As it appeared in the Daily Nation on May 30th, 2017
We live in different times. In almost every sector, customers have a wide choice. New customers choose which services or products to use and which not to. Existing customers choose whether to stay or whether to go look for alternatives. Sometimes, customers choose to use multiple service providers or to try out different products before making a final decision. The sort of loyalty witnessed with our parents is not there in our generation and the generation after us.
In the last decade, it is likely that many of us have switched between brands. The reasons for the switch may vary. The mere fact that one can switch at no cost makes the decision an easy one. Today, one can walk into a bank, walk out with a new bank account, and be ready to close the old account within hours. On expiry of the motor vehicle or medical insurance, one can opt to purchase the policy from a different company. In the retail sector, we are spoilt for choice both in terms of retail outlets and in terms of products. Walk along most streets at the CBD and there are many vendors selling just about the same products. In the hospitality industry too, hotels are mushrooming in every corner. The same case applies to the business-to-business category where a simple tender receives tens or even hundreds of responses. Most sectors have a wide variety of products and services from different companies to choose. Not much binds customers to one organization.
Though a wide selection can sometimes be bothersome, it gives the customers the power to make the choice. With the ability to choose comes the responsibility to live with the outcomes of the selection made. As such, customers are today spending more time evaluating the alternatives. During the evaluation process, experiences from the past and word of mouth from other users seem to play a pivotal role. It is commonplace for customers to ask for recommendations when selecting a salon, a wedding planner, a gym, restaurant, university and the like. In cases where customers feel that they have no choice for example in the case of Kenya Power, the demand for exceptional service is even higher. Left without a choice, customers can present a difficult situation.
As the selection of products and service providers continues to grow, every smart organization must be intentional in standing out as well as creating and delivering value to its customers. If you have read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, you are aware that a purple cow stands out from the crowd by being remarkably different. It is by being different that a service provider or a product and not their competitor may be picked. Today, being different has gone beyond merely great products to a remarkable customer experience. An experience like in the case of Equity bank makes customers feel wanted and feel important.
When interacting with customers, organizations must remember that their customers have a choice. Staff in the front line especially must be ready to serve the customers and communicate how their services or products differ. They must also courteously respond to customers who make comparisons between brands during the purchase process. Unfortunately, staff apathy resulting to poor experiences remains the number one reason why customers walk away. Many organizations and staff alike seem not to recognize that their customers have a choice!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy