Consumers’ behaviours are based on their attitudes. Text books use words like ‘beliefs’, ‘values’ and ‘attitudes’ but these are unnecessarily complex semantics for our purposes. The bottom line is that customers’ judgements about how to behave with organisations are based on what they think about them and these attitudes are based mainly on their direct experience with the organisation – ‘the deliveries were often late from that company in the past so there’s a strong possibility they won’t meet their delivery promise if I order again’. Secondly they’re based on what other people say – ‘my colleague at the trade association told me how their production schedules were disrupted by a late delivery from company X’. Thirdly, but only thirdly, they can be affected by what the supplier says – ‘the latest newsletter from company X suggests that their ‘delivered on time’ stats have gone up a lot, and customer satisfaction’s improved too’.
In competitive markets very few perform badly enough to dissatisfy a significant proportion of their consumer base over a long period of time. They’d be dead if they did. That may be progress compared with a couple of decades ago, but customers’ expectations have also risen since then. In most markets suppliers need to do much more than not dissatisfy customers if they want to maximise the benefits of consumer satisfaction. The zone of indifference just isn’t good enough. Why would customers in the zone of indifference stay with a supplier other than through inertia? Why would they buy an additional product or service or recommend the business? They wouldn’t. These days most people think they can do better than ‘OK’, ‘average’ or ‘good enough’. To keep customers, suppliers have to deliver such great results that rational consumers will conclude that it would be difficult to do better elsewhere. After that you can start to form emotional bonds with loyal customers that stop them even looking elsewhere, but most organisations don’t have an adequate understanding of how consumers make these judgements.
Fundamentally there are two key aspects of ‘understanding consumers’ that organisations need to master: