There is a popular, ininspirational phrase suggesting that people “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”When a simple handshake could make or break a deal, businesses must sweat all the “stuff”, big and small. Modern customers are wiser, tech savvy, and have the resources to research products, identify problems, and read reviews. Many businesses, on the other hand, have been reticent to adjust their policies, resulting in the loss of customers.
For a long time, businesses were impersonal with a “bottom line is always right” mentality. In essence, businesses “trick” the customer into believing one thing, when we are really selling them something significantly different. This is called the fine print, where conditions to deals are hidden in plain sight to make the deal look spectacular, but in reality are less than impressive. Business too often relied on the idea of caveat emptor, or “Let the Buyer Beware.” And, yes, not reading the fine print is technically the customer’s fault. However, while they face a temporary situation where a business hold them hostage for the duration of the contract, business who rely on fine print face a much longer sentence after the contract ends.
Sometimes fine print is a joke, like pretending to read through a 30-page End-user license agreement (EULA) or agreeing to a social media account’s terms and conditions. While these could be a great bed-time read, the fine print is also a subject of annoyance, especially with younger generations. With the growth of entrepreneurial competition, internet businesses, and ease-of-access to both reviews and almost all company policies, businesses can no longer afford to put themselves first and hide behind print smaller than a pencil tip.
Instead of bouncing from customer to customer with little penalty over misbehaviour, the internet is allowing many customers to see through less than honest practices. Instead, customer loyalty has returned as the biggest focus of modern business, as it should be. It’s been proven time and time again that an emotional connection with customers matters much more than customer satisfaction (Zorfas & Leemon, 2015; Jones, 2014; Loureiro et. al, 2012). Businesses need to embrace connecting emotionally to our consumers. Not only does an emotional connection rally our base, but it makes us lifelong customers who want our business to thrive, grow, and be enjoyed by all. Consumer Experience Insight blogger Michele McGovern urged business to prioritize building emotional connections with their customers by allowing employees to experience the product(s) sold, by listening to both the negative and positive feedback from customers and frontline employees, and by showing your personality.
Scripted transactions, corporate policies and lack of transparency in how you do business limit connections. Use social media to show customers the causes you’re passionate about. Allow front line workers to make small, relevant talk with customers. Admit when you make mistakes — and how you’ll fix them — to show customers that you’re human. (McGowan, 2015).
Our new form of business is a modern combination of the old-fashioned “customer is always right mentality” and the need for businesses to thrive. The evolution of this business model means a return to valuing contracts. Harvard Law professor Dr. Elizabeth Warren noted in her article Twelve things the world should toss out: Fine Print,
Over the past generation, the proliferation of fine print, in everything from car loans to credit card applications to television commercials, has shaken what we value about contracts. Fine print means that one party (think: a big corporation) can lay down the terms of the deal in a way that the other party (think: a customer) is unlikely to figure out. Long after the contract has been signed, the party that inserted all the fine print can do almost anything — raise prices, cut service, extend the contract — all because the fine print says so (Warren, n.d.).
Fine print devalues our relationship with the customer and, as businesses have a symbiotic relationship with their customers, we are also devalued to the point of near obsoletion. It’s not just that fine print is misleading our base, is that fine print creates an unending cycle of mistrust that is no longer relegated to just family and friends. Customers who feel swindled by small print can now influence millions of potential new customers with just a three-line negative review on Facebook, Google, Yelp, etc. If we not only employ the use of fine print and act on it, a negative review, an embarrassing video, a parody, a meme, or a PR nightmare could potentially cost businesses millions of dollars.
While fine print was common — and commonly accepted — by older generations, Millennials (people born after 1981) are not easily fooled and, if they are fooled by fine print, you can be assured they will be vocal. These tech-savvy people are not only vocal about their likes and dislikes, they also don’t necessarily want the cheapest deal. What’s that? Yes, Millennials are the first recorded generation who don’t mind paying more for both quality and sustainability (Gibbs & Hungerford, 2016). In 2015, Former Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe criticized modern businesses for being solely focused on price, noting that “retailers are living 20 years in the past but the modern consumers are really much more willing to recognize quality, sustainability, and traceability.” That means, not only does the fine print harm businesses, but it’s also almost totally useless. Millennials want transparency. It’s a necessity for business to stay relevant in the modern world. If we give our customers the straight facts, more often than not they will actually pay for the full price of what we have to offer. That means, the fine print is a dying business practice that needs to be reevaluated.
Does fine print represent your brand or company’s image and personality? Is fine print something you want your customers to think about when they think about you? Do we want to be a fine print joke? Are we still comfortable tricking our customers into deals? Elizabeth Warren is right. “If you can’t explain something in simple, straightforward terms, it shouldn’t be part of the agreement.”
Gibbs, A. & Hungerford, N. (2016, Nov. 4). Millennials willing to pay more for sustainable, better quality goods: Nestlé Chairman. From: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/04/millennials-willing-to-pay-more-for-sustainable-better-quality-goods-nestle-chairman.html
Jones, B. (2014, Sep. 23). Why Are Emotional Connections The Key To Exceptional Customer Service? From https://disneyinstitute.com/blog/2014/09/why-are-emotional-connections-the-key-to-exceptional-customer-service/299/
Loureiro, S. M. C., Ruediger, K. H., & Demetris, V. (2012). Brand emotional connection and loyalty. Journal of Brand Management, 20(1), 13-27. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233924863_Brand_Emotional_Connection_and_Loyalty
McGowen, M. (2015, Dec. 15). Building ’emotional connections’ could be the most important thing you do this year. From http://www.customerexperienceinsight.com/building-emotional-connections-customers/
Warren, E. (n.d.) Twelve things the world should toss out: Fine Print. From http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/opinions/outlook/spring-cleaning/fine-print.html
Zorfas, A. & Leemon, D. (2016, Aug. 29). An Emotional Connection Matters More than Customer Satisfaction. From https://hbr.org/2016/08/an-emotional-connection-matters-more-than-customer-satisfaction