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Monday, July 18, 2011

Embrace, don't alienate your largest potential market!

If you were trying to land the largest account in the history of your business would you insult them?  Would you irritate or alienate the prospective customer with the largest buying power you can find?  Let’s put it another way.  If you were single and met the potential mate of your dreams would you do everything in your power to make sure you came across as obnoxious and more interested in yourself than you were in them?

While I hope you wouldn’t intentionally answer “yes” to any of those questions, the fact is that many businesses today do answer with a resounding yes by the way they present themselves to potential customers.

In my last post I pointed out that the baby boomer generation was the largest potential customer base for most businesses.  Yet for some reason most (not some, but most) businesses do a great job of alienating them.  In fact, without even knowing it the message most businesses send to baby boomers is that they really don’t want their business.

Now as a business owner, manager, service or salesperson this may surprise you.  But the fact is that it’s true.  The reasons are really quite obvious, but like so many things sometimes we’re too close to it to see it so we need someone else to point it out to us.

As we age things change.  And some of the things that change are our physical abilities.  For some it will mean significant changes that cause them to have special health needs.  For others it will just be the normal changes of aging that we encounter.  And these changes affect the way people buy both for themselves and for their businesses.

I’ve had excellent vision all my life.  Doctors were always amazed at how well I could see.  But as I’ve aged that’s begun to change.  I started wearing reading glasses.  I’m lucky because I only need the readers you buy at the local pharmacy, but many people need prescription glasses and have much more significant vision changes than I do.  However, I have found that both the size of print and color contrast of print to background greatly affects my ability to easily read things anymore.  I need a little more light than I used to when I read.  I find myself absolutely rejecting packaging, literature, websites, and anything else that don’t have large enough print or good contrast in their colors. 

For some reason the people who design these things don’t seem to understand they will lose me as a customer if they don’t make it comfortable and easy for me to read their packaging, websites, etc.  For example, the idea that a light colored background with light or medium colored print may be cute to some young people, but to older people it’s almost impossible to read some of it.  I’ll choose to do business with people who make it easy for me.  It is up to a business to make it as easy as possible for their customer to do business with them.  If you don’t, you will lose them.  Making things hard to see makes older customers take their business elsewhere.

Using this vision example, let me say that I’ve become so sensitive to this that I found myself doing research on it for my own website.  I learned that ophthalmologists have studied this issue and found that a dark background with light print in a good size simple font is the easiest to read.  Studies have found that black backgrounds with yellow or white print are the easiest, yellow usually being the preferred color for print.  When I learned this I tested it myself by changing the settings on my computer so everything came up in a high contrast mode.   I do a lot of reading on my computer and what amazed me was after I used my computer like this for a little while I found that I didn’t have near the amount of eye fatigue from reading.  I then changed my website and have gotten many, many positive comments from people about how much easier it is to read.

The point of all this is simple.  You have to make your business is user-friendly.  This means that communications need to be easy to use or customers will go somewhere that they can get user-friendly service.  One of the simplest things a business can do is to change things that customers have to read to be more user-friendly.  You don’t have to use a reverse color combination like I choose to do with dark background and light print, especially on literature and packaging.  But you can make sure that the contrast of your print is significant making sure it's dark on a light background and that fonts are a simple style and large enough to be easily readable.  Using a light colored background other than white can help take away some of the glare that older eyes find fatiguing to look at.  

If you own a retail business or office where customers come to see you you should make sure things are easy to navigate in your business.  If it is hard to find something or get help, then you will alienate customers.  Dark areas make it hard for people to feel comfortable and find things.  The amount of light that a younger person finds acceptable is often far from useful to an older customer. 

In recent years the big box stores have become popular.  The high ceilings with high shelves have caused a change in the way lighting works in those stores.  Companies often think that they are lighting the store just fine, but for some customers the added shadows make it very hard to read package labels and find products.  As a consultant I’m amazed how many times I find businesses that have lighting that they don’t realize makes it hard for their customers to see things well. 

If you do business by phone, are you customer-friendly?  When people call do they have to talk to a computer or a person?  If you have to use an automated system does the person at least have the option of inputting their answers via the buttons on the phone handset instead of just speaking to the computer?  The reason this is important is that most systems that you talk to rarely understand what is being said the majority of the time.  As the customer gets frustrated just trying to get some help their irritation rises.  What may have been a person with a simple question becomes an irritated customer.  What was a customer with a concern they wanted to voice becomes an angry and frustrated customer.  The additional costs to your business are tremendous when that person now has to be dealt with at much greater length because of their frustrations with your phone system.  The money you think you are saving by automating your system are often more than lost by the increased costs you incur when your staff has to spend even more time trying to deal with an upset customer.  Add to that the fact that the customer will, as a result of this frustration, often look to do business elsewhere.  The older customer often has less patience with these things than the young customer.  And I’m not talking about geriatric customers here, I’m talking about middle-aged customers. 

Remember that nothing replaces the personal, human-to-human touch in business.  I believe that one of these days someone is going to start doing studies to determine the impact of these automated phone systems on customer satisfaction and I believe businesses are in for a rude awakening.  Many will find that the customer goodwill they lose far outweighs the cost savings of these systems.  And the worst part is that the customers who react the most negatively to these systems are older customers, the ones with the most money to spend, your largest potential market.

When you do things to cater to the baby boomer generation you are catering to the largest potential market available to your business.  You are opening the door to the people with the most money of any group of potential customers your business has.  This is a simple way to increase your market potential and help your business.