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Buying Trends – the Shift to Hassle-Free

By Jeff Mowatt |

You may have noticed a shift in recent years in what it takes to satisfy customers. Customers are now making buying decisions less on the quality of an organization's products and services, and more on the quality of the buying experience itself. If you're a business owner or manager, this trend offers both risk and opportunity. To ensure that your organization profits from this shift in customer loyalty, consider a recent history of buying behaviors...

Why quality is no longer top-of-mind

When it came to satisfying customers in the era immediately following World War II, no one could beat the USA. With the development of the atomic bomb they had demonstrated that they had the most advanced technology on the planet. The fact that they had developed such a terrifyingly sophisticated product gave American businesses an unrivalled reputation for innovation. That reputation resulted in a 'honeymoon' demand for US products that exploded throughout the 1950's.

Fast forward to the energy crises of the 1970's. People begin turning to smaller more fuel efficient vehicles made overseas. At first the vehicles are perceived to be of poorer quality. Yet in Japan in particular they embrace the concept of Kaizen - the practice of continuous improvement that had been introduced to them, ironically, by an American, W. Edwards Deming. Eventually, the quality of foreign vehicles and other consumer products - particularly electronic equipment, is perceived by consumers to be better that the stuff produced in North America. Domestic manufacturers are forced to improve quality. So, throughout the 1980's and early 1990's North American manufacturers join the movement towards "Total Quality".

It works. Quality improves significantly. So much so, that now in the twenty first century, it's not that consumers no longer care about the quality of manufactured products - it's that quality is now taken for granted. So much for products. Interestingly, the same assumption about quality also applies to services. Consider the following...

Why credentials don't stand out

When it comes to hiring services, consumers now simply take it as a given that the person is 'qualified' to be providing the service. When we call a company to send a plumber we don't ask to screen candidates. We figure the person must have some sort of a 'ticket' or the company wouldn't be hiring them. The teacher who instructs our children is assumed to have the proper certification. In other words, the technical capabilities of the person providing the service is generally taken for granted.

Where we've ended up then, is a point where consumers now assume that when they buy a product from any large well-know manufacturer the product quality will be just fine. Or, if they use a service from any reasonably sized firm the service person will be technically competent. In other words, quality itself no longer impresses consumers as much as it used to. Meanwhile, there is something more important that consumers are clamoring for.

What customers will now pay a premium for

Consumers want to be appreciated. They want respect. They want it badly because in recent years they've lost so much of it. They've gotten fed up with phoning a large company and being told to, "Press 1 for... press 6 for ..." (One of my seminar participants described this as being caught in "voice-mail-jail"). They're tired of return policies that force them to find the original packaging and paperwork, spend time and postage, waiting and hoping.

To create loyal customers, business owners and managers need to recognize that your quality alone won't impress people that much. As we pointed out, quality is now assumed. Instead, there's a huge opportunity to create loyalty when, in addition to solving the customer's obvious immediate problem, you go the extra step to make the buying experience more humane. That means a hassle-free buying experience, and competent service professionals that understand how their product or service fits into the buying context of the customer. By context I mean how this purchase fits in to the customer's overall needs, and how this transaction must be impacting the customer's day.

Bottom line - you may have reliable products and licensed service providers, but the question customers really care about now is, "What are you like to do business with?"

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