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Recognise a customer when you see one?

28 June 2010

The central theme to the work I do with clients is around the link between profit, the reason that they are in business, and one source of that profit, the customer. If you can understand how to make that link work then, while there are other things that you need to do, you are on the right path.

How you treat your customers, and potential customers, is therefore crucial to business success. Yes, of course this is obvious, and you probably have a mission statement that puts the customer at the heart of what you do, but are you really walking the talk?

How do you recognise someone as a customer? If you run a shop and someone approaches your counter with an item in one hand and plastic or cash in the other then you’re going to pretty sure, but for many businesses it is less clear, regardless of whether you are in B2B or B2C. In essence anyone could be a customer or someone with sufficient influence to decide whether or not they or their business are going to trade with you.

As my regular readers will know I am a big fan of going back to the floor. These days I do it just for fun sometimes, but there is a serious purpose to it in terms of understanding how a business really serves its customers.

When I need work done on my car I have use a couple of local garages. Last week I spent a day out for a client delivering car parts to look at some of the coalface realities of achieving their target of delivery within an hour of ordering. As far as the customers were concerned I was just a new face in a familiar van.

Two of those customers were the garages I use to work on my car, and one of them has crossed themselves off my list. Now I don’t expect people to recognise the big ugly bloke in tee shirt and jeans driving the parts van as the big ugly bloke in a nice blazer and slacks with the Jaguar who pays them huge sums of money a couple of times a year, but why treat one with utter contempt and the other with a modicum of civility?

I have a very thick skin, but if both management and workers are prepared to be unprofessional and deliberately obtuse with me as a supplier how can I trust their work? Why on earth would I want to remain as a customer when I have plenty of choice elsewhere?

The Environment is a big part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda, but what do we mean with that E word? Think about the environment in which you trade, your marketplace, for a moment. It may be a geographic community, or a business community, but how are you seen by that community? Your marketing team will be working their socks off on PR and advertising and such, but there’s more to it than that.

How do you behave in your community? Respect is a somewhat devalued word these days, but you can start by treating that community with respect. Anybody could be a customer, so treat them as you would like to be treated yourself.

As my friend Ian Berry puts it “My best advice to anyone who wants to significantly improve their performance is – change what’s normal.”  Make all contact with your business a memorably pleasurable experience. Doing good is good for business.

John Bowen

Read more of John Bowen's blogs at That Consultant Bloke

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