As a global society we've come a far way from the notion that children should only be seen and not heard. I find that, less and less are we treating them like they have no significance prior to passing that magic age-based threshold that we set for them in our different cultures.
Care for the children
Since our recent chat with Jennifer Heath of "I'm Perfection Junior Spa", I've found myself thinking more and more about how we regard the under-aged population in our approach to business and specifically, how we facilitate them in our customer service structures and strategies.
The more thought and research I dedicate to the topic and the more discussions I have with people, business owners and consumers alike, the more I realize that service to children is oftentimes (dare I say "most times"?) an after-thought, that is… if a thought at all.
From a business perspective, it seems that in many of the cases, business entities aren't actively plotting to omit them from careful consideration, which means that they are not "anti-kids", it's just that businesses tend to focus on things that are pro-revenue, especially if reaping that revenue is a possibility in the short to medium term.
Now, don't get me wrong, businesses do make plans and moves based on long-term bets, but outside of industries that tend to be directly kid focused (think toys, games, child clothing, etc.), not a whole lot of businesses are actively strategizing to lock-in this critical, often-forgotten customer category. It almost goes without saying, that this major oversight is directly proportional to the buying power and perceived influence sway, that children possess.
Building long-term loyalty
Assuming that we agree on some basic level that the younger generations are not always solidly dialed into the grand plans for success that we have as a part of the corporate machinery or even in our entrepreneurial start-ups, then "So, what? Is that really a big deal?"
As we established in our interview with Jennifer Heath, even from a young age, children ARE sensitive to customer service and respond positively to being treated like valuable customers… like clients that matter. That means that there lies an opportunity to serve and delight them, but it therefore also means that there lies an opportunity to disregard and disappoint them.
It may seem insignificant, but think about it… how do you feel towards a company that continually spurns you? How hard does that company have to work to win you back? …and even if you return to do business with them, are you really "back"?
Businesses that expend crazy budgets and dedicate entire departments towards cultivating a culture of customer loyalty around their brand would do well to remember that, in any relationship, when trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain. What better reason and motivation could one ask for then to start building that loyalty, than to avoid racking up years of resentment in a potential future customer? How about the fact that as a company, you wouldn't just be avoiding something negative, but you would be creating and establishing something positive?
It has been firmly established in science and research that there is a strong correlation between a consumer favoring a product or service and the emotional connection and reaction that that person has to what is being sold. Much of this happens on a subconscious level, often without the buyer even being aware of it. In this visually bombarding global marketplace, businesses need all the help they can get to eke out an edge over the competition.
As Co-Founder and CEO of Eye Faster LLC, a provider of shopper research put it in his article titled How the Subconscious Triggers Action - "If a shopper has a positive emotional and physiological response to your product, he or she is more likely to consider purchasing it."
In the article he points to findings that reveal that most people will try to establish rationale and logical reasons for their selection of a product, but the research suggests that the decisions for the most part aren't driven by logical considerations or even conscious considerations. As he puts it "Most of our shopping choices are made on a subconscious level, triggered by a combination of perception and emotional response."
That said, as most people will attest to, the bonds and emotional connection formed with positive experiences from our childhood are some of the strongest and most powerful that we will ever have.
If you're unconvinced of the economic power of establishing warm and pleasant associations between your brand and your customers, I submit for your careful consideration the box office booms currently taking place for just about any superhero movie to hit the stage in recent times.
Of the top 20 highest grossing box office movies to date, 14 of those have their roots firmly rooted in having a connection with the childhood stories of the movie-goers of today. I would even dare to say that number could be a conservative count, because while some movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Beauty and the Beast are obvious, a deeper dive could even unearth a wider psychology that leads to the success of these films and franchises.
Take for example the highest grossing film of all time "Avatar". This was a 2009 film and so one could argue is exempt from having that connection with the childhood of the spending movie-going public, but as it turns out, according to the director James Cameron, the movie drew its inspiration from "every single science fiction book" he had read in his childhood. Even without leaning on this supporting evidence I could easily draw on my own personal reference to what is easily my most favorite streaming series of all-time, the Netflix mega-hit "Stranger Things".
