplace has grown to such an extent that the new era rightly deserves to be called the Age of the Customer, and yes they do have a voice and no they are not afraid to use it.
We should never forget about our customer’s circle of influence. In fact, if we are clever we should be using it to our advantage. We should be encouraging those online reviews and social media comments; it is after all the best form of marketing we can get. Just make sure those comments are all about how your business blew the socks off your customers with your jaw-droppingly great customer service.
Believe me when I say that your customers are waiting for just that.