Your Customers Will Notice, and They Will Speak Up

by Ken Mueller on May 15, 2012 · 5 comments

Your Customers Will Notice and Speak UPWhen we moved to our current neighborhood about three years ago, our daily walk route took us by a house on a corner that stood out. The very large house had a “For Sale” sign out front, but the yard also prominently featured a large cement lion statue. The first time we walked by, Shadow looked at it rather curiously. When it didn’t move or make a sound, he lost interest. I took a picture of it, and was always fascinated by the lion in front of the vacant house.

Fast forward to 2012. Just last month a “Sold” sign went up in front of the house. Shortly after that, the lion disappeared. I was shocked, because while it wasn’t in the best of condition, it added character to the place. I kept thinking that if I was the one who had bought the house, I would have not only kept the lion, but would have tried to clean it up a bit.

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t the only one who noticed the missing feline. A few days later, a sign appeared on the gate near where the lion had stood:

Big Lion R.I.P.

And in the days that followed, people began to place flowers, real and plastic, and other objects, to show that they missed the lion. The place where the lion once stood has become a shrine, similar to what you see family members and friends erect on a road side where someone has lost their life in an accident.

 Lion Shrine

Yes, the shrine to the lion, complete with a “guardian angel” candle, is a bit silly. But obviously people have noticed, and some are upset by the change. They miss the lion, and they’ve spoken up.

Remember New Coke? Customers noticed, and they spoke up. Businesses have changed their logo, or updated/dropped a mascot, and people have noticed.

In a world dominated by smartphones and social media, people are noticing the things you do in real time, and they are reacting in real time. This doesn’t mean that you should operate in a culture of fear. But you do need to recognize that more than ever, your customers are an integral part of your brand. Many of them have a vested interest in what you do and how you do it. And whether this interest is real or perceived, you need to be ready.

Crowdsourcing can be a tricky thing, and  it certainly is an imperfect part of the equation, but you do need to listen.

Now I’m not suggesting that the new owners of the house around the corner should have polled the neighbors to see how they felt about the lion. That would have been just as silly as the shrine that has appeared. But, they might never have had a clue that some folks felt rather attached to the thing. In the same way, new management of a business, particularly if they are brought in from outside, might act and make changes out of ignorance. It happens.

Keep your eyes and ears open. Social media is an incredible resource for taking the pulse of your customers, both actively and passively. And understand how connected some people are to your brand. After all, that’s what we’re after, right? We want customers who are so loyal that they feel a sense of ownership in what we do. These are the people who will talk about you and tell others how wonderful you are. I would bet that those people who placed signs, flowers, and candles along the fence where the lion once stood, also pointed the lion out to their friends when they drove by:

Look! There’s the lion! Did you see it??

It was something that “belonged” to them, and they were eager to share it with others.

Just understand that that same sense of connectedness and ownership means that they will also tell you what they think. When you make changes and surprise them, they will notice, and they will speak up. Having strong brand ambassadors is a double edged sword.

We need to be ready to not only equip and tap into the power of word of mouth with our customers, but to also to listen to them. They may not be financial shareholders in your business, but they are shareholders with perhaps a more important form of equity.

*Note: since writing this post I’ve learned that the previous owner of the house took the lion with him.

How are you communicating change with your customers? Is there a constant flow of dialogue that you can tap into?


From this story , I am reminded that it is best not to jump to conclusions about anyone else's motivations in bringing about change...what is more important is how we react to it-positively ..or negatively..


What you say about new management making changes is particularly interesting to me. Have you ever been a part of a group where new management made changes based on ignorance? How did/would you advise them to see the error of their ways? 

KenMueller moderator

 @Anthony_Rodriguez This is a tough one, and certainly has to be done on a case by case basis. I think the general thing I see is that when someone new comes in, either as a new owner, or new executive, there is this rush to put their fingerprint on things. Rarely do they come in and say, "Gee, things are working well, let's leave them alone". I think there are certainly cases where change needs to happen, and happen fast, but I would advise managers to not rush to judgement, especially when brought in form outside rather than being elevated internally. Take some time to get to know ALL the employees. Get to know how things work and WHY things are done the way they are. 


I think once you decide you need to make changes, you need to communicate that clearly, both internally and externally. Many internal changes might not have an impact on the external customer base, so you might not always have to communicate that, but if a change is going to affect the customers in some way, you need to let them know. Case in point: Netflix. They didn't communicate their changes until after they made them, and it backfired.


I have one client, a restaurant, where I was brought on about a year after they changed ownership. For me, the changes they have made, in customer service and menu, etc, have all been positive. But they have had to make their mark because there are those who grumble, "It's not as good as when so and so owned it." And it's less about the changes they made, and more about loyalty to the previous owners. Most people wouldn't notice a huge difference, but there are loyalists who will complain. No matter what. You have to be ready for that, and this client has done a good job of holding their ground and working toward building their customer base. 


 @KenMueller This is great! From my experience, the rush to change is very political in nature. More or less the message was, "Your predecessor did it this way and we didn't like it." So changes were made to placate certain individuals with political power.


But the changes went too far and dismantled much more that was necessary. Now the parts that directly involved external communications are gone completely or a shell of what they used to be. It's sad really how just a few people can fundamentally change the nature of an organization.


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