The Customer as a Hummingbird

hummingbirdHummingbirds are unique birds. One came in my yard the other day and went straight for a large purple iris. I watched it hover, advance, back up and quickly move to another flower. It seemed in a hurry…maybe fickle. It was very picky in the flowers it chose to shop for nectar. I did a bit of research. Hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backward for any distance; few birds can hover. They have the highest metabolism of any animal on the planet. And, they are serious consumers—ten times its body weight each day!

Customers are like hummingbirds. Like a flower garden, they have many choices and channels to get what they want. They expect good value for their hard-earned, ever declining dollar. Made smarter by the internet, they are emboldened to accept nothing short of value. They show a low tolerance for hassle, zero patience for wait, and no lenience for front line employees who cannot address their need on the first contact. Let them encounter some bureaucratic process that adds no value to their experience and they are off to visit a competitor…like a hummingbird in search of a more colorful flower.

Customers today are fickle. Like an unflavorful flower to a hummingbird, forty four percent of customers who have a negative experience stop doing business immediately and another 15% exit as soon as their contract is up! When the pocket book gets squeezed, customers are more assertive about letting someone know when they fail to receive value…and with the influence social media, word of mouse is many times the power of word of mouth. Customers today are 14% more likely to complain than five years ago. Brand loyalty is down over 15%.

Avis Bell is a child of the depression. She also happens to be my mother. Her stories of living through the worst economic times of the last century are sprinkled with joyful memories of special Christmases when there was no money to buy gifts. Handmade original surprises had to replace store-bought. The restriction forced the giver to think about the uniqueness of the recipient; it enabled the receiver to appreciate the “labor of love” over the “expediency of purchase.” It was a time of innovative serving.

Like those who lived through the great depression, this new era of the picky, fickle customer is a time to return to the core of what serving another should be—innovative and handmade. And, what attracts a hummingbird is the same thing that what attracts today’s customers. Experiences delivered in rich hues…like purple!

Photo by Julia Akoury-Thiel


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Dr. Chip R. Bell is a world-renowned authority on customer loyalty and innovative service. Global Gurus ranked him in 2018 the #2 keynote speaker in the world on customer service; #1 in North America. He also is the author of numerous national and international best-selling books including Take Their Breath Away, Managing Knock Your Socks off Service, Magnetic Service, The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service and Customers as Partners. His books have been translated into over a dozen languages.

His newest customer service book is the award-winning, best-selling book Kaleidoscope: Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.

Dr. Bell has appeared live on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, CNN, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, NPR Marketplace and his work has been featured in Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Forbes, Businessweek, Entrepreneur, Inc. Magazine, and Fast Company.


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