21 Dec 2012

Don’t Treat Your Customers Like Idiots

respect your customers

I shouldn’t need to say this to anyone, but some stories in the news recently make me think that not enough business people understand the concept of respecting their customers. It’s an idea they’d better learn fast, because if they don’t, they’ll find themselves out of business and wondering what happened.

This point forced itself on me earlier this week when I wrote an article on SEO Chat about Instagram’s privacy policy changes. To be honest, I covered the changes themselves less than I covered the way Instagram instituted them – and was forced to backtrack in the face of Internet outrage. In short, Instagram pulled a Facebook…and the fact that you know exactly what I mean by that tells you WHY you should respect your customers and not treat them like idiots. Sure, lots of people use Facebook, but nobody trusts them. The service is free; would you use it if you had to pay for it? I wouldn’t – and if you’re selling something, you don’t want to cultivate this attitude among your potential customers.

There are plenty of ways to show your customers that you respect them. I could probably fill a book with them. Here are a few to get you started:

Don’t Condescend

When Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wrote a blog post acknowledging the ruckus about the changes to Instagram’s terms of service, one rather unnecessary sentence stood out: “Legal documents are easy to misinterpret.” It was as if he’d just said the fault wasn’t with his company, but with some crazy thing his customers imagined.

Yes, it’s true that legal documents are easy to misinterpret. How about acknowledging that it’s not crazy for your customer to interpret them the wrong way? Perhaps Systrom could have admitted that his company presented these changes very poorly, leaving them open to multiple interpretations. Customers tend to be more generous with companies that accept the blame – as long as they’re willing to make good on the issue.

Be Up Front About Changes

Customers and users usually don’t like change. That may be why so many companies try to sneak it past them. That’s a mistake. As much as customers don’t like change, they hate being treated like dupes. And that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you try to hide any change or unpleasant information from them.

I’m convinced that is part of the reason Instagram got slammed so hard for the changes they made. When the photo-sharing site did its initial blog post about the policy changes, it was almost dismissive. Less than 200 words long, it mostly tried to reassure readers that nothing had changed. I don’t know about you, but any time a big company tries to reassure me, it instantly raises my hackles.

Don’t hide essential information from your customers, and remember that any changes you make might be considered essential. Try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about what YOU’D want to know. The more information you give them, the more reasons you give them to trust you.

You Have More Competition Than You Think

Okay, Facebook seems to get away with a lot because it dominates its niche. The same could be said for Google. One might even say the same thing about Comcast. Chances are, you don’t cast as long of a shadow on your field as they do. But I have news for you: THEY aren’t even as dominant as they appear.

I like to use Comcast as an example of the company that everyone hates, yet lots of people still use. Everyone watches cable TV, and there’s nothing like having a local monopoly to keep you going, right? Well, Comcast lost nearly 400,000 cable TV subscribers in the last year. Where did they go? Some of them went to Hulu; others probably watch more DVDs now, either purchased or rented. And some people may have just pulled the plug on TV altogether. For some people, going without TV is far better than dealing with the kind of horrible customer service they’ve received from Comcast!

My point is, if you don’t respect your customers, they will find an alternative to what you’re offering, even if you’re the dominant force in your field. After all, your customers aren’t idiots. So don’t treat them like they are!