Monday, June 10, 2013

Customers and other strangers

If you operated Momma Mia's Meatballs, which feature do you think would give you the best advantage in the competition for customers?
  • The best location?
  • The best meatball recipe?
  • The best prices?
Would any of the above matter if you didn't have any customers?  Or if you ill-served the ones who patronized you? Probably not. At least not for long. 

I was thinking about this following a hike this weekend in a local state park.  We were hungry after finishing our jaunt and were looking forward to a burger and beer at a historic tavern near the entrance to the park.

It was closed.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon. 
In June. 

It wasn't closed because of an illness or malfunction.  Its posted hours noted that it didn't open until 4 pm on Saturdays. We took our appetites and our business elsewhere, as did others.

The little deli up the road, which didn't offer anything other than pre-packaged fare, was busy with others like us. Hungry customers. With money. 

As Peter Drucker, the father of modern business management once wrote:  "The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer."  You cannot do this successfully if you are not focused on satisfying their needs.

Think about some of the policies that big companies install, which drive consumers crazy and seem to serve only the organization's interests:  computerized  call-center customer service systems, banking hours, airline bag fees, etc.  Sadly, bad institutional behavior is cascading down to small business, as proprietors look for ways to boost margins, when service can be should be needs to be the competitive advantage of any enterprise.

For small business, buzz word of mouth is the cheapest, most effective way to build sales and expand a customer base, and in this age of connectedness, has never been easier to do.  Yet many small businesses fail at this.  It is because their marketing/customer service is not focused on what's most important to the customer:  they sell what they have, rather than what the customer is buying.
While not everyone is a potential customer,  it is infinitely easier to sell someone something they already want.

If you are looking for advice on how to expand your business, there's no better place to start that by asking your current customers.  In the words of Jerry Murrell, founder of the wildly successful Five Guys Burgers and Fries:
"We figure our best salesman is our customer.  Treat that person right, he’ll walk out the door and sell for you.  From the beginning, I wanted people to know that we put all our money into the food.  That’s why the décor is so simple—red and white tiles. We don’t spend our money on décor.  Or on guys in chicken suits.  But we’ll go overboard on food."
 Giving the customer what they want on their terms.  Could be a recipe for success in any business.

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