Fear has been central to the seller/buyer relationship for a long time.
Think of the salesperson who never calls back after making a sale. Just in case the customer is dissatisfied.
Think of the manager who fears a customer asking for changes to a product or service. Because it may involve saying no.
Think of the boss who fears lawsuits. Who fears an unhappy customer calling a TV station.
And it works the other way around as well.
The customer who fears she’s being gouged by a store. The customer who fears the complexity of an item he’s buying. The customer who fears the payment terms on a new car. Or fears fighting to get something returned.
Where does the fear come from? Isolation. Lack of communication. Misunderstanding. Poor relationships.
But all this can change online.
Trouble is, as always, individuals seem to be catching on to this much faster than most companies.
Consumers online are discovering that they are no longer isolated and no longer have to be afraid of the companies they buy from.
They can reach across the divide that once separated buyers from sellers. Best of all, they can network with thousands of other buyers doing the same thing.
They are empowered to comparison shop at the click of a button through MySimon.com.
They are empowered to check out how thousands of other customers rate your products and services through sites like BizRate.com.
They can reverse roles by going to Imandi.com, saying what they want and waiting for prospective vendors to come to them with their best offers.
They can gather together in groups and get better buying power and prices through Accompany.com or ActBig.com.
They can buy through auctions and reverse auctions.
Quite suddenly, that divide in the marketplace between buyer and seller is closing up.
Bye-bye fear. Hello power. Customers now have a lot less to be scared of.
But how about you?
Do you still fear your customers online? Does it scare you that they can compare your site with others?
Are you scared that they can comparison shop for the best price? Or that they can talk about what kind of experience they had with you by posting at uGripe.com?
Does it worry you that they might send you emails with questions and concerns? Are you troubled by the sudden empowerment of the buying public?
If your answer is yes, you’re likely trying to run your online business with a model that better suits the offline world.
You need to close the divide between “them” and “you.”
You need to welcome their scrutiny and questions. Ask for their opinions and suggestions. Act on their collective feedback.
But most of all, put aside the fear that for decades has worked so effectively to put up a wall between consumers and vendors.
And if that means changing the way you do business online, now is the time to make that change.