July 5 2008

Eyes of the World

With the proliferation of blogging, social media sites, and millions of consumers publishing to the web, commerce is more exposed than any time prior.  In the old days (prior to the mid 2000’s) if consumers had issues with products or services, they reported their issues to the company and that’s pretty much where it ended.  Today, reporting the issue to the company is just the beginning.  Consumers have millions of places on the web to voice their opinions that will be seen by hundreds, thousands, and millions.  Publishing comments to the web ranges from comments to someone’s blog to consumer review sites, all the way to getting a domain and publishing a full blown website.  It’s all just so easy now.

With the eyes of the world peering deeper into business processes, procedures, and products, top executives are faced with the challenge of their lives;  to give educated and empowered consumers a reason to hand over their hard earned money and then be satisfied with their decision.

Consumer motivation really is at the core of commerce.  That is why we manufacture products and that is why we provide services.  It is why we develop marketing strategies, and why we engineer customer service programs; to motivate consumers to purchase our products and services.

With our businesses laid bare to the eyes of the world, what are qualities consumers are looking for? 

MAKE MY LIFE BETTER

First and foremost, consumers buy products and services that make their lives better. From the toothpaste that keeps our teeth clean, to the lawn mover that keeps our grass looking respectable.  From the laptop that lets us work in all kinds of environments, to the software application that streamlines our business processes.  We all want our lives, both personal and professional, to be better (better can mean a lot of things). 

I always want the cost early in the presentation.  No matter what it is, cost is always one of the first things I want to know.  When looking at a product or a service, I always know what the value of filling the gap (my need) is.  Ironically, the price, large or small is of little consequence.  Price is all relative.  I have spent $30,000 dollars, felt like I was getting a great deal, and would have done it again and again.  I have also spent $30.00, felt like I was getting ripped off, and would never do it again. 

SOLVE PROBLEMS

This is really a subset of ‘Make My Life Better.’  Consumers buy things and they have problems with those things.  When I call up a company with a problem, I want that problem to be solved.  It is an inherent expectation in the ‘money for product/service’ agreement.  Don’t make me wait for 20 minutes to be heard, tell me you’ll take my number and call me back, converse with a powerless and incompetent representative who could care less, or converse with someone I can’t understand.  The more difficult a business makes it for a consumer, the greater chance that consumer will go find another company to give their money to.

Bottom line is that if the product of service delivers something greater than the cost, we are doing business.  That’s why we need to…

LISTEN TO THE CONSUMER

We are all in business because of consumer spending.  We are all in business because at some point we have a product or service that fills that ‘Make My Life Better’ gap.  But then something happens. We take that consumer for granted and many times display a persona that makes it seem like the consumer is lucky to have us.  Wrong Mister! (link to play sound byte) The consumer gives us life and the consumer sustains our lives as businesses.  The top ten signs you don’t really want to listen to your consumers:

10. There is no contact phone number on the website; only a contact form.
9.   Your contact number goes to a voice mail box.
8.   Your voice mail message goes unreturned.
7.   Consumers wait, on hold, for over 10 minutes. (I’m looking at my watch at 5)
6.   The customer support person says someone will return your call…and they don’t.
5.   You request to speak to a supervisor but that supervisor is never available.
4.   Support emails are unanswered and unreturned.
3.   Executives are untouchable and unreachable by phone or email.
2.   You outsource your service and support to people half way around the world, working the graveyard shift, and can barely understand or be understood.
1.   The support person makes you feel like you are a complete inconvenience and could really care less if your problem gets solved.  They appear to hate their job so much, they can’t wait to get home and drown their depression in an entire bottle of cheap whiskey.

DO WHAT YOU SAY

I would say that 90% of businesses I come across are extremely guilty of not following through with what they say they will do.  Doing what you say is the most fundamental psychological aspect of the consumer / vendor relationship.  Trust is the core by which we all judge relationships on.  We use trust as a measuring device for our relationships with our family members, for our relationship with our spouse, for our relationships with our friends, and for our relationships with our co-workers.  It’s only natural that consumers use trust as the primary measuring device for relationships with businesses.

Consumers want to trust that the products they buy are going to work as described and that they are not going to break one day after the warranty is up.  Consumers want to trust that the service paid for will actually be performed.  Consumers want to trust that when a company representative says they will call you back on this day, at this time, that is what actually happens.  We all know that rarely happens.  Consumers want to trust that when a company representative says they will take care of this or that problem, they actually take care of the problem.  This most likely is ringing true for everyone reading this.  This rings true for me all the time. 

Trust is a powerful psychological element that can have far reaching affects both positive and negative.  On the one hand if a consumer doesn’t trust a business, they and ten of their friends most likely will not engage that business on any level.  On the other hand if a consumer trusts a business, it’s amazing how much slack the consumer gives to the business.  In a trusting relationship even mistakes are opportunities to strengthen the consumer / business relationship.

I’m not sure of other top executives but I’m listening to how the climate of commerce is evolving and other business chiefs would do well to do the same.  Business is not what it used to be.  Today, anyone can create, market, and sell a product and service.  Smaller companies already have the reputation of being responsive, flexible, and adaptive.  Bigger companies have the reputation of not listening, not caring, and not being able to make a decision without multiple layers of red tape and months of meetings and discussions.  This is part of why big companies are gobbling up small companies. Because with all their personnel and with all their money, they can’t perform like companies 1/10th their size.

THE SOLUTION

Everything comes from the top.  Top executives are responsible for the entire culture of the company.  If company representatives regularly appear uncaring when they answer the phone, it is the fault of the executives.  If a company is light on marketing and heavy on bean counting, that is the executive.  If a company is slow to adapt Internet Technologies, that is the fault of the company chief. 

Bottom line is if it is important to the CEO, it will be important to the company.  This is a huge responsibility and takes an extraordinary commitment.  I respect all who attempt this endeavor.  At the same time, I believe the CEO position is evolving into a position much like professional athletes.  Professional athletes are under incredible scrutiny because the world is watching and judging.  Blogging and social media is just the tip of the iceberg.  The more eyes watching, judging, and publishing about our business, the greater the heat will become.  It is time for Senior Executives to rise up, fully engage business transparency, and become better leaders.

There are a multitude of leadership qualities important to business but if business leaders would prioritize: Making Consumer Lives Better, Solve Consumer Problems, Listening to Consumers, and Following Through with Your Words, any business would have a better chance at success.

Jim Adams
CEO
New Homes Directory .com

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