We didn't edit the complaints. We didn't solicit them or try to manipulate them. We just read what customers typed into cyberspace when they had nowhere else to turn for satisfaction. The complaints were emotionally charged and spoke to how customers feel before, during, and after the transaction…with you.
What's Caused This Drama?
Your customers get emotional about the transaction because they need you for something. And any time you need somebody else for something, you're vulnerable. Somebody else has the control. Somebody else has the knowledge. Somebody else has the product, service, or solution you want.
Abundant "need" is the active ingredient for your customer to feel vulnerable, helpless, and emotional. Face it: you know everything about your business—the costs, the hidden expenses, and the time of delivery—but your customer doesn't. He or she needs guidance from you. He or she needs a livable price, a quote, and/or a budget from you. He or she needs you to keep your production deadlines. He or she needs to keep his or her boss happy. He or she needs you to make him or her look smart for hiring you…so he or she can get some sleep at night. (I realize using "he or she" is annoying, but let's face it: "he" may be a very powerful "she"!)
Have Customers Actually Evolved?
Yes! Our company has been making human resource training films since 1994, and we've witnessed a huge shift in the customer's emotional state, especially since one shattering event in American history: the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. That morning, Americans saw more than 3,000 of our fellow citizens vaporized before our eyes. We no longer felt safe in our own country.
The convenience of airline travel evaporated. Homeland Security was established. Retail sales of Taser stun guns, Mace, personal body armor, home security systems, biological-weapon suits, home generators, and firearms instantly tripled. Books like The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? became overnight bestsellers as Americans looked to their faith and purpose as a way to cope with impending catastrophe. At the same time, reality TV shows like Survivor, Dog Eat Dog, and Fear Factor enjoyed staggering ratings as Americans tuned in not only for entertainment but also for weekly lessons in disaster preparedness.
Today, America is still on high emotional alert. When the movie trailer for Universal Pictures' Flight 93 was shown in New York, the AMC-Lowes in Manhattan made the decision to pull it after viewers said they found it to be too upsetting.
How does this make your customers feel six years later? The brave ones remain cautious. Some are just plain scared. But everyone is irritable if he or she senses fear or anxiety that his or her money, reputation, business, or life is endangered.
Then There is the Human Matter of Self-Sufficiency
Ah, don't let me forget to mention that the online-purchase/kiosk/ATM/self-checkout economy is doggedly detaching your customers from your most important relationship-building tool: you. While you may not be generating and maintaining a lot of bids, business, or service calls over the Internet today, count on it to infiltrate your business soon.
Online inquiries, bidding submissions, progress reports, sales, and evaluations are already becoming popular. Saves time, right? In the short term, yes. But there is an enormous lost-opportunity cost when your customer no longer needs you. The fact that so many businesspeople have learned to complete the transaction themselves with a computer—or through an automated kiosk—actually results in less purchase anxiety. The question is: "Do you really want your customers to stop needing you?"
So What's the Fix?
Find a mirror. Gaze closely. It's you.
You have the power to capture your customer's loyalty by putting your face in front of his or hers. Learn how to interpret your customer's emotional state before, during, and after the transaction. It's not difficult.
First, assume your customers don't have all of the answers and are feeling vulnerable. Next, you can easily read their faces and interpret their tones of voice by becoming familiar with the top six facial expressions that telegraph your customer's "hidden" emotional state. You do it when you're playing poker, right? Why not apply the same study to your customers—without the gambling?
Don't question your customers if they are misinformed. It makes them feel stupid. Rather, take the position that you may have misheard; then, carefully clarify again. Keep digging deeper with more questions until you are absolutely clear about their concerns.
The Customer's Final Moment
Customers remember how they felt during the final moment more than how they felt at any other time during the transaction. So make your final moment worth remembering. Naturally, you want to leave them with a smile and a promise kept. But more importantly, make them feel like they made the best choice with you.
Positive "final-moment feelings" are what will not only bring that customer back to you but also eliminate your need to compete on price alone. Customers will pay a premium price to someone who cares about them. Plus, caring about people is a differentiator that costs you nothing—yet contributes more to your bottom line than all other marketing efforts combined.
About the Author
Ross Shafer is an Emmy® Award-winning writer, TV host, and producer of 14 human resource training films on customer service and motivation. His latest books, The Customer Shouts Back! and Customer EmpathyTM have just been released. For free downloads of his e-books visit rossshafer.com.