Your Customers Don’t Actually Belong To You

by Rick Braddy on March 9, 2010

in Leadership

Have you ever heard someone begin a sentence with “Our customers…“?

For some reason, whenever we make a sale to someone, there’s a tendency to believe that we somehow now “own” this customer – that they’ve somehow given up their independence and sworn allegiance to us as a vendor or supplier.

This customer ownership mentality can also lead to the mistaken belief that we have some kind of newfound control over these customers – perhaps because the customers chose us over the competitors, or appear to be reliant upon us in some way for support, future updates or other services.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth… customers are not owned by anyone – and it’s very dangerous to think and talk this way, because we’re deluding ourselves and ignoring reality when we do.

Like everyone, customers have certain needs, selfish wants and preferences.  And in today’s world of global competition, every customer has alternatives to you and your product.  And with very few exceptions, most customers hate being reliant upon anyone or anything and much prefer their independence and self-reliance, especially when it comes to their business.

When a customer buys a product from you or uses your services, it’s much more accurate to realize that they just “hired” your product or company to get a particular job done. It’s usually as simple as that.  And if they aren’t satisfied with the kind of job you do for them, guess what happens next?  They’ll find someone else to do that job tomorrow.

Customers have a “what have you done for me lately” kind of attitude and like the boss, they have very short memories about what you’ve done right and seemingly eternal recollection of everything you’ve ever done wrong…

When companies and their people begin to think of customers in the possessive, this is often when big trouble has already set in – with complacent Support, assumptions about repeat or future business, excuses about subscription cancellations or competitive losses, etc.

This is especially true in the technology business, where one day you’re the market leader who seemingly can do no wrong and then something happens and you wake up another day only to find that you are no longer king of the hill and “your customer” is now focused on something and someone else…

Sometimes we become complacent with our success and forget about “who brung us”, to use my grandmother’s vernacular.  It’s human nature for people to become accustomed to, even take for granted, what they think they already have.  And we often don’t realize what we’ve lost until it’s too late.

Customers will only put up with bad service, complacent attitudes, non-responsiveness or other forms of being taken for granted until they have another alternative.  And customers who receive poor service or get ignored repeatedly quickly find there are others who are still hungry enough to give them their full attention – for just a little bit of their money.

So the next time you hear or say those telltale words “my customers”, stop and take a close look in the mirror. They’re not going to be “yours” for very long.

Customer relationships have to be earned every single day.

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