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Show customers you love them: Overcoming the happiness deficit

Show customers you love them

If you are reading this on February 14th, it’s Valentine’s Day, so here’s a Valentine-ish thing to mark the day: show customers some love.

The research organization The Henley Centre has identified something it calls a ‘happiness deficit’ among modern consumers. It says that the more affluent we have become, the more quietly frustrated we all are that increased access to consumer goods doesn’t bring an automatic increase in happiness.

“Understanding why consumers are unhappy, and helping them to bridge the gap, could be one of the biggest opportunities of the 21st century,” says The Henley Centre. Many analysts say the problem is customers (us) are alienated by service providers who treat us primarily as a source of money and rarely with real human warmth. This has prompted Yahoo’s Tim Sanders to argue that “Love is the Killer App” in his book of the same name.

Other customer commentators and analysts (including me) think there is a point in this: occasionally showing customers something economists call “the abundance mentality” instead of “the scarcity mentality” is a powerful thing to do.

Quick example of “the abundance mentality” would be if you work in a hotel coffee shop and a customer is looking distracted and maybe a little depressed, and is fumbling to find the right money to pay for their coffee. Instead of taking payment, you say with a smile “Don’t worry. You look hassled. Have that on us.” Staff at Pret a Manger (the sandwich stores) do this several times a week, particularly if a customer has had to wait too long in the server’s view. Pret founder Sinclair Beecham once explained it to me this way: “For a few free lunches a week, the goodwill it creates makes it worth it. You can make someone’s day with just a small gesture.”

Quick example of “the scarcity mentality”: Those coat hangers with no hooks at the top that you find in some hotels, expressly designed so that you won’t take them. There is an assumption of bad faith about them that comes across as mean-minded.

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