Customer in Control or Out of Control?

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These days customers face a world of abundance and overwhelming choice of most products and services. Many say that this puts customers in control.
I ask, in control of what? Sure, these factors give customers a measure of control over which product they buy, who they buy it from and how much they pay. But…
Customers face too much information, too much choice, too much uncertainty, too much complexity. These all lead to anxiety, confusion, frustration and stress which people try to minimize. The short-term psychological antidote is to avoid situations that exacerbate the negative emotions.
Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that, at least in the industrialized world, there has been an increase in the baseline level of these states.
In response, customers become increasingly indifferent or disengaged and closed-minded and this increases the rate at which products are perceived as commodities.
To customers, commodities are “things” that are a means-to-an-end. More and more brands have little or no perceived functional difference or meaning to customers. Why? Customers are not paying attention to traditional marketing messages intended to differentiate their products.
But, customers are really losing control. Indifference is only a short-term coping strategy. The uncertainty and complexity of innovation and change pushes customers out of their psychological comfort zones and this means they have a decrease in their sense of predictability and control over the external world.
People strive to regain a sense of predictability and control but our psychological systems can’t keep up. This is not a happy state. People want to find new meaning and value. When we do, the process leads to psychological gratification—an end-in-itself. It is the experience that delivers this value or meaning, not the product.
When customers gain new meaning, they gain a new sense of predictability over what was uncertain or complex. As this new competence grows so does desire and the level of engagement.
At a practical level, this could simply be learning to appreciate the difference between an everyday wine and a premium wine. Once a meaningful difference exists, in the customer’s mind, desire increases.
Most businesses focus on trying to out-bid competitors for the indifferent customer or buying mindset.
Others like Apple Stores, deliberately help customers overcome regain control and predictability over what was once uncertain and complex.
The latter doesn’t have to compete on price. Equally, or more important, they build relationship value. This value helps make the sales today but it is the glue that underlies loyalty. Why? Customers see the relationship as an important vehicle for facing a fast-changing and increasingly complex world.

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