Wired and dangerous

The age of technology has changed your customers.

There was a time when garden center customers’ needs were simpler. If you provided a good product at a fair price with solid service and convenient access, you could effectively compete in the garden center business. And, that occasional upset customer at most told a few friends about a service hiccup. Those good old days are gone.

Today, the customer is king. Enabled and equipped by the Internet, with its capacity to instantly reach a gazillion fellow customers with the click of a mouse, customers can quickly bring any retailer to its knees. And, wired customers with a bone to pick and an ax to grind are ready, willing and able to wield that power at any garden center merchant that shackles them with poor product quality or an inferior service experience.

Plentiful product and service information has created a more mature customer. Access to the views of countless other customers, not just those they personally know, has made them a lot smarter. With maturity, wisdom and access, customers today are wired and potentially dangerous.

Post-recession customers are Picky—more cautious in their choices and interested only in getting obvious value for their money. They are Fickle—quicker to exit upon getting plain old, indifferent service. They are Vocal—more apt to assertively tell others their views of service; they also listen to fellow customers’ reviews. And, they are Vain—meaning they expect “all about me” treatment that telegraphs they are unique and valued.

Post-recession customers are picky
Organizations have taught customers to be picky. Customers expect to get good value for their hard-earned, ever declining dollar.

So, what do picky customers want? As always, they want a variety of quality products at a fair price. But, more and more their experience is what they remember. “We are not a high-end store,” said Jenny Gunderson, co-owner of My Garden Nursery in Mill Creek, Wash., “We are a FUN store. When staff connects with customers, price is not an issue.”

Post-recession customers are fickle
What is the impact of a bad customer experience? Forty four percent of customers stop doing business immediately! Some give warning before departing. According to recent customer research 57 percent of customers have had a bad experience in the last year, and 66 percent have told someone. When the pocketbook gets squeezed, customers are more assertive about letting someone know when they fail to receive value.

Smart garden centers beg for candor—they make a big deal about getting customer feedback. Customer complaints are gifts. Research shows customers who have had a problem and complain when solicited spend twice as much with a company as customers who have a problem and don’t complain. Win back the customers you regret losing.  Research also shows that with an effective win-back strategy, the likelihood of turning a lost customer into a returned customer is four times greater than turning a prospect into a customer.

Post-recession customers are vocal
The internet has increased customers’ assertiveness in voicing their views. Social media is changing the landscape of communication. Over 60 percent of customers who read about a bad experience on social media stop doing business with or avoid doing business with the offending company. This “secondary smoke” phenomenon will grow as the use of social media increases with more and more garden center customers fast becoming digital natives, not digital immigrants.

Smart garden centers provide lots of vehicles and channels for customers to easily register their feedback, offer suggestions, and get information. Blake and Bonnie Stotts, owners of Beier’s Greenhouse in Grand Rapids, Minn., put it this way: “The Internet has opened the doors to a whole new audience of customers. With our ability to make instant contact we can now advertise in ways never before available to us. We are utilizing this new avenue with zest! We believe our customers will use the Internet more and more to find their best deals and helpful information.”

Post-recession customers are vain
All customers are unique. Businesses have taught them, “You can have it your way.” Anything less has becomes ho-hum. One might think that tough economic times would lead to a stronger focus on the customer’s experience. However, many say the “voice of the customer” has not been heard by most organizations. According to the Convergys research, over three-fourths of the customers surveyed recently stated that the quality of service provided over the past year has either remained the same or gotten worse.
And what do employees and owners/leaders think? Fifty percent of the 1500+ employees and 120+ leaders surveyed believe service has improved! 

Customers emerging from a time of layoffs, cutbacks and all types of subtractions are picky about what they buy, fickle with their brand affinity, vocal in communicating their needs, and “local” in their expectation of personalized treatment. In this new era of the customer it is time to return to the core of what serving another should be—imaginative, valuable and handmade.

Learn more coping strategies in Chip R. Bell and John R. Patterson’s newest book, “Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About it.” www.wiredanddangerous.com.
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June 2011
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