Why it’s so Important to Adapt to Your Customers’ Needs

Who stum­bles and who thrives after eco­nom­ic and nat­ur­al dis­as­ters is not ran­dom. The busi­ness­es that thrive are those that take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to rede­fine the rela­tion­ships with their cus­tomers for the bet­ter. An oppor­tu­ni­ty to equalise that rela­tion­ship, and tak­ing a step back from a sit­u­a­tion that, all too often, cre­ates hostages out of customers.

The idea of ‘cus­tomers as hostages’ was first defined by Thomas Jones and W Earl Sass­er in their Apos­tle mod­el from 1995. “Hostages are stuck,” they wrote. “These indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­ence the worst the com­pa­ny has to offer and must accept it. Many com­pa­nies oper­at­ing in a monop­o­lis­tic envi­ron­ment see lit­tle rea­son to respond to the plight of hostages. After all, these cus­tomers can’t go any­where. So why both­er to cor­rect the problems?”

This atti­tude has seen many busi­ness­es sur­vive, at least while cus­tomers are will­ing to accept the monop­oly in exchange for a ser­vice that works and, ide­al­ly, one that offers val­ue. The prob­lems start when it doesn’t.

The decline of the Amer­i­can car indus­try took place over decades, but coa­lesced in just five years. In the 1960s, out­side of the major met­ro­pol­i­tan areas, it was tough to buy import­ed cars in the USA: in 1965 there were 5,846 import­ed car deal­ers in the coun­try and 30,991 domes­tic deal­ers. In 1967, imports made up just 9% of total car sales. But five years lat­er, in 1972, they had near­ly dou­bled to 16%.

Yet, domes­tic car brands were still act­ing like monop­o­lies. So, by the ear­ly 1980s, those cus­tomers had freed them­selves and were buy­ing for­eign imports in the millions.

It’s much hard­er and less accept­able to hold cus­tomers hostage in the dig­i­tal world. When Jones and Sass­er first explained their hostage con­cept, being dis­ap­point­ed by retail­ers was accept­ed as part of how things were. Alter­na­tives were hard­er to find and slow­er to respond.

Today, there’s so lit­tle com­mit­ment need­ed com­pared to the buy­ing process of 25 years ago, and we expect sat­is­fac­tion in return for very lit­tle work. There’s lit­tle to stop us from going some­where else. The Zero Moment of Truth means the delay between decid­ing we need some­thing and start­ing to look for it, can be mere minutes.

That makes it easy for the sell­er to fail. For exam­ple, when I need­ed a wine rack for my fridge, it took about five min­utes to find the right one, check­out, choose next-day deliv­ery and add my card details. Except there was an issue with the retailer’s pay­ment sys­tem and I couldn’t com­plete the pur­chase. I could have wait­ed but then I would have become a hostage to the retailer’s abil­i­ty to fix things. So, I didn’t. I bought the rack from Ama­zon instead.

Why do cus­tomers still end up as hostages in today’s dig­i­tal world? The com­pla­cen­cy of busi­ness­es plays a big part, espe­cial­ly for hold­ers of monop­o­lies or in mar­kets where cus­tomer apa­thy means switch­ing rates are low, such as banks and tele­coms. Big busi­ness­es become com­pla­cent and arro­gant, and even igno­rant of their own pow­er, not real­is­ing the con­trol they had over their cus­tomer until it’s too late. In today’s high­ly-dis­rupt­ed mar­kets, that can hap­pen quick­ly. We used to think ‘quick­ly’ meant years. Now, ‘quick­ly’ means weeks or even days.

After COVID-19, we will be in a dif­fer­ent world. Busi­ness­es that have served com­mu­ni­ties and cus­tomers when they most need­ed it will be the sur­vivors. Adapt­ing to what cus­tomers need (and right now it is a need), rather than ignor­ing them or try­ing to push busi­ness­es pri­or­i­ties, is the atti­tude brands should always have adopted.

This is a chance to change the way cus­tomers are treat­ed, to cre­ate expe­ri­ences and ser­vices that ful­fil their needs and treat them with respect. Release your hostages, and they will stay with you for years.

As the sit­u­a­tion with COVID-19 quick­ly unfolds, Adobe is com­mit­ted to giv­ing you the sup­port and resources to nav­i­gate this chal­leng­ing time – learn more.