You can’t afford to ignore customer empowerment.
In the You Economy, you are not only empowered as a producer but as a consumer. You have access to methods of consumption we could only dream about 5 years ago.
Hello, AirBnB, Etsy, Kayak, the rapid expansion of Amazon, etc…
An un/welcomed side effect of the diversity of consumptive choice is a movement towards “vendor relationship management.” In many ways, consumers want to have less to do with the businesses that serve them. They want to extract the most value for their money in relation to the least hassle from the company. They want to break free from producers & providers that see them only as targets and not people with choice.
…big business continues to believe that a free market is one in which customers get to choose their captors. Choosing among AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon for your new smartphone is like choosing where you’d like to live under house arrest. It’s why marketers still talk about customers as “targets” they can “acquire,” “control,” “manage” and “lock in,” as if they were cattle.
— Doc Searls, The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added)
In this system of commerce, customer choice is the holy grail for consumers. No contract phone? Sign me up. Pay as you go internet? Done. A la carte menus? Order away! Comparison shopping right from your phone? Don’t mind if I do!
The commercial culture emerging now makes it easier & easier for a customer to only do business with you when you’re the one with the best deal or the most convenient offering. The ease with which you can satisfy your every whim makes it that much more difficult for a business to make inroads in customer loyalty.
Microbusinesses, on the other hand, tend to enjoy a great deal of customer loyalty. Microbusinesses have an easier time delivering personalized service, adjusting to trends, and communicating a great vision. They can connect personally with their customers because personal tends to be the only thing they know.
But it would be foolish for microbusinesses to dismiss the customer empowerment trend as only applying to big business. Already, flash sales, group discount buying, and freelancer sales sites like Fiverr.com are making it easier for people to buy from microbusinesses without establishing any kind of relationship.
Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’ve spoken out in favor of introducing mass media customers to the diversity of microbusiness through leveraged buying before.
But this new era of commerce means that micro businesses can’t take their customer loyalty for granted.
To loyalty-proof your business, consider these opportunities for development:
Customers deserve to be empowered. And so do you. It’s hard to create a mutually respectful relationship between consumer & producer when you, as a business owner, don’t respect yourself.
Too often I see business owners allowing themselves to be trampled over in the name of fostering loyalty & positive relationships with their customers. If your prices, policies, and customer expectations don’t create an environment that fosters respect, you’ll feel taken advantage of and your customers still won’t feel any loyalty to you.
On the flip side, remember that customer service doesn’t stop at serving customers well. Your marketing, product offerings, and principles should also be signs of respect for the customers you serve.
Quality & Value
Microbusiness owners must give customers a reason to talk about their products and use them on a regular basis. You might choose to serve customers who want the highest quality money can buy… or you might choose to serve customers with the highest quality they can afford.
But delivering on quality & value is not a place to skimp when it comes to fostering loyalty. Think that’s obvious? Think again. I see many business owners trying to cut corners – not to defraud their customers – but just to make the business work. Delivering quality & value, relative to the expectations of your customers, needs to be the starting place for your business, not the variable.
Do you think that a customer who hears “This call brought to you by Free Conference Call” is thinking brand loyalty? And do you think that the customer who receives her purchase in a plastic grocery bag is thinking “return purchase?”
Microbusiness owners have a huge advantage here. The measure of quality & value varies between customer segments. Big businesses can’t account for this variety – but you can. Consider your customer – and your customer alone – when discerning how you can hit the quality & value ball out of the park.
Need & Desire Anticipation
The baseline for business is responding to customer needs. Businesses that develop real loyalty over time anticipate customer needs.
Think critically about where each of your products or offerings leaves your customers. What’s next? What questions would a customer have after using your product or service? What else might they like to buy from you? How can you complement their experience of their first purchase?
Those questions apply as equally to a life coach as they do a master cookie baker. If your customers love your chocolate chip hazelnut cookie, maybe they would love that lavender rosemary morsel you’ve been experimenting with. Part of your job as an entrepreneur is anticipating what your customers would love next.
When your customers feel like you’re reading their minds, they’re much more likely to come back for more.
This is actually where the greatest customer-brand relationships are forged. If you, as a business, are anticipating my needs and meeting them before I express them, I will feel like I have a relationship with you – whether you are an individual or a Fortune 50 company.
Brand loyalty is the exception now, not the rule. Customer empowerment will only become a greater & greater part of the way people do business – on either side of the transaction.
Make your business exceptional.
What would it take to have the most loyal customers in your niche? Figure that out & go do that.