Geography, Culture Matter For Good Customer Service

Radical Customer Service: Understanding Customers Is Harder Than You Think

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Geography Matters When It Comes To Customer Service

Let’s take a closer look at “geography”, but this time in terms of how people in different cities can have quite different ideas about”great customer service”. Or, even that people living in different areas of the same city may have different ideas on what constitutes good service.

Do the people in New York want the same things in terms of service as the people in Nome, Alaska? Or Fargo, North Dakota? Do they see “respect”, something often mentioned when it comes to customer service, in exactly the same way? They do not. The Alaskan shopping in New York would probably find the customer service absolutely horrible, the employees abrupt, and hurried, while the New Yorker might lose patience in Fargo, North Dakota because everything takes so long, and the employees are so damned chatty.

Many factors come into play when it comes to customer expectations and differences between cities. Size, pace, history and cultural influences, degree of diversity, degree of isolation from other cities, and so on. Regardless, there’s no denying that when you look at what constitutes actual customer service behavior, you can’t generalize.

To make the situation even more challenging, customer service expectations differ from one part of a city to another. The more diverse the city, the more variances you will see from district to district. Are customer service expectations the same in the inner city of Los Angeles as they might be in Brentwood or Hollywood? No. Of course not. Not only will there be obvious differences stemming from things like income levels influencing what customers feel is important, but the “little” behaviors, the language – how people speak is different. Inner city language is not the same as that used Brentwood. You can’t provide customer service in the inner city using the same expressions, tone, and linguistic style as you would use in Hollywood. What constitutes “respect’, in terms of how customers expect to be spoken too, is also going to be different.

Sector and Niches Matters

It makes sense to consider that customers desire different things, depending on the type of businesses they patronize. Even if you consider a single customer, his or her desires and reactions to customer service will depend on which industry we look at. For example, you might have entirely different expectations regarding service when you stay at a motel, compared to when you shop at Costco. You’ll want different things. Unfortunately, both the common wisdom about customer service, and, indeed much of the research, talk about “what “customers want…” and not so much about “In the retail business customers want…” or, in the fast food business here’s what’s important to customers”.

As an example, let’s take a quick look at businesses that serve other businesses, and compare them to similar businesses that serve consumers. To make the comparison fairer, let’s talk about the same product, furniture, since both businesses and consumers make furniture purchases. Do you think that a business is going to evaluate customer service in the same way as the consumer? In some ways perhaps, but businesses have different needs. A delay in the delivery of furniture to a start-up spa, let’s say, has quite different consequences than a delay in delivery of your family sofa. For the business, it may mean not opening on time. A delayed opening will affect gala plans, marketing and advertising investments, even perhaps impacting on the survival of the business. There’s the potential for a very significant financial impact. Business customers have different wants and needs. They need the companies that serve them to deliver on time, or, in effect, to keep their promises.

For the consumer, a delay in getting the sofa is annoying, but usually not something catastrophic. Not only are the expectations different, but so is the behavior when expectations are not met. The business that suffered due to delayed furniture delivery will likely NOT ever purchase again from that vendor. The consumer, not so much. Maybe they’ll return, maybe not. Whether they do or not will be determined by a number of other factors, such as price, how the delay was communicated to them. The business, however will leave never to return.

We can’t paint all customers with the same brush. Hotel customers have different expectations than do people shopping at Walmart. Gasoline purchasers expect different things than Walmart shoppers. Again, there is no “universal customers want” answer.

Within Sector Differences

What about within a particular industry? Again, there’s no such thing as “what restaurant customers wants or expect. McDonald’s patrons have different expectations than those that go to the fanciest fine dining establishments. People who stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain look for different things than do those who stay at the Motel Six, who in turn may want things slightly different than those that stay at the Holiday Inn. Not to belabor the point, but Nordstoms’ customers are not Walmart customers.

There are sub-niches in most industries, where customer expectations differ significantly.

The Killer – Context/Situations – The Moving Target

Now we come to the real killer, the factor that makes it so darned hard to understand “what customers want” in general. Not only do customers differ in their expectations about customer service due to differences in culture, geography and location, sector and niches, and sub-niches within an industry, but their expectations are not stable. Any single customer’s wants and expectations are going to change from situation to situation. This is consistent with a lot of research in psychology that tells us that what people actually DO often changes as the situation or context changes. A person finding a wallet with $100 in it may behave differently if there’s a police officer standing ten feet away, and watching. A parent with a screaming child in a retail store may act differently if there are other customers staring than if there are no other customers around. A customer who is late for an appointment, or otherwise in a hurry will react differently to a delay in a transaction. That SAME customer will react quite differently if he or she is not in a pressure situation.

You can probably think of other situations, or contexts where what you want changes. My personal favorite is buying milk from a convenience store. Nobody goes to the convenience store to save money. Their prices are higher on almost everything. When you want the milk, you want it “conveniently”. Get in, get out with the milk. You don’t care to browse the store, and you don’t want a long conversation with the cashier about the weather. Neither do you want to be in line listening to the cashier and a customer discussing the weather. If we change the context, let’s say to buying milk at the supermarket, you might want a slower “experience”, and friendlier staff, yhe point being that even for a single person, what “works” depends on context.

What this means is that the variables that contribute to customer satisfaction change. Since customers react to their own dynamically changing life contexts and circumstances, the target is constantly moving.

Conclusions We Can Draw About Misunderstanding Our Customers

Author: Robert Bacal

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