Oh Really? 5 Things Companies Assume About Customers, But Shouldn’t

How To

photo: Mountain/Ash

They steal. They’re overgrown children. They only want a deal.

Oh, the things companies think of us, their “valued” customers!

I recently looked at some of the assumptions customers make about the company they do business with. Today, let’s look at the other side of the equation: What companies assume about us.

1. You’re thieves

Many businesses assume their customers would either be dishonest or steal from them if left to their own devices. No wonder: Shoplifting costs American business upward of $25 million a day, according to one survey. But when you believe all customers would steal from you, it becomes much easier to steal from them by making dishonest or disingenuous product offers and compelling them to pay for a service that should come with a product, like technical support.

2. You’re big babies

Corporate America routinely underestimates the intelligence of its own customers by making offers that insult them. For example, it isn’t uncommon for a grocery store to price a buy-one-get-one-free offer at a steep markup, which makes it less advantageous than simply buying one. The store assumes customers will see “free” and turn off their brains. It doesn’t help when they actually do. Underestimating their intelligence only encourages employees to treat customers like kids – or worse, sheep who will blindly follow any order.

3. You only want one thing

Entire industries have changed their business models because they assumed people only want one thing: cheap products. Often, they blame these decisions on customer surveys which say, time and again, that they only want cheap products – whether they’re airline tickets or electronics. But the surveys mislead them. Customers may be price-conscious, but they also care about quality. They don’t want to be nickel-and-dimed with fees when they buy an airline ticket, nor do they want their gadgets to break down after a few months. No, customers don’t only want one thing.

4. You’re fickle

Here’s another dangerous assumption: That customers are basically not loyal. In order to keep them, you have to either remove essential services from your basic product (like airline tickets) and then give them back to only your most loyal customers, like elite-level frequent fliers, or you have to trap them with an onerous contract, like cell phones that force you to sign two-year contracts. That’s absurd. Providing a good service will keep customers coming back, as ever. Take too much away from the product, or make it too restrictive, and it will only drive customers away.

5. You don’t understand we have a business to run

“We’re not a nonprofit. We have a business to run.” How often have you heard that? It’s repeated so often to me, as a consumer advocate, that I’ve lost count. But there’s an assumption that customers just don’t understand the basics of business. And indeed, many don’t. When they have a grievance, they often ask for the world, which suggests they have no understanding of how a business operates. Again, that’s not necessarily true. Many customers do understand, but use an over-the-top request as a bargaining tactic. No, not all customers have MBAs, but they do understand that businesses aren’t charities.

So what’s the point of covering these unfortunate assumptions? Because, as a customer, it’s useful to know what you’re up against when you go shopping. Owners and employees may believe you’re dumb, dishonest, cheap, disloyal and ignorant.

And as you know, nothing could be further from the truth.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.

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