Customers are important. Everyone knows that—at least, everyone I know. “The Customer is King”. “The Customer is Always Right”. “The Customer is our Reason for being here”. The epithets go on and on. Few will debate against the importance of customers. It is therefore not too surprising that many businesses would spend so much effort and resources to ensure that the customer is always catered for. Obviously, some organisations do better than others when it comes to serving customers.
One way many businesses ensure that customers are treated right is to properly train and equip their front line employees (FLEs). Every organisation would want to put its best foot forward. Each year, businesses devote vast sums of money to properly prepare their front liners for the important job of handling customers. No one would argue against the importance of such investments. The dynamics of competition show that if an organisation is not training its employees, its competitors will be training their employees. And soon, the difference would show and customers would notice it.
In the customer service ecosystem, no one doubts the fact that customers and employees are the most critical components. However, apart from customer-handling employees and customers, there is another critical stakeholder group that many businesses overlook when it comes to ensuring that a business serves its customers right. This group is “other customers”. Yes, you read right! Other customers.
Many businesses concentrate so much effort on getting their employees to act right when dealing with customers to the point that these organisations forget that customers are also influenced by other customers. In fact, there is enough evidence that on many occasions, what other customers say of their experience has more of an influence on a customer than what an FLE says. Customers know that the FLE has an interest in the success of the business. Therefore, customers would take what the customer-handling employee says with a pinch of salt. Customers would however buy what another customer says hook, line and sinker.
There is enough reason for customers to believe what other customers say. When a customer had had an experience, why doubt what that customer would say? We say, in our part of the world, that “If a frog comes out of the water and tells you the crocodile is dead, do not doubt it.” Although it is a fact that different people interpret the same event in different ways, we all have the tendency to believe what others say about their experience.
It is important to realise that customer-on-customer influence can cut in two ways—positive and negative. An undecided customer might be easily convinced by another customer to purchase. In much the same way, a customer whose mind is already made up concerning a purchase can be convinced by another to rescind that decision. Sometimes, the influence can result in the changing of the preference of a customer. A customer who comes in ready to purchase the red variety might be convinced to go for the green option by another customer. In other words, the profitability, or otherwise, of the organisation does not just depend on the way its employees interact with customers but also on the way customers are interacting with each other.
During in-person interactions, the actions and inactions of even a single customer can be very important because other customers who might merely be observing would be influenced by that single individual. A customer entering the premises of the business will be influenced by another customer at the exit grumbling and complaining about something concerning the business. These two customers do not even have to talk to each other. Just by observing what the other customer is doing, another customer’s mind can be made up or changed.
As a matter of fact, it has been proven that one of the ways by which people learn is by observation. The body language of one is enough to colour the experience of the other. This is why every single customer’s experience should not be left to chance. All it would take is one wrong experience to turn away not only one but two or more customers. Businesses must always ensure that the experiences at the front office are always on point.
One factor that has made customer-on-customer influence even more important to businesses is the ease with which customers can interact with each other these days. In times past, a customer had to meet another customer on the premises of the business for any interaction to take place. During that era, the main means of influence was via word of mouth communication. In the times we find ourselves, a customer need not meet or utter a single word to another customer to influence the one. The means to influence is right in the pockets and purses of today’s customers. Devices that can easily fit into the palm of a child have become so sophisticated that they give customers so much power to influence.
The myriad of social media platforms makes it easy for customers of today to interact with and thereby influence each other—and it seems there is very little an organisation can do about that. A single customer can decide to write a blog and, by so doing, connect with, and influence, so many others. A group of customers can even form an online community by virtue of their common interests in a particular product or service and via that medium, they can influence each other and many others.
Clearly, the means are available for customers to influence each other without the permission or blessing of the business in question. And the effects of such influence can be quite revealing. For instance, it has been discovered that TV ratings, movies, books, etc. are all influenced by what other customers think of the experience. It is interesting that businesses spend so much money on advertising while other customers are the main determinants of marketing success.
This is why businesses must take a keen interest in the newer ways by which customers are interacting and influencing each other. A business which intends to make the most of the phenomenon of customer-on-customer influence must be where the action is. Such a business must be part of the discussions online. This is to ensure that when something negative is being said, the business can explain the situation better and quicker as well as to defend itself as best as possible.
Another angle of customer-on-customer influence is that if the individual in question is part of a specific group of customers, then group dynamics come to play. In this case, customers who might not even be pleased with the product or service would still find it very difficult to stop using the product for fear of being an outcast. Conversely, customers who might really love the product can also be influenced to stop using it just to please and fit in with the members of the group. If there is peer pressure, then customers can also be influenced by their peers.
A recent study found that when customers share common characteristics with other customers, the chances of such customers influencing each other is higher. The more alike a customer is with another customer, the greater the chances of these customers influencing each other. The practical implications of this is that organisations must properly segment their customers and ensure that each segment is served well. It might even help if the organisation is able to bring customers with similar characteristics together occasionally. That would serve to strengthen the bond within the group. The business can then leverage on that bond to its advantage.
It is a fact that human beings are social animals. We are wired to depend on each other. Not a single one of us has truly gained independence from all of us. Not even the hermits on the rugged plains of the Himalayas can claim to be islands on their own.
There are several advantages to being social. One of such advantages is that it helps us to adapt to new environments quicker. If an individual has to learn everything she needs to know all by herself, it might take a lifetime. By observing what those within her immediate environment are doing, the individual is able to quickly find out what she must do to survive.
This explains why new customers are more prone to being influenced by existing customers. Since the new customers has no experience to fall back on, it makes perfect sense that the one would be more willing to take decisions based on what another customer says.
Customer-on-customer influence is something every business must be aware of. Smart businesses are and they use that knowledge to do things their competitors do not. They know how to make use of these lessons to help them better serve each and every customer.
- Make use of customer-on-customer influence by turning your customers into a second “sales and customer service force”. Indirectly recruit your customers into the fold of the organisation.
- Make use of technology—be where the interactions are taking place. Businesses cannot afford to be without social media pages and dedicated individuals, units or teams regularly checking in and managing those pages and platforms.
- The best way to immunise your customers against negative influences of other customers is to ensure that every interaction with the organisation becomes an experience of a lifetime.