Become Your Customer’s Friend

By Jon Cohen

Your customers are not your enemies.

This goes without saying, and yet companies often maintain an adversarial relationship with the people they serve, where the objective is to “win” by getting a customer to buy more, pay more, or accept less. Anybody who’s ever bought a car on a dealer lot has felt the pains of a competitive business transaction that didn’t need to be. But what about the restaurant that designs its menu to steer you towards the most profitable, but not necessarily best, menu options? Or the airline that takes away a small perk – a snack or a pillow – and then wants to sell it back to you? Or the online merchant that pre-selects upsell options that you have to manually unclick, if you even notice them before you click the “pay now” button?

Businesses are the beneficiaries of asymmetric information – only they know the true cost to offer a product or service, and they can create offerings or set prices from that privileged position.

Consumers might open their wallets in that moment, but not without a grumble. The marketers at headquarters will give high-fives as the sales charts tick upward that quarter, no doubt evidence of the efficacy of the scheme. But consumers have long memories, and other options.

Your brand is at stake. Your consumers should feel like your success depends on serving their best interests. The moment consumers get the sense that you’re trying to outwit them, they will treat you like an adversary – because that’s what you’ve shown them you are.

Your customers deserve to be treated like friends, like people whose happiness you care deeply about. And that feeling should be true.