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The customer’s at the center of the customer’s universe
A customer wants to feel that they’re at the center of your (the service provider’s) world. Customers are, after all, already at the center of their own world, their own reality. All that matters to the customer is the customer and the people whom the customer cares about, a category that only tangentially includes you, the service provider. It’s important to absorb this reality–because it is reality. Drill this reality into every single member of your staff–not just once, but as often as every day–and keep it in mind, in good times and bad, yourself.
While it sounds dispiriting to accept your tangential position in your customers’ lives (your business, after all, is the center of your universe, or at least of your worklife), this acceptance paves the way for a magical result that can lead directly to sustainable customer success: It allows you to get to work creating the illusion that the customer is at the absolute center of your world as well as her own. This is, in a sense, an illusion, because you have (I hope) more than one customer to support. But it is an extremely powerful business-building illusion if you can successfully pull it off.
The Red Bench Principle
If the self-interested, even narcissistic portrait I’m painting of customers makes them sound childish, yes, I agree overall with that childish (or at least child-like) characterization, or at least I find it useful. In fact, one of my favorite ways of giving myself a reality check about customers is to think about the day, years ago, that my wife and I took our daughter to the first day of her morning nursery school. On this fine New England morning, my wife and I delivered our daughter to her new school for her first half day of nursery school. The young, hippie-trippy teacher collected her from us outside the classroom, where the three of us were sitting together on a red park bench. When the teacher returned our daughter to us at noon, my wife and I happened to be sitting, in the early-autumn warmth, on that same red bench. It wasn’t until a week or three later, as the routine continued, that it became evident that our daughter thought her two parents were sitting on that red bench each day throughout the entire morning, awaiting her return. She didn’t think this in a vague or metaphorical sense. She didn’t kind of half-believe this. She really believed it.
The lesson here is this: For a customer, as with a little kid, they’re not going to be thinking about your other obligations, interests, activities. They’ll think, until you prove them wrong (which would be a mistake) that you’re all about them. And as a service provider you benefit from giving this impression—this illusion, in a sense–rather than becoming resentful that the customer’s presumptuous enough to be thinking this way. It’s a credit to your business, actually, and to your level of service, if they believe that you’re truly all about them all the time.
In our daughter’s case, what were we doing in the hours when we were out of sight? We ate. We did other work, including behind the scenes work necessary for her ultimate happiness as our “customer,” as well as work which had nothing to do with her. We even, if there was time, slipped off to the bathroom. We were thinking of her, but not every minute. But—and here’s what mattered in keeping up the illusion—we were there for her even before she came outside to look for us after school was over, and we were entirely there for her when she did.
So, I’m going to suggest you throw out the clichéd image of wowing your customers by “rolling out the red carpet” and replace it in your thinking with “sitting on the red bench” as the ultimate in customer care. In other words, what’s most important isn’t to just put on an all-star show for your customers as much as it’s to manage to create and maintain the illusion that you are always there awaiting your customer, attending to them as if you had nothing else on your agenda that could possibly interfere.
Pull this off and you’re well on your way to guaranteeing yourself a customer for life. Because, really: if you make them feel this way, why would your customer go anywhere else? Even if they did momentarily lapse into trying out one of your competitors, will your customer ever be able to replicate the feeling that they got from you? Unlikely. Very, very unlikely.