Friday, December 4, 2009

is your brand kicking your customer's seat?

the guy behind me is kicking my seat. not hard enough to make me turn and give him the death-stare (which is most effective on little kids but also works on some adults), but hard enough to be mildly annoying. I’m now having to sit up ramrod-straight, which my mother would have appreciated but which still is a minor inconvenience on this short 40-minute flight.

it makes me wonder if there’s a brand analogy for this – when a company or product inconveniences you enough to be irritated, but not enough to do anything about it (at the moment, at least). is this the insurance company that forces you to endure phone-tree-system hell, the cable company that responds to your reports of intermittent outages but doesn’t ever really fix the problem completely – yeah, that’s you, Time Warner – or even the crazy potato peeler that does a pretty good job until you accidentally shift your grip just an iota and –youch! – where’s that box of Band-Aids?

we know from experience that customers will actually put up with a truckload of crap from poor brands, products, services, and companies because doing anything different is just too hard. in industry parlance, this is called “switching costs” and in my view applies to both the economic and emotional hurdles that one has to vault in order to deal with something new.

switching barriers are thought to be most significant in situations where complex processes are in place – imagine, say, a conveyor line in a manufacturing facility, where replacing something typically has huge time/money implications – but I’d argue that consumers confront them in virtually every situation where satisfaction is lacking.  because at some point, the nature and/or amount of perceived benefit that can be gained from the switch exceeds the pain (both financial and emotional) that has to be endured to receive that benefit.

“perceived” is an important idea here. lots of brands have managed to get companies to switch just based on spin. this has been the case since the beginning of time in the wireless industry, where the level of marketplace churn – people moving between service providers in search of a decent-quality phone, with a simple, affordable plan, and coverage that actually enables you to use them both – is unparalleled.

remember what happened when they introduced number portability? I got in line immediately, if not sooner, to move from my then-current crappy carrier to its competitor, which was also crappy but it was at least a type of crap I hadn’t yet experienced. I then learned that the new crap was in fact worse than the old crap and switched back. Didn’t you?

my point…and I do have one …is that your customers may be closer to making the switch than you’d think. are you doing everything you can to ensure their complete surprise, delight and satisfaction with your company, brand, product, and services? Or are you kicking their seat just a little bit because it’s easier than figuring out how not to kick it and you’re pretty sure they’re ok with your crap and wouldn’t be motivated to check out somebody else’s?

and now, please excuse me while I move across the aisle -- where the seat behind me is unoccupied.

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