Setting Customers Free

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by: Jennifer Rice

Remember the phrase, "If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if not, it was never meant to be." Words of wisdom from good ol' mom. I was reminded of this phrase while reading Chris Lawer's post on Reverse Market Customer Experiences where he lists three companies that are taking risks and providing competitive information to their customers:

In 2002, General Motors launched a trusted advisor internet site called AutoChoiceAdvisor. It helps customers to select the motor vehicles best suited to their personal needs… Critically, this list includes vehicles from manufacturers other than GM.

Citibank… now provides a free online financial account aggregation service through its web portal. The site provides a full range of Citigroup consumer products and services, including credit and charge cards, banking services, investments, mortgages, loans and insurance… By enabling customers to access a consolidated view of all their online passwords and financial and loyalty accounts regardless of supplier, Citibank is creating powerful new opportunities for customer differentiation and service in a highly competitive, consolidating and commoditised market.

U.S. auto insurer Progressive… offer(s) a reverse market price comparison service on its web site. Previously, U.S. customers’ ability to compare rates across insurance companies was both time-consuming and complex. Now, by entering their personal information, driving history, vehicle details and other data on the Progressive web site, the company enables its customers to undertake a simple and direct market comparison. Although it sometimes loses out to its lower-priced competitors, Progressive’s customers often remain loyal simply because the service reinforces their trust in the business…

 It's time for companies to learn how to let go of the need to "own" a customer. What would happen if we tried to "own" our significant others? Or "retain" them? They'd probably walk out on principle. The key in relationships — whether personal or business — is to earn trust and respect and affection. Customers are not objects to be acquired; they are free entities who make choices. Give value, make their lives easier, and even risk losing them to the competition by providing comparisons. Chances are, they'll love the open, honest communication and stay with you even if it costs them a bit more. So set them free.

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