401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Customers Aren’t Spoiled Brats. They Just Want What They Always Did – And Now They Can Tell the World

RevenueJournalWaitingInLine[1]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.



  1. Right on the button, Kristin. It is our job to fill the need and not shove down the customer’s throat what we happen to cook up. If we make a mistake, owning it is the most endearing thing we can do for our customers. When we deliver on a promise, they take note because deep satisfaction is becoming more rare and is becoming more appreciated.

  2. Sounds like Kristin Zhivago here is the type of person who has an excuse for everything. Customers are spoiled brats these days – just because the term “spoiled brat” doesn’t sound professional doesn’t mean it’s not true. You can pretty it up with all the excuses you’d like, but at the end of the day, the truth is we simply live in a world that cares so much about profit that companies are willing to bend over backwards to please their customers. And when people know you do this, what will they naturally do? They’ll take advantage of it and use the generosity to get what they desire. They know if they cry and put up a fuss, they can get what they want, no matter the customer service standards are. Companies should instead learn to be more firm with customers.

    And by the way, what’s the deal with you lambasting the 2 other people who actually cared enough to comment on your article? Supposedly you are a “revenue coach”, but in reality, you seem more like a Martha Stewart con artist who likes to think she knows more about the business world than everyone else. Go make turkeys.

  3. Hi, CJ. Interesting comments. Thanks for taking the time to write.

    First, I wish it were true that all companies are willing to bend over backwards to please their customers, in order to make a profit. My experience has been very different – that many balk at doing that, for the very reasons you state. They assume that customers will take advantage of them.

    Does that happen? Of course. All the time? No. I have a different view of the world; I see one where, for the most part, when you drive down the freeway, most people behave themselves and don’t act like spoiled brats. Of course there are exceptions, but that is what they are – exceptions.

    What happens to the companies that are “firm with customers”? Customers go elsewhere. One of the nicest things about an open-market system is that you can vote with your wallet.

    As for your last paragraph, I do love to cook, actually. But I am not a con artist. I am someone who has been learning lessons in business for years and have come to some conclusions. If that makes me seem like Martha Stewart, well, so be it.

    As for my response to the other “2 people who commented on my article,” one person agreed with the article. There was no need to respond to that comment, although it was nice to read. The other person was just sending out generic “flatter spam,” a marketing “practice” that does fall into the “con” category, and warranted a response.

    I’m sorry you think that customers are spoiled brats. I’d be interested to know if you have ever insisted on a certain level of service when you are buying a product or service.



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