Customer Sustainability and the Marshmallow Test
By Sergio Martin, Global Customer Support Manager (Resolutions) at IKEA
Remember the marshmallow test? This little experiment where you leave a kid in a room with a marshmallow and you tell them that if they don't eat it, you will give them another one in a few minutes, and they get to keep both. While older kids are usually able to take the deal, toddlers on the other hand shove the marshmallow into their mouth pretty much as soon as they get it. Because it's yummy and it's right there, of course.
If you think about it, you can spot much of this pattern when you look at how countries make decisions regarding climate change. Governments around the world understand by now that the costs of dealing with the consequences of climate change are brutal in every sense of the word. And yet, the benefit of acting responsibly often lies in the future; even more, it's connected to a probability, which may make it look blurry to some. However, the cost of doing the right thing, often at a higher cost compared to the alternatives, lies in the present as a clear certainty. That may be why it's often tempting for some to eat their marshmallow here and now and hope for the best; alas, maybe the Beatles were right and tomorrow actually never comes.
Now, coming to the point, if we allow ourselves to borrow this pattern you can see the same behaviour around customer experience and how companies often deal with moments of truth. It becomes especially obvious when you zoom into the messy topic of claim handling. The very short-term financials of great customer experience here are often difficult to pass through the approval hoops because they may not yield an immediate tangible benefit; after all, these customers have already purchased, right? And yet, it only takes putting ourselves in our own shoes as customers to understand how easily people turn their backs on companies that don't rise to the occasion when something goes wrong, and we need a helping hand. Not only that, but we also know how loudly customers share these painful stories in today's viral townsquares, heavily influencing consumers left and right in ways that traditional marketing cannot match. Sooner or later, this cocktail of leaking customers and the powerful effect of poor experience reviews erodes any company's strength to remain on their feet, good old Goliath style.
The moral here, not a new nor a shocking one surely, but maybe one that should be spoken louder these days, being that customers are not disposable; you need to care for them sustainably, meaning, as with every other meaningful relationship, in the good and the bad times. Most companies struggle in creating a true picture of the long-term value of satisfied customers, which can easily look blurry due to the many ramifications that are hard to track accurately. And as we know, a struggle to measure is a struggle to prioritise investment, since you cannot always prove a business case sharply.
This may be why companies who get this right often take a small leap of faith that comes from their root values of being customer centric; not just in their big walls' slogans, but also down to when it truly matters in front of a random hurting customer. Sure, here and there you'll take a financial hit and lose a battle, but you need to keep reminding yourself that you are in it for both marshmallows.