Entitled Consumers Need Your Empathy

The comedian Louis CK used to tell the story of an airplane passenger next to him, who was angry to find that the brand new high-speed internet on his plane wasn’t working: “I mean, how quickly does the world owe him something that he knew existed only 10 seconds ago?"

That was 2008. It’s worse now. That same passenger would likely expect free on-demand movies, in-flight texting and customized food service.

Richard White calls this type of person an “entitled consumer.” He defined this era of consumer entitlement as: “Customers’ voices, amplified by social media, now best even the cleverest of marketing. Combine that with a massive surge towards subscription and freemium models, increasing saturation of digital marketing channels, increased competition and decreasing customer loyalty, and you have the recipe for an era where users, not brands, wield unprecedented power.”

Marketers contend with power-wielding consumers everywhere they turn. There are the “deletists,” who, once disappointed by a failure of a marketing effort, eliminate communication with a brand forever. There are the “con artists,” who abandon their shopping carts on purpose in order to receive discounts. And, of course, there are the “socialites,” who, immune to traditional advertising, entertain only brands that they find organically through social media. 



Meeting entitled consumers’ expectations is impossible. But the impossible is what marketers must do, so how?

Marketers should focus on the consumers whose expectations they can meet, bringing their empathetic understanding of those individuals to bear. 

Marketers often confuse general trends or observed behaviors with true consumer knowledge. This disconnect leads to wasteful marketing activity. Marketers may plan to create a customer service app because of data showing a growing love of mobile, for example. Yet, a recent study shows that the overwhelming majority of consumers simply want to engage with a knowledgeable human being. Marketers spend millions of dollars on creative, snarky commercials. Yet, many just want to be reminded to buy a winter coat before their size is sold out. 

Marketers must build a strategy that delves into the entitled consumer mindset. There are basic elements of a brand engagement that consumers expect a brand to provide at all times. Such as how fast a website loads (the expectation is two seconds) or whether or not a marketer addresses them accurately in email. Marketers must determine which consumer entitlement are “must haves,” and which are the highest priority. 

There are many other instances where marketers have some wiggle room to get creative. While consumers might want free shipping or a faster app, they might be willing to trade those things for greater product choice or really relevant content. Marketers can differentiate from larger or more nimble competitors rather than constantly trying to match them in everything they do. Warby Parker can’t compete with LensCrafters on scale or brick-and-mortar store presence, but they can provide the entitled consumer with a relatively better experience, differentiating with hipper style, fast shipping and a charitable purpose. 

Embracing technology can help a marketer reach high consumer expectations at scale. A marketer like One Kings Lane doesn’t offer the same mass-market-friendly product catalogue of Pottery Barn, but dynamic messaging allows them to suggest a well-curated selection of products to a broader range of people. Technology can be used to boost the value of a personal touch. Humana announced recently that they will use artificial intelligence to identify people on customer service calls who are particularly distressed and flag them to ensure that representatives give them the empathy that they require. 

Empathy is the key part of a successful approach to all of us entitled consumers, distressed or not. It’s not the consumer’s fault that there’s so much advertising, so many choices, so much new technology. With raised expectations, consumers are just as overwhelmed as marketers, which is why so many of them take to social media to post irrelevant email messages, badly targeted ads and other marketing mistakes that waste their time and make them angry. Harkening back to another Louis CK riff, he also said, “When someone decides that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

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