The Fear of Satisfying Customers

I’ve tried to be brave about this new world, but it’s difficult. Something very scary is afoot. Customers actually seem to care about satisfaction. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

A recent Harris Poll found that if a consumer were to try a new brand and it either didn’t work or didn’t meet his or her needs once, 76 percent would find it difficult to trust that brand again. If that doesn’t convince us all that we need to focus on making the user happy from the start, I’m not sure what will. Perhaps the eventual attrition of our displeased customers as we fail to meet their needs?

One scary effect of this apparently widespread consumer sentiment is that we must provide a good product or service or risk losing a majority of our potential customers. To our consternation, consumers are demanding that we satisfy them. We cannot buy their love with press clippings or animations or streaming videos of our CEOs telling customers how much we care.

The same Harris Poll found that only 15 percent of consumers agreed with this statement: “I trust products more that have attractive or appealing packaging.” That is likely an undercount, as other research has shown that the effect of good packaging is often very subtle and even subconscious. Nevertheless, that users are more concerned with the performance of a product than the snazzy graphics that surround it is a dangerous idea. (Luckily for Web designers, there are still analysts, venture capitalists, and senior executives to impress.)

It gets even worse. Not only are customers planning to hold our feet to the fire unless we provide them with quality products and a satisfying user flow, but they may even care what kind of service we offer. Oh, horror of horrors! Again, the Harris Poll found that 93 percent of customers agreed with this statement: “If a company’s customer service department or Web site is responsive to my questions, I am more likely to trust that company.” Just think of all the work we’ll have to do… We’ll have to build good products and make them user friendly, actively listen to our customers, and provide them with timely service and results. Yikes!

The fear may seem kind of silly, but it shouldn’t. Many companies are running scared. They are still giving their users poor customer service. They’re not meeting the needs of their customers. And they insist on providing features that look good at executive offsites but not to their users. Is it any wonder that we’re seeing what everyone is calling the “dot-com slump“?

We won’t be able to ignore the elephant in the room forever. Secrets will get out. Reporters will stop simply copyediting press releases and instead begin to investigate, finding out that no one is using products, contracts aren’t being renewed, and paradigms aren’t being shifted.

Tired of being overwhelmed with companies and underwhelmed by their experiences, consumers will begin to assert themselves through their choices. They will no longer be content to exist as “eyeballs” in questionable business plans.

Technological innovation will no longer be sufficient to trap consumers on poorly constructed Web sites with user-unfriendly products. Consumers will seek to achieve their definitions of success and demand satisfaction.

Now, that’s frightening!

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