Direct Marketing Article
Keeping Up With The Vigilante Consumer
By Patricia Fripp
If you increase customer retention by just 5%, your profits will increase
U.S. population growth is projected to be only 1.1% in the next twenty
Disposable income in the US is growing only 2% every year.
U.S. businesses will invest more than $1 billion this year on computer
technology -- just for customer service departments.
These interesting bits of information basically mean that the number of
customers is dwindling. This is why customer service is today's competitive
advantage. If we don't have masses of potential customers, we better keep
the ones we do have happy -- even ecstatic.
What is a vigilante consumer anyway?
First, a little historical perspective. Conventional marketing wisdom always
urged us to sell either to the classes or the masses. If you're selling
$100,000 cars you appeal to the classes, and if you you're selling Hyundais,
you appeal to the masses. That's simple enough.
But then came retailers like Wal-Mart, who are known for good buys, and
whose hallmark is superb customer service. Wal-Mart gave the masses
appreciation and recognition. "Now the masses know class," said futurist
Faith Popcorn, who also coined the term "vigilante" consumer. The vigilante
consumers are not as dangerous as they sound. They just want value, service,
convenience, choice and lots of attention.
Don't think of all this as bad news. Quite the contrary. This is a great
time to be alive and in business. Armed with the facts, drive and an open
mind, we can begin planning strategies that will bring us challenge, fun
Start at the beginning
What is your philosophy, your vision for doing business? "We treat you
right." "Solutions not problems." Think it through carefully and, when
you've decided, design your business operations and activities to support
that vision. Now, state your product or service in one simple, short
sentence that everyone will get. For example: "We sell stuff with your name
on it." That's the statement of Jonathan Stone's specialty advertising firm
Another Dancing Bear Production.
People do business with people they know because they've heard about them
from a friend or read about them in a magazine. So your job is to make
yourself known to prospective customers. What you need is an unfair
advantage. This isn't about lying or cheating. Exactly the opposite. An
unfair advantage is doing every tiny little thing better than your
competition. In this instance, your competition can be your best teacher.
Who knows what your customers want?
In a shuttle bus taking me to the airport after a speaking engagement, I
began schmoozing with the driver. Knowing his service was not affiliated
with any of the resorts, I asked if the guests he drove told him about their
experience at the hotel. "Yes," he said, "in fact, the general manager of
the property where you were staying brings a big box of donuts and has
coffee with our drivers once a month. We not only tell him everything we
hear about his property, we tell him everything we hear about his
competitors." Think of all the businesses that have spent a fortune on
management consulting firms to find out what this resourceful general
manager gets for a box of donuts and an hour's conversation every month.
Think about whom in your business knows what your customers want. Is there a
service that provides you and your competitors something that might just
provide you with an effective, economical market sample?
Don't overlook opportunities close to home
In your role as an unrelenting self-promoter, start off in your own
backyard. How many people in your office building know you and what your
business is all about? Introduce yourself to people in the hall, in the
elevator of your building. Let everyone in the immediate vicinity of your
office know who you are and what product or service you offer.
Do not overlook the opportunities close to home. Tell them about your superb
product or service and how you do things differently than your competitors
and you're right there five minutes from their doorsteps.
What can you do to make your vigilante consumers feel special and
We know now, great customer service is no longer good enough. We have to
exceed the vigilante consumers' expectations. One individual knew this way
before the rest of us caught on. Gary Richter runs a small boutique bank in
Naples, Florida. He tells about a situation at his bank that speaks volumes
about his bank's position on customer service. At 5:20 one Friday afternoon,
the bank received a call from an elderly woman who needed to cash a $200
check. The bank closed at 5:30 and she was 20 minutes away. Many of us would
say, "Of course, please come over, we'll stay open for you." But Gary's bank
believes in giving exceptional service so they told the woman that one of
their employees would bring her $200 on his way home and that he would pick
up her endorsed check.
As it turned out the woman had her extensive financial holdings at a large
national bank, and after her positive experience with Gary's bank, she moved
all her assets and investments to his bank.
Today, Gary's bank continues to focus on superior customer service. "I tell
my employees, if we roll out the red carpet for a billionaire, they won't
even notice. If we role it out for millionaires, they expect it. If we roll
out the red carpet for thousandaires, they appreciate it. And if we roll out
the red carpet for hundredaires, they tell everybody they know." And you can
take that to the bank. In six years since the bank opened, it has grown from
16 employees to 180; and they've grown from $6 million to $330 million.
Build relationships with your customers
There are really only two types of customers: those who know and love you,
and those who never heard of you. All businesses spend relative fortunes
trying to get new customers and that will always remain important. But don't
spend the entire fortune on just attracting new customers. Spend some of
those dollars keeping in touch with existing customers because you want to
One of the goals in growing your business should be that the same person you
sold to today will still be spending money with you ten years from now. So
don't celebrate the close of a sale. Celebrate the beginning of a long
relationship. People want to do business with people who appreciate them and
look out for them.
Seek strategic alliances
Strategic alliance is a relatively new term for something that has been
practiced for years -- developing "professional friends." A fine clothing
store can give out coupons for neighborhood dry cleaner. An advertising firm
promotes the services of a print shop. And, of course, the dry cleaner and
print shop refer their customers back.
These are a few suggestions to help you in building your business into a
prospering dynamo. You can gather even more tips and techniques, by going to
conferences, seminars, listening to competitors, customers, neighbors,
friends. You can learn from everyone. Even if you think a technique won't
work for you, twist and turn it, see if you can put an adaptation of it to
work for you.
As time goes on, we will no doubt create new buzzwords for the sales and
marketing game. No matter what new terms and phrases we develop, bottom
line, we need to keep attracting new customers, cultivating and deepening
relationships with our existing customers and treat them all with the kind
of appreciation, consideration and integrity with which we want to be
About the Author:
Patricia Fripp is an executive speech coach, sales presentation trainer, and
keynote speaker on sales, customer service, promoting business, and
communication skills. She works with companies large and small, and
individuals from the C-Suite to the work floor. She builds leaders,
transforms sales teams and delights audiences. She is the author of Get What
You Want!, Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It!, and is a Past-President
of the National Speakers Association. To learn more about having Patricia do
her magic for you, contact her at