LOCKED IN (cont’d)


When customers feel trapped in bad experience

There are also situations in which the customer feels locked in because he or she really appreciates some aspect of the experience. It might be other aspects of the experience that puts the customer off—making the one want out of the encounter. However, the customer might consider that pleasant aspects of experience and decide to stay. For instance, a customer might frequent a particular eatery because of its proximity or the friendliness of the employees. However, it is possible the food might not be the very best and the customer might have walked away from the encounter, if not for the proximity of the eatery or the friendliness of the employees.

It has been argued by some that another factor that can result in lock-in is the personality of the customer. The argument is that there are some people who just do not like changing and so will stick with an underperforming service provider. I see the merit in that argument. I have actually come across a number of customers who have told me that, by their nature, they do not like changing brands. They are just resistant to change. Although I struggle to see why one will be caught in a trap that he or she has the power to do something about. Customers who are resistant to change can be with a particular service provider or brand for a long time but it is not because that business or brand is creating excellence. These are those referred to as laggards when it comes to adapting to change. They will stick to the familiar and tried as long as possible.

Another personality trait that keeps customers locked in are individuals who avoid confrontation or desist from hurting others. Customers with these traits can come across like loyal customers but inwardly, they are not. They wish to be elsewhere. The only thing keeping them with the business is their propensity to avoid conflict at all costs.

In my decades of experience dealing with customers, I have come to conclude that a large number of Ghanaian customers fall into this category. Ask a typical Ghanaian if the product, service, etc. is alright and the response would mostly be in the affirmative, even when it is clear that there is a problem. The average Ghanaian is so nice, so agreeable, that he or she does not want to hurt the other person’s feelings. As a matter of fact, individuals who call a spade a spade come across in our part of the world as arrogant.

These customers lack assertiveness and will do anything to avoid having to assert themselves. Business might like these type of customers but in my experience, that is wrong. No business will survive for long with a majority of its customers having this trait. Their actions—or rather, inactions—create a false sense of excellent performance in organisations. By not speaking up when are not going well, these type of customers do not challenge organisations to do better. These customers will cause businesses to believe all is well, when in reality, all is anything but. Their compliant nature lures businesses into a false sense of security.

As can be seen from the ongoing discussion, there is a multiplicity of factors—physical, social, personal, etc.—that result in customer lock-in. Research has shown that on many occasions, more than one factor comes together to prevent customers from walking away from a service encounter they would rather not be in. The more factors that lock customers in, the stronger the exertion on the customer to stay but the more frustrated the customer becomes.

Whether as a strategy or just by sheer coincidence, the fact is that lock-in affects customers negatively. If a customer is patronising a service or purchasing a product for any other reason than the one loving that product or service, then there is a problem. The problem might not be evident but beneath the surface, it will be brewing. Underneath the surface, all will not be well. The customer will feel like a caged animal.

What are the consequences for businesses when customers feel trapped in a service encounter? Frustration. Resentment. Anger. A plethora of negative emotions that no business would want its customers to experience. Customers who feel locked-in might start putting up anti-social behaviours and might even resort to getting back at the business. As one research write-up puts it, customers experience “inner turmoil” in a lock-in. A customer experiencing inner turmoil will struggle to enjoy the service and the one’s resentment will only grow.

One of the findings regards to customer lock-in is that those customers increase their negative word-of-mouth about the business or brand. Whatever the reason for the customer lock-in, frustrated, angry or resentful customers will badmouth the organisation, when the opportunity presents itself. They will not speak their minds to the organisations directly but will do so when they meet others. In the eyes of the organisation, that customer is the model customer but behind the scenes, the customer would be doing some serious damage to the reputation of the brand.

From the ongoing, it is as clear as daylight that having customers does not necessarily mean the customers are enjoying the experience. It is possible a number of reasons are causing customers to be, or to feel, locked in—and they are just waiting for a better option to avail itself.

One of the errors many businesses commit is to mistaken lock-in for loyalty. These are two totally different things. Customer loyalty is liberating to the customer; lock-in is anything but. Loyal customers have been known to exhibit certain positive traits, including recommending the product or service to others. Customers in lock-in do not recommend the experience to others. They feel confined to the whole experience and want to get out. Why will they recommend it to others? Loyal customers want to stay and so are not looking for a way out. Lock-in customers do not want to stay and so are on the look-out for a way out.

For a business owner, manager, supervisor, front line employee, the task is very simple. Pick each and every one of the potential causes of customer lock-in and evaluate your customer base against these factors. One of the best tools that every organisation has with regards to this exercise are its front line employees.

Well-trained front line staff who know what to look for in their customers are an indispensable resource when it comes to excellent service delivery. By virtue of communicating with customers constantly, customer service employees get to know a lot about customers. Customers leave clues as to who they are and why they do business with the organisation. Smart customer service employees are able to pick on some of these clues, interrogate the information further and escalate the issue to the appropriate superior for appropriate action.

If while chatting with a customer, a front line employee finds out that the individual is someone who is the non-assertive type; the service employee will be able to find ways of making the one open up a little more about his or her true impressions of the quality of the product or service. By assuring that customer that no offence will be taken for freely expressing his or her views, that customer will eventually say what he or she really likes or dislikes about the service or product.

If a customer service employee finds out that the customer is only doing business with the organisation because he or she just does not like change, it will help the relationship if the organisation then becomes wary of what new things it will introduce to that customer. If maintaining the status is what keeps that customer happy, trying something new—without resorting to that customer—might not help the relationship. The new offering might make the customer feel trapped instead.

Controversially, if a business finds out that a customer is only sticking around because he or she feels switching to an alternative would be too costly, it might do the image of the organisation a world of good, if the customer is made to feel he or she can exit the relationship anytime at his or her choosing. Like I said, it is controversial. If you have a customer who is sticking with you, why would you want to give the one an opportunity to go elsewhere? The truth is that if customers are only doing business with the organisation only because they have nowhere else to go, their resentment of the brand grows. They would even go out of their way to ensure that no other person will fall into the same trap.

No matter what strategy a business employs to deal with customers who feel they are locked in, it is important to note that in the end, great customer service will always do the trick. The basic tenets of great customer service are all that an organisation needs to ensure that its customers do not feel like prisoners. These principles include basic things such as listening to customers when they complain, appreciating customers whenever they do business with the organisation, being concerned about the wellbeing of customers, etc.

Great customer service is the key that will release your customers from feeling locked in-and that key must be used every day. Because the day your customers get out of that lock-in, you will never see them again. And that day could be today.

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