Stranger Things not only had great acting and awesome story-telling going for it, but the crafting of the visuals, the sounds and if I may be as bold as to say "the feel" of the cinematography strung a direct chord with the nostalgia that rings ever so loudly in my heart and in the chambers of my pleasant childhood memories. Again… you don't have to just take my word for it. This artistic approach yielded immense business success, landing the show awards and accolades, the likes of which are rarely seen.
So the point here, is that by using the movie industry as an example, we can see what is probably one of the most stark examples of the massive success that can be yielded by properly considering this consumer group, oftentimes relegated as hapless bystanders.
Now, in unprecedented numbers, people are rolling out and showing up to represent, yes in some cases their favorite comic characters, but oftentimes people are flocking to cinemas to reconnect with the strong bonds and familiar memories that they have formed from childhood, with youthful imaginations… and if you take a close enough look, many a time movie-goers aren't going it alone. Flick fans tend to roll out with their crew, regardless of the composition thereof… and more often than not (with maybe Deadpool being the exception), fans are tag teaming the movie night outing with the next generation - young sons, daughters, nephews and nieces, the future wave of movie fans, comic collectors and toy buyers.
So the opportunity is there. It's clear. Businesses would do well to stop ignoring this power segment that could mean real longevity for their business for the long haul. Essentially, making the shift to incorporate children as first class citizens in business strategy is an investment that if done right is guaranteed to reap real rewards.
Value the investment
It is critically important to note that amidst advocating for the customer service red carpet to be rolled out to the customers of the future, we should not be naïve to the fact that very real risks exist for children and their under-developed senses of discernment to be taken advantage of.
As that shift takes place to not disregard the kids, a part of fit and proper customer service is caring for your clients, not as some kind of golden goose or cash cow, but as fellow human beings that you would like to present your best offerings to so that healthy trust and rapport can be built.
So the picture I want to paint is not one of manipulating young minds as part of some kind of "Loyalty Hack", but instead establishing a platform of respect and mindful candor that elevates to an appropriate position the value of these adorable future patrons.
Like any other investment, the associated relationship should be mutually beneficial, and like a farmer who tills the soil, plants the seed and nurtures the environment… at the right time the harvest will be a gift that keeps on giving.
When is that "right time"? How far down the line do business need to wait before seeing the benefits of reaching out to up and coming workforce?
Truthfully, it could mean years down the line, however, in today's marketing circles, where content is king and mass media channels have become very decentralized and democratized, the advent of a new kind of influencer is upon us. They are your YouTube stars, entertainers, celebrities, podcasters, etc… but be not deceived my friends, they are also very much the regular children running around in the gen pop of society.
In today's global marketplace, there exist brand ambassadors and spokespersons that are barely old enough to sign a contract and yet are pulling in six-figure salaries. It's a whole new world. One in which child representatives are reaching out to build bridges of association and familiarity with child customers using new media and unconventional channels that didn't even exist in the business playbook of yesteryear.
Some companies are very good at understanding and capitalizing on the opportunities to delight children and some have even been doing this for years. They have special meals for kids on their menus, or they have meticulously designed, groomed and organized shelves for the express purpose of arresting the attention of these young players in our digital economy.
Other companies really need to revamp their entire outlook and do a 180 degree turn to cultivate a more wholistic approach to serving the full spectrum of customers that exist. I say full spectrum because while I am proffering improved customer service for younger patrons, it shouldn't be at the expense of the core patrons. Entities should cover both their targeted consumers as well as what I like to refer to as "Auxiliary" patrons.
What are Auxiliary patrons? These are people that are important to the overall end-to-end conversion process that flows from awareness to purchase. For example, if your targeted customers are pre-teens who like toys, your Auxiliary patron would be the parent/guardian who would need to transport the pre-teen to your store and actually make the purchase. If you're a store that sells women's clothes, the Auxiliary patron could be the husband who is accompanying his wife, carrying the bags and standing by the changing room to offer that ever-so-important "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" for each new piece that emerges. Why in the world would stores not have comfortable benches or couches by the changing rooms for these poor husbands is beyond my comprehension, but that's a different matter for a different article. :)
It seems we're at the point where businesses are already having a heavy and profound impact on children. I believe the time has come for us to ensure that in business we are no longer treating them like pawns, but instead we give them the respect that they deserve, not just as the next generation who inherits the world we pass on, but finding that right balance and regarding their rightful place in the larger customer service strategy.
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