Consumer IQ

Anatomy of a Successful Consumer

I love tick lists and “how-to” stories as much as the next consumer advocate, but here’s the funny thing about them (and I mean “funny” in the least humorous way): You can follow them and still come up short.

I talked about some of the best practices of successful customers last week. I wanted to keep things positive again and follow one of those successful customers as they make their purchase.

I think you’ll notice a few things that set them apart.

They’re curious. Successful customers are always asking, “Why?” They’re kicking tires and inquiring about the specs, the contract, the warranty (not extended, but expected). They know that the more questions they ask the better buying decision they make. This is beyond just doing a little due diligence; it’s a constant state of curiosity, of never being able to leave well enough alone.

They compare. Savvy buyers compare products instinctively. They judge one brand or one product against another almost incessantly, both before and during their purchasing process. Ask a 10-year-old (who spends most of his time on the Web) whether he’d buy anything without first knowing about what else is available. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

They consume information. Truly successful buyers devour words and video from mainstream and social media and from blogs like these. (By the way, thanks for reading!) I’ve found they get involved by leaving comments with their own buying experiences; that’s just karma. And, for what it’s worth, they also hold bloggers like me accountable when we get it wrong -which we occasionally do.

They’re fixated on the fine print. Why? Because the companies they deal with often are, too. Everything in life comes to those who look closely and inspect before nodding yes.  They pay attention to price, read the microprint on the end-user agreements, file away every single receipt, and remember the name of the sales person they dealt with—especially on the phone or online.  (This is a good reason to archive emails instead of deleting.)

They never forget. If you work in a store and sell one of these smarties a dud, they will hold that memory for years to come.  These people are known as happy big mouths. They spend every waking moment telling anyone who will listen about the bad service they received. On the positive side, if they buy a product they like or love they will shout to the rooftops about how wonderful the experience was.

They look at more than the price. Yes, some super-successful consumers are professional coupon clippers but they know when to use one and when one is not worth even a penny. A low price (even one that’s subsidized, or whose cost is lower because the company expects to make up the loss by selling something else) can’t be the primary purpose for a purchase. Good customers look for quality, service and price – a triple threat.

Now you know how to think and act as a consumer. It’s a constant state of vigilance and the right attitude that makes ordinary consumers extraordinarily successful.

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Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions at by email.