Here is the reality: the transformation in customer purchasing is radical, irreversible, and permanent. “Customer loyalty”, long in decline, has virtually disappeared. In 2009, only 20 per cent of car buyers were brand loyal, compared to 80 per cent in the 1980s, according to CNW Marketing Research. Also in 2009, Forrester Research found that only 36 per cent of business travelers claimed they were brand loyal, compared to 42 per cent in 2007. Today’s customers no longer seem to care where or from whom they buy. They are a new generation of aggressive, internet-empowered customers.
The era of "new experts"
These empowered customers are “new experts.” They are confident and determined because they are equipped with purchasing firepower unavailable to any previous generation. They employ three lethal weapons to get their way: instant, comprehensive online information about all products and services available, immense choice in every segment of commerce, and real-time price comparison at the moment and location of purchase on smarter-and-smarter technology and their mobile devices. Moreover, social media constantly informs and influences these intensely self-centered customers. They communicate their real or perceived attitudes about sellers immediately to millions of people around the globe via Facebook and Twitter. This era of new experts will endure and become a more potent force in the future because the generations of customers that follow will have more effective, more agile technology and they will be more adept at using it for their benefit, not yours.
To grow and prosper in this buyer-dominant world, you must stop thinking like yesterday’s seller and start thinking like today’s buyer. When buyers no longer care where they buy, customer preference is the only differentiator. The surest way to be your customers’ first choice, from the customer’s perspective, is by deciding from whom or where to purchase in order to obtain a valued benefit. Here is how a customer might explain his or her way of selecting a vendor: "I have a lot of choices, and I will decide where to buy after looking at all of my options. Given all of my options and all of the factors in my purchase decision, I prefer you." Think of customer preference in terms of the specific advantages it offers you:
- The buyer will go a little out of his or her way to buy from you
- The buyer will pay just a bit more for your firm’s products or services
- The buyer will buy from you without always demanding a discount
- The buyer will buy from you more frequently
- The buyer will be slightly more tolerant when your staff fouls up
Individually, these benefits may not make or break you, but collectively they will be the fundamental difference between growing and declining in today’s fiercely competitive service industry.
Gaining the competitive edge
The words “I prefer you” will give you a potent advantage over your competitors. They will make you their first choice. Embracing customer preference does not require a wholesale rethink of your business plan nor does it require investment in infrastructure or advertising. Service providers of any size or type can create customer preference with big ideas and small ideas. Don’t you want your company to be you customers’ first choice? To achieve this ambitious but attainable goal, you must align your entire organization behind the mission of creating customer preference at the four decisive moments in every purchasing progression:
- The Now-or-Never Moment (first brief contact)
- The Make-or-Break Moment (lengthy transaction process)
- The Keep-or Lose Moment (customer’s continued usage)
- The Multiplier Moment (highly profitable repeat purchase, advocacy, referral)
Companies in every business, especially the service segment, must forget about building their brands. “Brand-building” is yesterday’s mantra. Alternatively, concentrate all your human and financial resources on delivering customer preference every time and all of the time. To be first choice you must be the driving force in your company. You must align your entire organization behind the concept and the reality of customer preference. It’s the simplest, least expensive, and surest way to make your company first choice.
Robert H. Bloom is the author of The New Experts: Win Today’s Newly Empowered Customers At Their 4 Decisive Moments (Greenleaf). For more information or to contact Robert Bloom, please visit www.thenewexperts.com.