Think you are in control?…. think again

power-plant-344231_1920The other week I wrote about the changing face of contact channels… the ever increasing need to ‘speak customer‘.

There is however a more fundamental change underway… as customers’ ready access to information is having a broader influence, beyond just how we contact a company… we increasingly have a desire to be informed and in control of each decision that affects us… it is a growing view and getting stronger each year.

How did that happen?

To help describe this phenomenon, there is a concept in psychology called the ‘locus of control’.  In this theory people sit on a continuum, somewhere between having a purely internal and external focused centre of control.

Simplistically speaking, someone who is internally focused believes they control the outcomes…. someone externally focused, the outcome is a consequence of factors they don’t control.

A good example we can all relate to, a student getting good marks on their exam.

  • Internal locus…  ‘I did great because of my hard work and ability’
  • External locus… ‘I did great as I was lucky with the questions on the day and had a couple of easy questions’

Same work, same output, just a different view on how they got there.

Traditionally companies and consumers both also fall into this spectrum too.

  • Companies have tended to have internal locus of control…. ‘we have a great product’… ‘we think you should buy it’… ‘this is want you need to do next’… ‘you use it like this’… a more paternalistic approach, they are in control.
  • Consumers on the other hand, have tended to have more external locuses of control… ‘it is a great product’… ‘they have my best interests at heart’…’lets do what they say, they will look after us’… ’there is nothing I can do, it is the process’.

And, this system has worked well up to now.

Matching expectations, a change and now conflict

Typically there has always been a pretty good match of expectations between these groups.  Customers trusted that the company had their best interests at heart and the company was rewarded with long term loyality from these customers.  It is after all one of the reason we have brands and brands we like.

However with an increasing move to online, low cost and self serve functionality, we, as customers, have become ever more used to making decisions on own own.  We value independent advice and with the increasing access to data are sometimes more reliant on other customers for recommendations than those of the company itself.  For customers, the locus of control is gradually changing…  from external to internal…. they want, desire and believe they have more control over outcomes.

Unfortunately, not adapting as a company, can lead to customer dissatisfaction and sometimes even conflict.  Examples of this can be seen across multiple industries; the medical profession, government services, financial services to mention a few.  It can be a quick way to erode brand value and customer trust.

For many companies this change can represent a challenge to traditional, established business processes… these have been designed to closely manage inventory, products, policies, procedures and control the customer experience…. they also tend tend to be fairly linear in approach….. making the change can be hard, but to stay competitive a shift is required.

The good news

Fortunately all is not lost, and just as in ‘speaking customer’, making a simple change in mindset can help us all prepare.

  • Design new processes in terms of customer options… multiple alternatives from which the customer can choose.
  • Provide transparent, clear information these options, choices and costs… customers value ‘independent advice’
  • Educate customers on these choices if needed.  Take time to explain pros/cons to them… it is their decision not yours
  • Once decided enable customers to follow their ‘customised’ process… be transparent on process and progress
  • Feedback and be open to changes… it is okay to make changes

Sounds simple, and in many ways it is, however this does often require a more fundamental change in the business model and process design.  In addition each of these ‘options’ need to be designed, with and eye to profitability for the business, within controls so the processes do not descend into chaos.  It cannot happen overnight.

Speaking is also thinking

A challenge…. certainly.  More work… yes, however it also comes with a rather large slice of good news.  Customers are ever more happy to take control, self serve and help you take cost out of the business.  This is evolution not revolution, we just need to make the mind shift….. start to ‘speak customer‘ and also ’think customer’ as we move forward.

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