401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

How Customers Want to Be Treated: Debunking Common Marketing Myths – Part 4 of 4

CEOs and entrepreneurs tend to pay very little attention to the customer’s experience, as I mentioned in a recent article about Steve Jobs. They focus on product development, managing the people, business relationships, regulations, financials, and marketing. And yet, it is the customer’s experience that causes customers to recommend a company or warn others to stay away. It is the biggest sales driver or sales deterrent associated with the company. In this article, the last in our 4-part series, we answer the question, “How do customers want to be treated?” Here are Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy), Part 2 (How Customers Choose A Product), and Part 3 (How Customers Want to Be Contacted), for the late arrivers.

Marketing Myths DebunkedIf I were to ask you about a recent experience you had as a customer, dealing with a company, you’d have plenty to tell me about that experience. You’d remember how easy it was to contact the company, and whether a human being answered the phone or you were cast into voicemail hell. You’d be able to tell me if you got your questions answered, or, if there was a problem after the purchase, exactly how they handled it. Even if I asked you these questions a year later, you’d probably have a pretty good memory of all that had happened.

The experience you had as a buyer would guide your decisions in the future. You’d be more likely or less likely to do business with that company again, to recommend them, or to tell others to steer clear.

What you say to others considering the company has much more impact than any marketing copy that the company generates. Nobody trusts marketing copy, but they do trust other customers.

Given this buyer reality, you would think that CEOs and entrepreneurs would obsess about how their customers are treated. They’d call their own 800 numbers. They’d hire secret shoppers. They’d conduct after-sale interviews to find out how things went and how they could be improved. They’d tell their employees and partners what they learned, and what everyone was going to do to improve.

They’d treat their customer service department as an early warning system, alerting them to issues that were starting to give the company a black eye. They’d aggressively investigate those situations until they understood exactly what had happened, from the customer’s perspective (not the watered-down, bad-things-left-out versions that they got from employees playing CYA). They’d figure out how to make it right, not only for the customer(s) with problems, but to keep that problem from occurring again.

I wish I could say that this sort of diligence is common, but it is not. In fact, it is virtually non-existent. It’s the furthest thing from the minds of the leadership team. They are more likely to bring in a consultant to teach them how to play nice with each other than they are to focus on the customer’s experience.

This is a big mistake, now that unhappy customers are no longer forced to suffer in silence. They can send a 140-character rant out to thousands of people in seconds – while they are still hopping mad. They can post a scathing, detailed diatribe on the very same page where the product is being sold.

Social and review platforms have given any customer the power to run into any virtual store, anywhere in the world, and start yelling, “These people screwed me! Don’t do business with them! Run away! As fast as you can!”

Company managers are deaf and blind to all this; it’s happening far away from their well-insulated conference rooms. And they will never get the real story from their own people; by the time that sort of thing gets to the executive suite, the report on the yelling-in-the-store customer would read, “There was a minor disturbance in one of our stores, but it only lasted a few seconds, and order was immediately restored.”

How do customers want to be treated? The same way you expect to be treated, when you’re the customer: Courteously, kindly, effectively, and efficiently. 


Your customers expect to be treated as what they are: the company’s most precious resource. The best source of revenue-producing intelligence, and the only source of revenue.

Contrary to popular belief, customers are not unreasonable. Sure, every so often, a jerk will show up who makes life difficult for everyone. But on the whole, customers expect what is reasonable for a company like yours to provide. They expect you to understand what they need  – as it relates to your product or service – and that you will do your level best to provide it.

The fastest way to determine if you are treating your customers the way they want to be treated is to interview 5 – 10 customers, by phone, asking the tested-in-thousands-of-interviews questions I list in my book, Roadmap to Revenue. You will not only find out what you should be doing better, but you will also finally KNOW what is important to your customers.

If you are really determined to delight your customers, you can then conduct an eye-opening experiment. Ask the people in your company to tell you the top 5 things that matter to customers. Compare that list to the results of your customer calls. The lists will be different. They always are. (Imagine what that means to the daily decisions and activities going on in your company – and how far those decisions/activities are from your customer’s reality!)

Then take the customer’s list, and turn it into a survey for your employees and customers. Take the top 5 things that customers expect from you, and ask, on a scale of 1 – 5, how well the company meets those expectations, via an online survey. The difference between how your employees grade your company on those issues, and how customers grade your company, will be eye-opening.

Embrace what you learn from these fast but effective methods. Get the issues fixed, whatever it takes, because those issues are currently sapping your company of revenue you should be bringing in.


This ends our series on how customers decide to buy, how customers choose a product, how customers want to be contacted, and how customers want to be treated. If you understand where your customers are coming from in all of these areas, you will be miles ahead of your competition, and your sales will increase. One of the nicest things about customers is how willing they are to reward you when you give them what they want. They will look for excuses to buy from you again, and they will enthusiastically recommend you to other customers.


  1. Thank you for the great series on buyers.

    I agree the best way to determine your overall buying experience is to ask. The question I often run into is who should ask and how often?

    Mark Allen Roberts

  2. Questions I definitely answer in my book.

    Who should ask: It can be someone internal, but customers will open up more to someone external. Whoever you choose, the person needs to be knowlegeable and must have good interviewing skills, to carry on a meaningful conversation with the customer. If the customer gets bored because the interviewer is just following a script or not really listening, the interview won’t work.

    How often: It depends. Obviously if you sell an inexpensive, “Light Scrutiny” product in a fast-moving market, you are going to have to interview frequently – every month or two. If you are selling a product or service at the other end of the spectrum, where the buying process takes a long time (“Heavy Scrutiny” or “Intense Scrutiny”), then you can get away with interviewing people once or twice a year.

    On average, whatever you’re selling, if you interview a half-dozen people every six months, the chances of you being blindsided will be slim.

    The good news is, buying habits change much less rapidly than one would assume. New tools make a difference; the web, email, search, and social have all had a profound impact on how people buy. But once the patterns are established for your market, and we move past the initial hype phase, buying patterns become pretty predictable – for YOUR customers. Whatever you do, don’t assume that what is working for one company will work for you. Every company is unique.

    I hope that helps.


  3. Thank you,

    Too many companies recognize they need market feed back but try to take a short cut and ask their sales teams to gather information. I have seen the best unfiltered data come back that I could actually use come from a third party


  4. Kristin, great article! I love the way you say it like it is … straight. Thanks.

  5. The first thing that must go is a patronizing approach to customer service, experienced by man customers these days. Engagement with customers should NEVER be scripted and inauthentic – yet it almost always is. When someone asks us “how are you today,” as customers we want them to care. The next time someone asks you this, try answering “terrible” and see if there is a reaction at all. I bet not. You can’t be very empathetic with a script in front of you. The customer certainly doesn’t have one and speaks directly from the heart.

    Also, companies must look closer at the way customer complaints are addressed. Putting upset customers through a “gauntlet” of menu driven choices, long initial waits, inflexible scripted dialog, a plethora of up-selling pitches, long periods on hold, questionable (reasons for) disconnections requiring the entire dialog be had again from point A, representatives with language and cultural differences, unavailability of supervisors or problem solvers, who can make on-the-spot decisions to satisfy dissatisfied customers; and that almost laughable “please rate our customer service” lingo that so very often comes at the tail end of an unresolved (to the customer’s satisfaction) situation.

    It seems to many people that modern day customer service methods are now designed to wear the customer down and get him/her to drop their claims and live with whatever their loss may be. Not a very good long term strategy.

    We really need a return to a caring customer approach that acknowledges the customer as being the sole reason the business exists in the first place.


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