The Dangerous Customer

What is a dangerous customer? It is not necessarily a customer that is threatening you with a knife or a gun. (That is not just a dangerous customer, but a dangerous person.) What we are discussing in this article is the customer that puts you into the “danger zone” of lost business. We aren’t talking about customers who have a complaint about you and choose to tell everyone they know. We are talking about that potentially very dangerous type of customer, a “satisfied” customer.

But wait! How can we be in danger of losing a satisfied customer?

Recently, two professors, Anthony J. Zahorak and Roland T. Rust, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee conducted a study on customer satisfaction. What they found was that approximately 25% to 40% of satisfied customers do not come back to the places of business where they have been satisfied.

Wait a minute! Why would a satisfied customer not come back? The answer is very simple. Because, they were simply satisfied. Everything was satisfactory, nothing great, just okay. For example, you may have gone out to dinner at a restaurant. The next day a friend asks you about your meal and you tell them it was okay. Nothing special, simply average. Another way of putting this… satisfactory. Will you go back? With all of the choices of places to dine and spend your hard earned dollars, probably not. No, unless you are a glutton for punishment, you will most likely look for the restaurant that gives you a great meal, great service and exceeds your expectations.

The types of businesses that the Vanderbilt professors looked at were typical front line, consumer oriented businesses such as restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, retail stores, etc. It is obvious that not all businesses fall into one of these categories, but the principle still holds true. Anybody or any company that has any type of competition needs to understand that having satisfied customers creates vulnerability. Not only do you have to exceed a customer’s expectations, but you also need to constantly be improving on what already may be great.

What worked yesterday does not work today. If you are doing something better than your competition you can bet that they will be doing the same thing very soon.

The hotel industry is a good example of this. Many years ago the typical hotel customer didn’t have the expectations or make the demands for great service that they do today. All the customer wanted was a clean room with a television set and a hot shower. Then one day a serious competition for hotel customers began. Rate wars began. Less expensive rooms may have been was one way to compete, but not necessarily the best. There had to be more.

One day a sharp hotel owner decided that amenities could create a competitive edge. It worked! It started out to be simple; thicker towels, fancier soaps, etc. Then the competition, the hotel “across the street,” figures out what was going on, and not to be outdone, copied. The next wave of amenities were sparked, such as better candy on the pillows and a newspaper in the morning – and not just one paper -but perhaps a choice of different newspapers. At what point did it stop? Eventually, everybody was offering the same thing. It was at that point that the biggest difference between one hotel and another had to do with the people that worked there. The hotel employees became the ultimate “amenity.”

If what you sell is great, but your service is mediocre, then the best you can expect is limited success and eventually total failure as competition comes along and takes care of the customers by giving better service. But put a great product in the hands of people willing to go beyond typical levels of customer service and you get beyond being simply satisfactory.

Today’s customers expect more than satisfactory experiences with the people and organizations they do business with. Every company has their version of a “hotel’s amenities.” Just about every business claims to give good or great customer service. Good service has become the norm. An organization has to go beyond satisfactory or just acceptable levels of service. Terms used to describe this higher level of service have been knock your socks off service, delighting the customer, and many more. Get your customers out of the danger zone. Go beyond simply satisfying your customers and you will create many.. custom stirrup socks