As a customer, you can tell when a business begins to think of you as a commodity. All of a sudden, you are in and out - less talk, less transaction time. What does this mean? What should you do?
A friend of mine told me of a favorite vacation spot that his family had visited many times over the years. He had become friends with the owners. During his last visit, he noticed the customer service just wasn't what it had been in the past. He felt rushed and neglected. When he expressed his concern, the response was, "You've been here before. It's not like this is something new to you."
When loyal customers begin to have this experience, it means the business has entered a transition point. We know this because what we are doing is getting harder, or our results are not what they were. A transition point can be good or problematic. It can have internal or external reasons. Whatever it is, you must understand it and act. Whether, it marks a decline or new opportunities, you must act.
The choice is not between changing or not changing. The only choice is what kind of changes do I make?
Change is necessary to sustain the loyalty and good will that long term customers have for a business.
When your customers become commodities, as a number lacking any history or distinctive relationship to the company, just the next transaction, you have determined a new course for your business.
You may think that this is a rational business decision. It is also a decision to change the value structure of your business.
Long term customers don't bring their business to you because you have the lowest prices, unless that is your business. They come because you stand for something that is validated every time they encounter you. It doesn't really matter what those values are. It does matter that you know what they are, and that they matter to you.
Losing loyal customers marks a transition point. It is a change that matters. What are the implications?
In the past, you may have been able to charge a premium for your services because of your relationship to the customer adds value to the produce or service. Now, you are transitioning into the commodity business. You have to lower your fees to find customers. And those customers are not like your loyal ones. They are only interested in price and availability.
This is what happens at transition points. We make some seemingly innocent, rational decision, and do not see the unintended consequences.
Dealing with change is rarely rational and orderly. It is disruptive and disorienting. We have to learn how to see the tell-tale signs of transition and act to either reverse the trend or capitalize on it.
For my friend, he may return to this vacation spot one more time, giving his owner friend a second chance to show that he values his friendship and loyalty over the years. He'll go with a critical eye to see how he is treated. And there if has been no improvement, he may just move on to a new vacation spot next year.
No one wants to be treated as a commodity.