By Ifeoma Tete Mbuk
Customer expectations are even higher during bad economic times, holding companies more responsible for delivering engaging and satisfying customer experiences. Simply put, customers are raising the bar. They are not concerned with how the dismal performance of the economy may be impacting your business or how you have had to restructure to protect your investment. These expectations are coming in the face of staff and service cutbacks, where many businesses are trying to do more with less. Why now, you might wonder, when many out there are struggling just to keep the doors open.
First of all, customers are people. They are principally interested in what is good for themselves. During recession, many of us, including our customers, are understandably on edge. Feelings of entitlement are growing. Customers see every encounter they have with your business through their own lens and respond accordingly. They have zero interest in your companyâ€™s organizational alignment or strategy, only how that impacts their experience.
They expect your front-line people and managers to be good problem-solvers, resourceful and ingenuous, without regard to the companyâ€™s rules and protocol. Patience is limited. Have you experienced an employee explaining to a customer at an airline gate how their company is organized as a justification of some real or perceived deficiency?
The best service companies and brands create an environment and infrastructure for the specific purpose of supporting and protecting their employees, which in turn supports and protects their customers. They know that their customers do not want or need to hear about their strategy. For instance, if you try to psyche an employee at a fast food store with a somewhat outlandish request, you will see they are uniquely equipped to respond effectively and pleasantly surprise you. You will not find them bringing out the rule book. Remember, customers want what they want, and itâ€™s our job to respond and deliver within the boundaries of taste, decorum and the law.
Additionally, during recession people are simply more judicious as to how they are spending their discretionary income. Discretionary income, pensions and stock portfolios are declining. People want and need those limited funds to go further, in the name of personal validation and doing oneâ€™s part to help resuscitate the economy. There is a feeling that, hey, Iâ€™m bold enough to spend some of my hard-earned money and Iâ€™m demanding a fabulous experience in return. Customers are seeking rich experiences that can lift their spirits and get them out of the doldrums. Recession provides a unique opportunity to pleasantly surprise and go above and beyond. The payback on that is greater now than ever.
Thirdly, occasionally, a customer may have a positive experience somewhere, perhaps when it is least expected. It leaves them stunned, wondering if it really happened. In turn, that customer now seeks that kind of experience from you and holds you up to that standard. In other words, exemplary experience providers make it all the more difficult for the rest of us. They are game changers.
Witness how our local TFC cleverly established their store brands as the brand of choice providing their customers with a new and exciting service experience. It is true that this economic crisis is pinching our pockets, but when is the last time you really desired a store brand over an established name brand if cost was not a factor? It is better to be out in front in the game rather than chasing the leaders.
A bad economy provides a unique opportunity to stand out from the pack. Customers want and need more, and will generously reward those brands who make them feel important and valued with additional spending and referrals. As companies and brands continue to layoff staff, reduce or eliminate training, and postpone capital expenditures, the customer experience can certainly suffer. Doing things that negatively impact the customer experience is a lot like cutting your prices or rates to keep business. When things do improve, getting those customers who had a poor experience with you to return will prove equally as difficult as re-establishing those price levels.
The service industry will weather this bad economic time. But some companies and brands will not. Make sure your playbook includes identifying those employees who are best predisposed to engage and serve customers, then give them the autonomy to meet and exceed those demanding customer expectations. While the stock market might be declining, those customer expectations are not.
Keep up the good work!