The Intolerant Customer (part1): changing customer behaviour


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In the relatively short period of the last 10 years customer behaviour has undergone one specific and crucial change….

Recently I was the silent observer of 3 volatile customer interactions that sharply bring to focus a change in customer behaviour. I have seen such situations before, and I’m sure so have you, but encountering 3 instances in quick succession highlighted the extent to which this change has seeped into the customer psyche.

At a popular garment store I watched a customer lose his cool at a store employee at the counter. Her speed of ringing up the bill was the issue at hand. He said she should’ve been quicker. She firmly replied it takes time. He left without purchasing his selection.

An agitated lady, at a supermarket checkout counter in the ‘only 10 items’ queue, held up the line. She blamed the staff for allowing customers to join the queue with more items than the number stipulated for that queue. It was unfair to customers that had 10 or less items to be billed and yet had to wait at the back of the line. Business resumed once the staff had the erring customers removed from the queue.

Dining at a restaurant I noticed a guest at an adjoining table repeatedly glance at his watch. He was clearly upset about the time taken to serve up his order. The moment it arrived, he got up and left. He didn’t eat, he didn’t pay, and I have a feeling he won’t be visiting that restaurant any time soon.

In all 3 scenarios there is one thing strikingly in common – the customer’s intolerance to the lapse in service. The polite tolerant customer, of upto a decade ago, has been slowly but surely taken over by one that is more exacting and intolerant.

Change in Behaviour
This distinct change in the customer’s behaviour is becoming more and more apparent today as the pace of life increases with the pressure and stress of personal and professional environments building up.

Today it no longer is just about the quality of service. There is a need for speed. The customer has begun to put a lot of emphasis on the value of their time. Fast food, internet shopping, online utility payments, chat and social messaging as the preferred mode of communication, are just some of the signs that the customer is embracing opportunities that crunch timelines and yet allow them to do what they want.

Rise to the Occasion
Businesses have recognized the huge opportunity to cater to timesaving initiatives. It has opened markets to new, innovative and even bigger revenue and sales options. But, unfortunately, service has not got onto the bandwagon.

Service still languishes in the pre-decade old concept of quality over speed. It still believes that speed is detrimental to the quality of service.

But I say, listen to the customer. Their every action tells you that the speed of service delivery is a vital component in the quality of service, and they will not tolerate any compromises.

This is the customer of today.
Wants Good service.
Wants it Quick.
Is Intolerant.
Deal with it.

Sunil Panikker
Sunil Panikker is a business consultant specializing in customer service, operations and business strategy. He has honed his expertise over 30 years of experience, working in senior management positions, with companies having global footprints, and responsibilities that have been cross-functional & multi-locational. His blog shares the experience and expertise assimilated from managing customer experience across multiple diverse industries.


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