A few years ago, P&G had a very compelling advertising campaign that had people talking about a lot more than just soaps, detergents, and shampoos. It was a series of commercials that were focused on the phrase, “like a girl.” I was reminded of that successful cultural awareness effort when I was recently in a supermarket doing the weekly grocery shopping. I happen to live within a few miles of a university and many of the students shop in the same stores that I frequent. During one recent shopping trip, I was able to overhear two young men engaged in an animated conversations about their experiences with a dating app. Neither spoke favorably about their experience, but their dissatisfaction was not with the technology at all; it was with the “girls.”
Being curious, I continued to eavesdrop as they chose which beer and potato chips they were purchasing for a get-together with friends in the near future. My confusion at their frustration was because I was hearing the word they were using, but could not see the “air quotes” they were using each time they uttered, “girls.” When I finally saw their hand gestures (I apparently was staring and they saw me staring at them), they looked at me and disdainfully said, “guys in real life.” Then, it all connected for me. They were on a dating site where men were posing as women and then sending photos and sending text messages or emails and for whatever their reasons, leading on these two college-aged men into thinking they were interacting with a female.
While they were focused on their social life and the dimming possibilities for a date in the near future, I interpreted the situation from a different perspective (one I kept to myself and did not share with them. I know my audience!).
As business people, we recognize the importance of marketing our businesses. Some of us spend endless hours refining our messaging, tinkering with website nuances, or looking for the perfect logo or company name. Others spend countless amounts of money on pay per click advertising, search engine optimization (SEO), and targeting of prospects to sell our products and services. We design how we appear to the market and based on what we want the prospect to believe about our company or about us personally.
In a separate silo or function of how we present ourselves to the market, we conduct business with existing customers. We engage in transactions, provide customer service, fulfill orders, etc. We “do” the business. Decisions are often made that result in actions that leave the customer feeling duped. The company markets itself one way, but the reality is inconsistent with the actual customer experience.
There is a strong likelihood that everyone reading this believes they are customer-focused and includes that phrase or one similar to it in proposals, marketing collateral, or in conversations with others. However; when was the last time an objective and honest look at the customer experience was undertaken. For instance:
- Have you called into your own company/gone to your website and tried to order something?
- Do you regularly “staple yourself” to a return request and see how easy or difficult it is to process for the customer?
- When was the last time you asked customers, “How easy is it to do business with us?” Or, “What could we improve upon?”
The answers may surprise you. While you are likely being unintentional and are not purposely misleading prospects about your business, your existing customers may not view it as you do. Further, your former customers may also have a strong opinion about why they left the business. While not always convenient or easy to do – asking former customers for an honest assessment of what they expected or anticipated when working with you and how well you did on those factors, and why they chose to leave is a treasure trough of insight.
Just like those college-aged men bemoaning their dashed hopes for love, who thought and believed certain things about the person(s) they were texting and exchanging messages with and had built up expectations about the likelihood for future experiences; your prospects are being led to believe certain things about your company based on how you market yourself. When the reality is far different than the expectation once they are a customer, it leads to complaints, anger, frustration, and ultimately unfulfilled promises.
Those college-aged men may not see the connection (or care) about how their experience will be replicated once they are in business, but as business professionals, we had better take note and care to make sure that we are not parading as wolves in sheep’s clothing, or in this case, “guys in real life.”