Share.Like.Buy 2016: Why I Hate ‘Customers’ (and ‘Consumers’ Even More)!

Posted by: Mark Mears

I DO hate ‘Customers’ – and the truth is I actually hate ‘Consumers’ even more!

Wow, that seems very odd that a Chief Marketing Officer would ever say that sentiment, right? In fact, in my role as steward of the brand and champion of the consumer, I am supposed to LOVE our customers and advocate on their behalf. Well, I am – it’s just that I believe very passionately that Words Matter.

As such, I don’t care for the term, Customer as that sounds like merely a faceless, nameless transaction. And the term Consumer feels even more distant and somewhat dismissive. Rather, I prefer the term, Guest, which is certainly much more evocative when you consider that as a Restaurant marketer, I believe we’re in the Hospitality business (not the Restaurant or Foodservice business).

Simply Put . . . We Serve ‘Guests’!

Can you see the differences between these words? A Guest conjures up an image of a real live human being with a name, a personality, specific needs, wants and desires along with very real feelings. Have you ever hosted a Dinner Party? If so, I’m sure you invited Guests – not Customers or Consumers – into your home and treated them in a welcoming, personal and attentive manner. If the Golden Rule is to treat others the way you would like to be treated, then this is merely a relevant corollary.

Not only is Guest Hospitality (vs. Service) an important recipe for success in our increasingly competitive industry, it takes into account some of the key characteristics that drive our Millennial Parent target audience – what I sum up as a sense of ‘For ME-ness. No, this is not related to the ‘ME’ Generation of the 1980’s, which was based upon narcissism, greed and power. Rather, the ‘For ME mentality I refer to — that we find so prevalent in today’s Millennial-focused world — is founded upon four key tenets based upon the appropriate balance of hi-tech (digitization) and hi-touch (humanity):

  • Personalization – Get to KNOW Me (I’m still a ‘Human Being’ not a collection of “1’s & 0’s”)
  • Customization – Make it FOR Me (I have specific Taste, Dietary, Health or Medical preferences)
  • Self-Expression – Let me BE Me (I’m very Social and I ‘Like’ to ‘Share’ my Life Experiences)
  • Connection – CONNECT WITH Me (and Let Me CONNECT WITH You to help make us both Better)

Along this same line of thinking, another word I do not care for is the term, Loyalty. Again, who wouldn’t want a Guest to develop Loyalty toward your Brand? That can’t be a bad thing, right? Well, on the surface it isn’t; however, if you ‘peel back the onion’ a bit, you might find the term could be a bit misleading as I can think of a few Brands I am loyal to out of pure habit – not based upon any remarkable experience I might have had, a special emotional connection I might feel, or a sense of duty to serve as a personal advocate on their behalf.

To that point, I prefer the term, Engagement – you see, when a Guest is engaged with a Brand, it’s because there is an emotionally evocative, two-way, interactive relationship formed as opposed to one that is merely habitual, one-way, top-down and transaction-based. I recommend that restaurants develop a Guest Engagement program as opposed to a Loyalty program – one that is founded upon a ‘360 degree’ view of our Guest based upon their specific preferences, actual purchase history and a weighting of several Guest Engagement factors (e.g., social media interactions, peer influence and survey/feedback responses); all designed to recognize and reward the behaviors that will foster a deeper, more emotionally connected RELATIONSHIP between a Millennial Parent target and a unique and differentiated Brand/Value Proposition.

There is no mention of Customer or Consumer – nor should there be because after all, words really DO matter as they lead to not only intentions, but more importantly, actions.

As we all know . . . Actions Speak (even) Louder than Words!

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About Mark Mears

For 30+ years, Mark has led brand strategy and guest experience innovation for America’s leading restaurant & food service organizations. Prior to Slim Chickens, he served as CMO for Noodles & Company, CMO for Schlotzsky’s,...See Mark's full bio.