“The customer is always right.”
Someone needs to find that saying, take it into a dark alley, and beat it with a curling iron until it agrees to move to a cave in the Gobi Desert.
Though there’s no getting away from silly business trends, meaningless buzzwords, or over-hyped Next Big Things, nothing seems to have had quite the sticking power as “The Customer Is Always Right”
And it gets a lot of business folk into trouble, especially when they base their marketing, branding, retention efforts, or (god forbid) new product/service offerings on the opinions and desires of customers.
No, the Customer Is NOT Always Right — and They Rarely Know Why They Do or Want Anything
Here’s one of my favorite quotes of all time:
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
That little gem probably isn’t actually from Henry Ford, but it’s so good that I like to imagine it is.
“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Steve Jobs might have been a tremendous jerk, but he had that part right, at least.
Look, I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but the truth is, sometimes people know what they want, but just as often, they have no freakin’ clue — the human mind is so fickle and so all-over-the-place that it’s a wonder we can make any purchases at all.
This is true for new products and services, but it’s just as true with retention efforts.
Now, this isn’t coming out of nowhere, and it’s not just coming out of the minds of eccentric industrialists — we’ve known for a very long time that people are very good at tricking themselves, or lying to themselves, or just outright lying to you, the business-type-person, about why the hell they’ve done what they’ve done, think what they think, or want what they want, and that, basically, it’s a bona fide miracle that we’re not all blubbering idiots flicking our fidget spinners at the bottom of a giant well.
We know that people have a tendency to internalize misinformation or outright lies and turn them into “true” memories.
We know that people regularly fill their online carts with tons of stuff that they never actually buy.
And, in case you’re not convinced yet, we have a list of about 183 different biases that human beings experience on a wide range of issues and subjects in a broad range of situations and places that it’s almost unbelievable that we can even put our shoes on and go to work in the morning.
(If you ever really want to get your mind blown, just pair all that information above with The Black Swan Theory and realize the true improbability of humanity coming as far as it has — fair warning, it’s pretty depressing).
Basically, Human Beings Have No Idea Why They Do or Want Anything
And they’re often acutely incorrect about why they’ve done what they’ve done, even seconds after they’ve done it, and the same is true for why they want what they want.
Children illustrate this quite effectively.
If you’ve got a two-year-old wandering about, just ask them what they want, and then give it to them — do that for a month, and see how often that child is actually pleased by getting what he or she asked for.
Ever seen a kid beg for something, only to throw it to the ground once you give it to them because they don’t like it?
Yeah, so, according to all the research, we’re all two-year-olds.
“What does this mean for retention?” You ask. “What are the implications?”
It means that you need to think long and hard about giving customers what they “want.”
It means you should consider, very carefully, the strategies you employ for keeping your customers around, especially if you intend to base those strategies on what customers tell you they “want.”
Retention is critical to the long-term success of your business, and though you certainly can’t ignore what your customers say they want, you can’t just give them everything they ask for, either.
The News Media Is a Great Example of How People Getting What They Want Can Ruin Everything
It wasn’t so long ago, in the great U.S. of A., that we had some reporting by some news organizations that was actually politically unbiased.
It’s hard for me to imagine such a thing today, but I do remember it (and take that memory with a grain of salt, eh?).
And then, as often seems to be the case in the modern era, the damn interwebz had to come along and ruin everything.
News started to appear online. It was easy to access. It was easy to read, especially after a few handy devices were invented and pushed to market. It didn’t suffer from paper-person error, neighbor theft, dog destruction, or rainstorms.
And best of all, it was free (besides the cost of the internet connection, of course).
And people started to say “Hey, why should I pay this newspaper fool to bring me a physical newspaper when I can read it online for free!?”
And so, suddenly, we have all these news stories, from all these different papers, all appearing online, most of them for free, and people said “Yes, this is what I want — I want my news articles for free, I want them faster, I want them all the time, I want NEWS!”
Used to be, you’d get one or two newspaper subscriptions, and that’d be that. And, generally speaking, people would read the same paper(s) for many years without changing a damn thing.
You’d get the news in the morning, you’d get some in the evening, and then you’d go to bed.
Now, people are reading individual articles, not whole papers, at all hours of the day and night, all day long (and on the weekend too) and, while some loyalty remains, a great deal of people are just reading whatever’s been aggregated by their favorite search engine or RSS feed.
The number of articles is basically infinite, the cost (to the reader) is effectively zero, and the news media is trying, desperately, to provide exactly what people “want.”
So they’re pumping out free, useless crap (in many cases) — stuff that’s designed to grab attention in a loud online world, stuff that has to be pushed out quickly (and often with little actual journalistic research) in order to compete. Stuff where you can feel the desperation of the writer trying to come up with something, anything to push out the door. Stuff that has to be piled on top of other stuff because people seem to have insatiable appetites for articles about anything as long as the article is ready to read now.
And what better way to grab clicks and sucker in voracious viewers than by writing progressively more politically biased, inflammatory articles — or headlines, at the very least.
This keeps that online ad revenue flowing — the new, main form of revenue that’s much different from the ads of old and a far cry from subscription-based models.
There are still a great number of people who believe that readers want biased, polarized, politically slanted news — and, to be fair, they’re right! And that’s the problem! Readers want something that’s really bad for them!
The point is, people in large groups are pretty stupid, and listening to what they “want” and then giving it to them may not be the best idea in the world.
Here’s a great quote from that seminal 90s flick, Men in Black:
“Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.”
“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know, tomorrow.”
Remember, people also want cigarettes, beer, hard liquor, pain killers, ice cream… they want to sit around all day, not work, watch TV, and eat like crap. They want to pay someone to take care of their kids and their house while they spend all their time at the movies or at a bar.
A lot of people want to put hard drugs in their bodies. A much larger number of people than you would ever believe possible want to drink or smoke weed and then get behind the wheel of a car…
These people are consumers.
Maybe don’t listen to what people say they “want.”
Consumers Barely Exist in Reality and Rarely Have Their Own Best Interests at Heart
So don’t worry too much about what they say they do or don’t want.
Listen, you’re the expert here and there’s a lot to be said for that.
You’re the business owner, the marketing manager, the customer happiness captain, the retention wizard, the person keepin’ the dang customers happy, makin’ the money, payin’ the bills, makin’ things happen.
You got to where you are now not by sucking at what you do or by being a failure — you got here because you’re darn good at what you do, and you darn well know what the heck keeps customers around.
You also know darn well how to get them in the door in the first place. You’re the Henry Ford, the Steve Jobs, the guy or gal with the Big Idea that’s blowing people’s minds in the first place.
You stand out from the milling masses. You’ve risen above the crowd, taken the bull by the horns, and wrestled it to the ground.
Your creative ideas work. This is not something to sneeze at or brush off — This is the reason you’re successful.
If you rely on your customers to tell you what they want, you might get a good answer, and you might just as easily get a big honkin’ pile of malarky.
Sure, listen a bit to your customers, but take everything they say with a grain of salt, and consider the fact that they may be way, way off about what they actually want or need.
Trust your gut, follow your instinct, and don’t be afraid to try a few retention strategies that seem crazy…
Because, with humankind as crazy as it is, they’re probably some of the sanest ideas around.
Good luck out there, marketer.