The interesting bits of information above basically mean that the
number of customers are dwindling. Which is why customer service is today's competitive
advantage. If we don't have masses of potential customers, we'd better keep the
ones we do have happy. Ecstatic.
What is a vigilante consumer anyway?
First, a little historical perspective. Conventional marketing
urged us to sell either to the classes or the masses. If you're selling
$100,000 cars you appeal to the classes, and if you you're selling Hyundais,
you appeal to the masses. That's simple enough.
But then came retailers like WalMart, who are known for good buys, and whose
hallmark is superb customer service. WalMart gave the masses appreciation and
recognition. "Now the masses know class," said futurist Faith Popcorn, who
also coined the term "vigilante" consumer.
The vigilante consumers are not as dangerous as they sound. They just want
value, service, convenience, choice and lots of attention.
Don't think of all this as bad news. Quite the contrary. This is a great time
to be alive and in business. Armed with the facts, drive and an open mind, we
can begin planning strategies that will bring us challenge, fun and . . .
Start at the beginning
What is your philosophy, your vision for doing business? "We treat you
right." "Solutions not problems." Think it through carefully and, when you've
decided, design your business operations and activities to support that
vision. Now, state your product or service in one simple, short sentence that
everyone will get. For example, one of my favorites is: "We sell stuff with
your name on it." That's the statement of Jonathan Stone's specialty
advertising firm Another Dancing Bear Production.
People do business with people they know because they've heard about them from a friend, read about them in a magazine. So your job is to make yourself known to prospective customers. I follow advice given to me by a multimillionaire client from my hair salon days. Manny Lozano said, "I don't care if you can't squeeze another customer or hair stylist in the salon, you still keep promoting. Because you have to keep convincing your customers that yours is still the salon to which to come." In other words the real sales comes after the sale. I have followed his advice all these years and became an unabashed, relentless self promoter of my business.
All I ever wanted for my business was an unfair advantage. I'm not
about lying or cheating. Exactly the opposite. An unfair advantage is doing
every tiny little thing better than your competition. In this instance, your
competition can be your best teacher.
Who knows what your customers want?
In a shuttle bus taking me to the airport after a speaking
began schmoozing with the driver as I am always looking for material. Knowing his
service was not affiliated with any of the resorts, I asked if the guests he
drove told him about their experience at the hotel. "Yes," he said, "in fact,
the general manager of the property where you were staying brings a big
donuts and has coffee with our drivers once a month. We not only tell him
everything we hear about his property, we tell him everything we hear about
his competitors." Think of all the businesses that have spent a fortune on
management consulting firms to find out what this resourceful general manager
gets for a box of donuts and an hour's conversation every month.
Think about who in your business knows what your customers want. Is
service that provides you and your competitors something that might just
provide you with an effective, economical market sample?
Don't overlook opportunities close to home
In your role as an unrelenting self-promoter, start off in your own
How many people in your office building know you and what your business
about? Introduce yourself to people in the hall, in the elevator of your
building. Let everyone in the immediate vicinity of your office know who you
are and what product or service you offer.
During my hair salon days, a friend, whose hair salon in Oakland
thriving, said, "I have clients who drive from Fresno for one of my
I was forced to tell him the truth. "Rod, will you get a life.
People who drive 18 miles for a haircut feed your ego. What feeds your family
is people who walk out of their offices, their homes, their apartments and
walk or drive five minutes to you." Do not overlook the opportunities
home. Tell them about your superb product or service and how you do things
differently than your competitors and you're right there five minutes from
What can you do to make your vigilante consumers feel special and
We know now, great customer service is no longer good enough. We
exceed the vigilante consumers' expectations. One individual knew this way
before the rest of us caught on. I met Gary Richter at a banking conference
several years ago. He runs a small boutique bank in Naples, Florida. He told
me about a situation at his bank that speaks volumes about his bank's
on customer service. At 5:20 one Friday afternoon, the bank received a call
from an elderly woman who needed to cash a $200 check. The bank closed at
and she was 20 minutes away. Many of us would say, "Of course, please come
over, we'll stay open for you." But Gary's bank believes in giving
service so they told the woman that one of their employees would bring her
$200 on his way home and that he would pick up her endorsed check.
As it turned out the woman had her extensive financial holdings at
national bank, and after her positive experience with Gary's bank, she moved
all her assets and investments to his bank.
Today, Gary's bank continues to focus on superior customer service.
my employees, if we roll out the red carpet for a billionaire, they won't
notice. If we role it out for millionaires, they expect it. If we roll
red carpet for thousandaires, they appreciate it. And if we roll out the red
carpet for hundredaires, they tell everybody they know." And you can take
to the bank. In six years since the bank opened, it has grown from 16
employees to 180; and they've grown from $6 million to $330 million.
Build relationships with your customers
There are really only two types of customers: those who know and
and those who never heard of you. All businesses spend relative fortunes
trying to get new customers and that will always remain important. But don't
spend the entire fortune on just attracting new customers. Spend some of
dollars keeping in touch with existing customers because you want to keep
One of the goals in growing your business should be that the same
sold to today will still be spending money with you ten years from now. So
don't celebrate the close of a sale. Celebrate the beginning of a long
relationship. People want to do business with people who appreciate them and
look out for them. Which brings me to yet another salient point.
Seek strategic alliances
Strategic alliances is a relatively new term for something I
learned long ago
in business and that's what I call "professional friends." I developed
in my business community who were looking for the same type clientele as I,
but who offered noncompetitive products and services. Alan White, a
professional friend, owned The Wright Shop that sold custom made suits and
good shoes. I realized that if his customers could afford to buy custom made
suits, they wouldn't be scared off by a $30 haircut. So, I had gift
certificates printed up that read: "To further enhance your appearance, The
Wright Shop would like to present you with a gift certificate for a free
haircut at Miss Fripp's." I paid for the printing of the certificates. It was
a great plan. Alan looked like a hero to his clients. He was happy. They were
happy, not only for the free haircut, but for the quality of hairstyling
Fripp's" stylists offered. And I was happy to be beginning relationships with
these new customers.
These are a few suggestions to help you in building your business
prospering dynamo. I know they work, because I continue to use these tips and
techniques myself with great success. You can gather even more tips and
techniques, by going to conferences, seminars, listening to competitors,
customers, neighbors, friends. We can learn from everyone. Even if you
technique won't work for you, twist and turn it, see if you can put an
adaptation of it to work for you.
As we slip into the 21st Century, we will no doubt create new buzz
the sales and marketing game. No matter what new terms and phrases we
bottom line, we need to keep attracting new customers, cultivating and
deepening relationships with our existing customers and treat them all with
the kind of appreciation, consideration and integrity with which we want to
Everyone Represents Your Company
When I was a new business owner I attended a management seminar, the
speaker said something that I have never forgotten. "Your business is
as good as your worst employee." What a sobering thought.
Customer Service Means Actions, not Slogans
Every single contact your organization has with its customers either
cultivates or corrodes your relationship. That includes every letter you send,
every ad you run, and every phone call you make. This includes every employee
contact, from the CEO to technicians, sales force, support staff, and
In other words, your business is only as good as your worst employee!
Top 10 Ways To Keep Your Customers
1. SAY thank you and smile. Project an image of someone that others will want to do business with. A good attitude is a powerful customer service tool.