• December 1, 2014
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Age of Entitled Consumers

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A new phrase has recently made its way into the CRM lexicon: the entitled customer. I've got mixed feelings about this, and I'm not even sure the picture in my mind is the one intended by whomever coined it. You, dear reader, get to ride along in my head while my internal monologue works it out.

As far as I can tell, Richard White, CEO of UserVoice, named this the era of the entitled customer in a guest blog for ZDNet. It was, he said, the end product of the social media revolution, where consumers found their collective voice and took control of their relationships with businesses. They demanded excellent, transformative customer experiences and got them. Now they feel entitled to them.

As you may know, I am firmly on the side of the customer when it comes to business interactions. Customers shouldn't be surprised when they receive good service; they should expect it. After all, we're the ones who are paying. As with anything else, though, it's possible to go too far.

A sense of entitlement can lead to an attitude of jerkishness. This is not the word I'd actually use, but this is a family magazine. People who feel they are the center of the universe tend to behave poorly when anything challenges that view. We've all seen this happen in a service environment when such customers can't seem to forgive a small mistake. A patron at a diner I was at screamed shrilly for the manager—at top volume, as though she was being murdered—because one added item in an omelet was wrong, and she didn't feel she should pay for anything because of that. The waitress was mortified, the manager came running over, and all the other patrons wanted to drag the woman out and beat her with sticks. At least then she would have had something to scream about.

Such incidents aside, businesses' attempts to meet these entitled customers' demands have driven advances in technology and in the art of customer engagement. Every year, one or two companies make headlines about how they found a new way to deliver customer delight. Apple designs its packaging to enhance the buying/opening experience. Zappos continues to bend over backward to make online shoe shopping joyous and pain-free. Amazon is deploying flying robots to get goods to customers right frickin' now. These are just a few of the better-known examples. We're living in the Shangri-la of consumerism.

This has a bad side as well. Consumer culture is changing our behavior for the worse, and possibly destroying the planet in the bargain. We have ceased to be happy for any length of time with what we have, because we're already expecting next year's model to be better—and we'll throw out the old thing to buy the new without a second thought. The saddest day in a smartphone's life is the day a new version is announced. People who were still getting used to the iPhone 5 wrote it off as soon as the iPhone 6 hit stores. (In case you're wondering, I'm still happy with my iPhone 3GS.) Some folks get a new car every year, and since so few people still smoke, you know it's not because the ashtrays are full.

We treat durable goods as though they were disposable. All the raw materials needed to make these things have to come from somewhere, and not every item has a future on the secondhand market. The amount of waste is enormous, compounded by the pollution created by manufacturing processes running overtime. Developing nations try to live up to this absurd and wasteful standard of living as well, and compound the problem. We're killing ourselves with excess, but at least we can be buried like pharaohs, surrounded by our worldly possessions.

The age of the entitled customer has done us all some good. We should think twice, though, about feeling entitled. Slow down, enjoy what you have, and remember that the workers who provide it to you are real people too.

Marshall Lager knows you demand premier service, so Third Idea Consulting is always here for you. Put him through his paces at www.3rd-idea.com, or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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