As a marketer, my regular professional activities have often brought encounters with customers that clearly portray the need to, at least, ‘teach’ some aspects of new behaviours to them. I tend to mix what comes into play here with consumer behavior, a concept which comes the way of most marketers. Please assist me in unraveling this confusion, and proffer some hints on how customers could be influenced for more positive response – Samson A. Onyekwelu
Customer behavior should be regarded (using a mathematical term) as a subset of consumer behaviour. The slight distinction here is reflective of somebody becoming a customer, in a bid to purchase a product or service, while patronizing a ‘seller’. This has bearing on payment being made or the subject being tagged a ‘buyer’. The consumer, on another hand, could be a direct patron of what is being offered, and also a part of the larger group of all who benefit from the commodity on offer. This can be exemplified by a situation where the father (or head of a household) pays for electric power consumed in his home, as others in the same household benefit from the power supply. In the reckoning of the related electric power distribution company, the man is its customer (or ratepayer), while the wife, children (who comprise the first group to ‘scream’ when any outage occurs), other relatives, visitors, etc, all make up the consumers.
By virtue of being a direct beneficiary of what has been purchased, the customer most times ‘wears two coats’ – Those of both the customer and consumer. To avoid further mix up, just note that customer behaviour, when being considered for whatever purpose, certainly has the customer (as a person) right in the middle of it. His or her roles as user, payer and buyer occupy centre stage in this regard. Even where the focus of all forms of relationship marketing is on consumer retention, aside having customer behaviour analysis as a platform, re-affirmation of the importance of the customer or buyer is key.
On the other hand, consumer behaviour should be taken to depict ‘having a closer look’ at persons, groups, or organisations and the processes which they apply, in selecting, securing, and disposal of products, services, ideas, or even experiences, to suit needs and the impacts which these processes have on the consumer and the society at large. In other words, you can view consumer behavior as the selection, purchase and consumption of goods and services for the satisfaction of consumer wants.
This provides the ground for many to regard the various processes of typical consumer behaviour as not deviating from: (a) The consumer making out the commodities or services he or she would prefer for consumption; (b) the selection of only those commodities or services that promise more appreciable utility; (c) after selection from what is being offered, the consumer makes a reckoning of the available amount of money that can be spent; (d) he or she proceeds to analyze the prevailing prices of commodities or services; (e) and then finally takes whatever decision about the commodities that should be consumed. This is why consumer buying behaviour is often referred to as “the buying behaviour of the ultimate consumer”.
Having taken some time to convey the ‘thin line’ between these two concepts, it is still not out of place to use both interchangeably in the course of this write-up. I do not hesitate to commend this marketer and state one’s perception of him as being quite different from so many around. Having interest in devoting time to teaching customers is somewhat out of this world, going by what obtains in Nigeria – Where it is less common for marketers to help consumers learn and initiate their own behavioural change. My question at several related seminars has often been, “how can you influence new ways of behaviour on the part of customers, if you don’t teach them new things?”
In trying to rationalize why customers should be taught, it must be emphasized that with innovation being the ‘in-thing’ these days, companies need to master managing customers’ behaviours (which include putting customers through new things) if the adoption of any innovation is to be accelerated and revenue objectives met subsequently. New products and services are proliferating; there is customers’ ease in learning their benefits and applications quickly, along with finding out that related devices actually work; and in sharing such knowledge with others (prospective customers). These are what any good marketer must not overlook. I am aware that many companies pay attention to customer engagement in their innovation, but few actively teach customers to innovate their behaviours.
This is why I urge marketers to teach their customers, and determine various ways of advancing customers’ learning. Where this is taken for granted, these marketers risk the fading away of their products or services. Consumers can and must be taught, through methods of teaching that are thorough, fast and effective. Remember that the benefits of the technology-enabled products, services and processes (which abound these days) are apparent to customers. These are sufficient ‘spur on’ for them to ditch previous behaviours and learn new ones. Customer behaviours indeed should change in consonance with product, service or process innovation.
Before getting into hints about how customers could be influenced, taking a look at these factors of consumer behaviour would not be out of place. (To be continued).