Everyone is looking for the secret to success in business. Perhaps they always have been; Dale Carnegie was writing self-help books for what we’d now call entrepreneurs in the 1930s. There’s an inevitable tension between the idea that there are universal lessons or tips, and that each business venture is unique and entirely of its own kind. My view? As you might expect, the answer is somewhere in the middle.
There are some universal guidelines for business, though. One of them – keeping the customer satisfied – is as old as the hills. A business with no customers is no business at all. If you want to create a successful enterprise, you need to accept that the customer is king. It may not be morally (or factually) true that they are always right, but often to the teeth-grinding frustration of business owners, they have the ultimate power to walk away and shop elsewhere. You can argue yourself breathless that you’ve done nothing wrong and your customer is mistaken, unreasonable or demanding, but it doesn’t matter. You’ve lost, and you will be the one to suffer.
My friend and client Martin Newman has pressed home this point over and over again. Customer centricity is the name of the game. Make the customer, the buyer, the patron, the diner, the client, whatever name you give them, the centre of your business experience, and they will feel the benefit and engage you. It’s a policy I pursue with clients all the time in my own business. However many clients I have, each one has to feel that he or she is the absolute focus of my attention, and that my team and myself are devoted to his or her interests.
We never tell a client that something is too much bother, or that a request is unreasonable, or we’re too busy with another client to deal with their query. If someone wants the moon on a stick, we have to give it to them. Or at least politely explain that nothing would please us more than helping them get the moon on a stick, that they deserve the moon on a stick, but that, regretfully, it simply isn’t possible for reasons a, b and c. And they will take that on board, because they trust our advice and know we’re dedicated to them.
This month, Martin is doing the same for retailers. He is hosting the first of what will be an annual event, a conference called ‘Customer First Live’. It’s truly interdisciplinary, with representatives from retail, the automotive sector, IT, food and drink, and hospitality, but the thread running through the two days is focusing on the customer. Martin’s offering, and I’m behind him all the way here, is that putting the customer first is something every business can, and should, be doing as the core of their offer.
Shops should be designed around customer footfall and convenience. Opening hours should be moulded to when the customer wants to shop. Online shopping should be blended with over-the-counter sales in a multi-channel system which makes it easy for the customer to get products however they want.
Sometimes, I think people hear this message but don’t understand it. It’s not a strand of your business, nor is it something you can bolt on, like a new sign or a redecoration. It has to be the fulcrum of your whole enterprise. Think of the heliocentric model of the solar system, and your customer has to be the Sun. Because what else can be? What else should be? Not your shareholders, nor your suppliers, nor you as the owner. It has to be the customer. They are at the centre of everything you do.
It’s a simple message, but it needs careful reflection, and it does it need to be hammered home. After all, who of us hasn’t received appalling customer service? So here’s my tip: Kensington Olympia, 25/26 September. ‘Customer First Live’. You’ll learn a thing or two. But if you do learn how to give your customers the moon on a stick, please let me know…
As an added incentive, get 30% off tickets here using discount code: CFLAM