Keeping Up with the Vigilante Consumer


By Patricia Fripp

Some facts:

• If you increase customer retention by just 5 percent, your profits will increase 100 percent.

• U.S. population growth is projected to be only 1.1 percent in the next 20 years.

• Disposable income in the U.S. is growing only 2 percent every year.

• U.S. businesses will invest more than $1 billion this year on computer technology – just for customer service departments.

These interesting bits of information basically mean that the number of customers is dwindling. This is why customer service is today’s competitive advantage. If we don’t have masses of potential customers, we better keep the ones we do have happy – even ecstatic.

What is a vigilante consumer anyway?

First, a little historical perspective. Conventional marketing wisdom always urged us to sell either to the classes or the masses. If you’re selling $100,000 cars, you appeal to the classes – and if you you’re selling Hyundais, you appeal to the masses. That’s simple enough.

But then came retailers such as Wal-Mart, who are known for good buys, and whose hallmark is superb customer service. Wal-Mart gave the masses appreciation and recognition. “Now the masses know class,” said futurist Faith Popcorn, who also coined the term “vigilante” consumer. The vigilante consumers are not as dangerous as they sound. They just want value, service, convenience, choice and lots of attention.

Don’t think of all this as bad news – quite the contrary. This is a great time to be alive and in business. Armed with the facts, drive and an open mind, we can begin planning strategies that will bring us challenge, fun and ... profit.

Don’t overlook opportunities close to home

In your role as an unrelenting self-promoter, start off in your own backyard. How many people in your retail area know you and what your business is all about? Introduce yourself to the neighboring business owners, letting everyone in the immediate vicinity know who you are and what superb products and services you offer. Mention how you do things differently than your competitors and that you’re right there, just minutes from their doorsteps.

What can you do to make your vigilante consumers feel special and appreciated?

We know now that great customer service is no longer good enough. We have to exceed the vigilante consumers’ expectations. One individual knew this way before the rest of us caught on. Gary Richter runs a small boutique bank in Naples, Fla. He tells about a situation at his bank that speaks volumes about his bank’s position on customer service. At 5:20 p.m. one Friday afternoon, the bank received a call from an elderly woman who needed to cash a $200 check. The bank closed at 5:30 and she was 20 minutes away. Many of us would say, “Of course, please come over, we’ll stay open for you.” But Richter’s bank believes in giving exceptional service, so they told the woman that one of their employees would bring her $200 on his way home and that he would pick up her endorsed check.

As it turned out, the woman had her extensive financial holdings at a large national bank, and after her positive experience with Richter’s bank, she moved all her assets and investments to his bank.

Today, Richter’s bank continues to focus on superior customer service. “I tell my employees, if we roll out the red carpet for a billionaire, they won’t even notice. If we roll it out for millionaires, they expect it. If we roll out the red carpet for thousandaires, they appreciate it. And if we roll out the red carpet for hundredaires, they tell everybody they know.” And you can take that to the bank. In six years since the bank opened, it has grown from 16 employees to 180; and they’ve grown from $6 million to $330 million.

Build relationships with your customers

There are really only two types of customers: those who know and love you, and those who never heard of you. All businesses spend relative fortunes trying to get new customers, and that will always remain important. But don’t spend the entire fortune on just attracting new customers. Spend some of those dollars keeping in touch with existing customers because you want to keep them.

One of the goals in growing your business should be that the same person you sold to today will still be spending money with you 10 years from now. So don’t celebrate the close of a sale. Celebrate the beginning of a long relationship. People want to do business with people who appreciate them and look out for them.

Seek strategic alliances

Strategic alliance is a relatively new term for something that has been practiced for years – developing “professional friends.” A fine clothing store can give out coupons for a neighborhood dry cleaner. An advertising firm promotes the services of a print shop. And, of course, the dry cleaner and print shop refer their customers back.

These are a few suggestions to help you in building your business into a prospering dynamo. You can gather even more tips and techniques by going to conferences and seminars, and listening to competitors, customers, neighbors and friends. You can learn from everyone. Even if you think a technique won’t work for you, twist and turn it, see if you can put an adaptation of it to work for you.

As time goes on, we will no doubt create new buzzwords for the sales and marketing game. No matter what new terms and phrases we develop, the bottom line is: we need to keep attracting new customers, cultivating and deepening relationships with our existing customers, and treating them all with the kind of appreciation, consideration and integrity with which we want to be treated.

Patricia Fripp is an executive speech coach, sales presentation trainer, and keynote speaker on sales, customer service, promoting business and communication skills. She works with companies large and small, and individuals from the C-Suite to the work floor. She builds leaders, transforms sales teams and delights audiences. Fripp is the author of “Get What You Want!, Make It, So You Don’t Have to Fake It!,” and is a past president of the National Speakers Association. To learn more about having Fripp do her magic for you, contact her at, 415.753.6556, or


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