Converting ‘Bait & Switch’ Customers
 
May 3rd, 2011

BY CHIP R. BELL AND JOHN R. PATTERSON

There is a new type of customer in town! We call them “bait and switch” customers. They walk in your establishment in search of tile. They ask a lot of questions about features, prices and delivery conditions. You take the bait and get excited. You can almost hear the cash register about to ring up a large sale. Then suddenly, the customer walks out telling you “I’ll check it out on the internet” and you never see them again! Sound familiar? Customers have changed since the advent of the internet and the anxiety of the recession. They are picky—only interested in getting value for their hard earned money. They are fickle—slow to show loyalty and quick to exit with the slightest hiccup. And, they are vain—only interested the “what’s in it for me” pursuit of customized products and personalized service. But, let’s look at it from the customer’s perspective.

Wholesaler Offer: My warehouse is not big enough to store plenty of everything you can imagine, so I only stock based on demand. The key item you want right now may take a while since I am dependent on the manufacturer. When you come to buy from me, location could be a challenge; we’re not likely to be just down the road. Then, there is parking when you arrive. You may have to wait for someone to help you if we’re busy. And, we can help you only during store hours. So, don’t be calling at night or on a Sunday!

E-tailer Offer: My warehouse is limited to the planet! You need it; I can get for you…and, fast. Any size, any color, and any amount. I can have it delivered wherever you need it—in the morning! And, you can shop whenever you want…even in your Fruit of the Looms before anyone else gets up. We guarantee everything. Since we buy in bulk, we can pass the savings on to you. We also have a 24-hour help line if you have a problem or a question—smart people there when you need them. So, which offer would you take? Hold on. The good news is coming. Customers today also want a great experience. They assume the product will be as promised and the price fair. And, the e-tailer on line will have a devil of a time sounding like old Harry who knows the customer’s business like the back of his trowel. Your edge is the experience! Granted you have to be price-sensitive today. You can’t jack up the price, even if you could give your customer Disney World. There are three ways to keep the e-tailer from luring your customers away after you have educated them.

Make it Personal
Buy a book on Amazon and their computer remembers what you bought. On your next visit to Amazon.com they recommend other books that fit your buying preferences. Can your business do that? Why wouldn’t your customers be comparing you to Amazon? E-tailers are continually communicating with customers in a highly tailored and targeted way. Do you have a “Constant Contact” system that lets customers know about specials or offerings unique to their interests? Is your website entertaining, educational, or inspiring… or is it simply an on-line brochure? Does your newsletter communicate more than just specials or deals? Create ways for customers to get to know other customers. A barbeque on the back lot could go a long way to creating a bond enabling you to get to know customers on a more personal way. When was the last time you went to your customer’s location instead of the other way around? If Harley-Davidson can create a “Harley Owners Group” that brings riders together, why couldn’t you create your own version? What if you sponsored seminars like Lowe’s or Home Depot?

Decorate the Experience
 Reach the checkout counter of Dallas garden center Nicholson-Hardie and you can pet one of two big calico cats sprawled across the counter with business cards proclaiming them as “house cats.” Walk into a Bass Pro Shop and notice displays amplified by such eye candy as a giant fish tank and museum quality wildlife dioramas. All these examples are the five senses on steroids augmenting the service experience. When realtors suggest baking an apple pie before an open house and fancy retail stores put a pianist on the sales floor, all are declaring the common sense of uncommon senses. Consider the emotions you want to call to mind. Does that picture really add value? Are restrooms super pleasant? What music should customers hear? What sensory signals do customers get from the parking lot or front entrance? What does signage in the warehouse pick-up look like? What should customers see first, second…last? What do customers hear in the background when phoning? Take a walk through Bellagio, the Venetian, or the MGM Grand on your next trip to Vegas. Notice how they blend sound, sight, smell and touch? What is the mood you want your customers to have in your store?

Give More Than Customers Expect
Be a valued partner to your customers. Great partners give without condition; giving is a selfless act. For the service provider, it is service emanating from the inner joy of serving, not a calculated decision. It requires a focus, not on short-term financial benefi t but on longterm relationship value. While transaction costs are not irrelevant, they can become destructively dominant. Of course, there are some fi ckle customers on the prowl for a cheap “one-night stand” they can brag about as a fi nancial conquest. But effective partners know that such customers are a tiny minority and it’s folly to distrust the balance of customers because of the few who seek to “game” the system. They understand that by seeking win-win solutions and avoiding nickel-and-diming customers, their organization will be rewarded with grateful customers who return, often with friends or family in tow.

Fly your customer’s flag! Constantly look for ways to personalize. Let customers witness your deep and obvious respect for them. Respect can come in the form of deferring to a customer’s unique circumstance. But, its liveliest form is found in the exceptions that are grounded in customer understanding and fueled by generosity. “We don’t normally, but in your case,” “I went ahead and took care of that…,” or “I comped the charge since I knew…” are all the sounds of customercentric exceptions. Exceptions tell customers you are there for them, not just for you. Customers want you to be successful and profitable; they do not want you to be miserly or greedy. The customer world is rapidly changing. There have always been “bait and switch” customers; there always will be. But, the best way to compete with the ease and access of the internet is to create the kind of an experience a computer cannot. Inside the computer is a program; inside the distributor/contractor is a person—with the same hopes and aspirations as customers. Build “high touch” into your service operation and help the shopper discover there is more to value than price.

CHIP R. BELL AND JOHN R. PATTERSON are customer loyalty consultants and the authors of several best-selling books. Their newest book is Wired and Dangerous: How Your Customers Have Changed and What to Do About it. They can be reached through www.wiredandangero

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