I was speaking with a product manager about the competitive position of his product, as it was my sense that there was a saturated market for it that would be difficult to grow – so I did not see a way to increase aggregate demand, and wanted to know his strategy for increasing market share. “Customers are just complacent,” he replied. “They keep using the same brand because it’s not worth the effort to switch.”
His strategy was therefore to monitor the behavior of customers to detect moments of dissatisfaction, when they might feel an acute sense of dissatisfaction with their current vendor and might be likely to consider switching. It seemed a reasonable approach, but not a particularly innovative one. He was quick to admit that the competition was likely monitoring his brand’s customers for the same signs of dissatisfaction, and that to retain his current customers he would need to be careful not to disappoint them.
This last insight rather impressed me, as I’ve been concerned for some time about the way in which marketers in general focus on acquiring new customers and then immediately beginning to ignore and neglect them once they have converted, taking it for granted that they would remain “loyal” to the brand so long as it did not disappoint them. Few brands seem to consider what they must do to avoid disappointing customers, and only seem to react when a disappointment has occurred and they need to retain the customer who has a sharp interest in leaving the brand.
But aside of a customer calling to cancel his account, what can be done to detect a customer who’s been roused from his complacency, or prevent him from having a moment of dissatisfaction? Our discussion did not move in this direction, but it’s been on my mind and seems rather a quandary.
For relationship companies who are able to track customer behavior, it seems relatively simple to be attentive to the data they are already collecting to detect a change in the consumption pattern or monitor the frequency of service calls (a customer who has had to call three times in the last month to straighten out a problem with their account is likely to be disgruntled).
For transactional companies who are unable to track customer behavior, it seems impossible. Because they can only monitor the market in the aggregate, they are unaware of the behavior of an individual customer. Hence they can tell when the market in general is buying more or less of their product, but the important data is being lost in the crowd.
Since I currently work for a relationship company, the problems of the transactional firm do not seem germane, though they are a bit more perplexing. I could meditate on it but have no immediate need for the knowledge it would render. There are certain products, instances, and aspects of an ongoing service that function as once-and-done transactions, even those can be monitored in the long run – these could be improved, but again these seem to be a small part of the business.
Neither do I think it will be appropriate to follow up with the specific results of my investigation: that’s privileged, not for the blog. But what I can share is the core theory and methodology: to monitor consumption and ancillary transactions to detect signs of dissatisfaction that could culminate in sufficient cause to consider switching providers. For others who manage customer experience for relationship firms, this should provide the seed to grow their own solution.