I'm working with a businessman right now, who – like so many others – is struggling to make ends meet. Business is off compared with years past. People just aren't spending like they used to, he says. While it's true that business is not what it once was, part of his problem is he hasn't learned to read the signs. Customers expect top quality service and they know how to find it. He has a good business but he's losing ground because he doesn't have his ear to the ground. He's not paying attention to the truth that customers are more outspoken than ever. They share information more readily than in the past. And the competition is so strong that even one bad review is enough to seriously damage a business.
Customers talk. They may – or may not – talk openly on the streets and give advice and share experiences. But they certainly do share their experiences and opinions on the Internet. And when they do – the impact is much more serious than one-on-one conversation. Reviews on the Internet about a business are serious business.
This business owner thinks that most of his customers don't use the Internet. He thinks this practice is just a "yuppie thing" and that older customers don't fall into this class of discerning customers. But he forgets that those with money who frequent businesses like his really do check out what others say. He's ruling out an entire class of buyers, young upcoming buyers who are able and willing to spend money for quality. And, he hasn't accepted the fact that mature buyers who buy locally actually do check the Internet.
But, this isn't an issue for only small neighborhood brick-and-mortar establishments. Even Internet businesses fail to comprehend the impact of mouth-to-mouth communication. I have worked with those who think they can brow-beat and trick the public into doing business with them by just throwing up a website and promising the moon. Not so. Buyers have become a cautious breed. They expect value for their money and are much less willing to believe hype. In fact, thanks to all the innovations in technology, heavy-handed business practices a failure to deliver quality ultimately get businesses squeezed out by spam blockers and reports of unethical dealings.
There was a time when people were understanding. They were willing to take a chance on an untried product or business. And, there was a time when the Internet wasn't intended to be a marketing tool. But once the marketers tapped into the Internet with intent to use it's power to push their products on the multitudes, they opened the door for customers to take back control of businesses and where they would spend their hard earned money. People – young and old – everywhere are now getting very comfortable with computers, blackberries and digital devices of all kinds. They're sharing information on how to use them and how to access information that never before was available to them.
Marketers have killed the golden goose. With the economy still in the tank, jobs and personal financial health at a premium and business dealings in the past that have left a very bitter taste in the mouths of consumers, we're witnessing a shift in the market. Those that understand that they exist to serve the public and that real people spend the money will survive. Those who don't, won't.