There’s a lot of talk going around marketing circles lately, positing that today’s customers have become spoiled brats, expecting everything “now,” and throwing a major, public tantrum when they don’t get what they want.
I think this is completely false, and just another example of marketing and management hubris. In fact, one could say that managers and marketers are behaving more like spoiled brats than their customers are.
Actually, customers are expecting what they have always expected – they expect companies to keep the promises they make in their marketing content. When those promises are broken, customers have always expressed their frustrations to those within earshot. But now they can do so in public – where even head-in-the-sand managers can see what’s happening.
Now, the person checking into a hotel in Las Vegas (which I did myself recently, there on business), doesn’t have to suffer in silence while waiting a HALF HOUR to check in. They can whip our their smartphone and tweet about it to thousands of other people.
That person is not an unreasonable spoiled brat. That person has every right to be irritated. They’ve just spent hours traveling, stuck in a flying sardine can, lacking sleep and inner peace. They are tired and hungry. They are dying to get into the room to decompress, to eat, to call home, and to get some overdue work done. This is their last public moment in that day of their journey, one that should happen in a minute or two. A transaction that could and should be as easy as checking into a flight using a kiosk.
Why don’t they have the key cards programmed ahead of time? Why do they have to have you sign something, when you could have done that online when registering? Why can’t they have a kiosk that reads your ID? There are so many ways that hotels could do a better job of checking people in, and yet, here you are, WAITING.
In my interviews of thousands of customers, I have found that customers are NOT unreasonable about their expectations. They are more than willing to cut the company a bit of slack, to wait patiently when appropriate. To understand, for example, that of course it takes 15 minutes to cook a pizza. But it should NOT take 15 minutes to order one.
Now that we have social media, companies are being held to the promises they’re making. The all-too-common practice of making promises that cannot be kept, even by the most motivated employees, are being revealed for what they are: Management Lies.
Managers think they know what is important to their customers. They make promises in their messages about those things. But they are usually wrong about what is important. Worse, they often fail to structure their businesses so they can keep the promises they make. They promise that people won’t have all those terrible problems with them, but in actual practice, they do. The company’s managers have not done what is necessary to eliminate the problems.
Back in the day of the Mad Men, companies could make incredible promises and break them, without fear of being exposed publicly. Now they have nowhere to hide, and it makes them angry. They are the ones throwing the tantrum, putting their hands over their ears and saying, “La-la-la, I can’t hear you!” Or laying down on the rug of the conference room and saying, “I don’t want to hear what customers think! They’re so unfair! I work so hard! Who do they think they are, anyway?”
They are your revenue. Your future. Your success. That’s all.
Customers are human beings with reasonable needs, people who expect other people to keep their promises. That’s not too much to ask.