Monday, September 19, 2011

Know Your Customer or Die

With four young children in tow more than five years ago, my wife and I gave a child-themed haircut establishment a try. It seemed like letting the kids play video games during a routine haircut was a great idea, and our older boys loved it. However, amid the chaos of loading up all the kids and making our way to the store, one of my boys forgot his shoes.

When he needed to use the restroom and one of the employees saw his bare feet walking across the floor, she yelled: "Don't walk on our floor without shoes!" He started to cry, and the employee began to lecture my wife, in a not very kind way, about why letting her shoeless child engage in such a crime was a felonious act. My wife picked him up and returned to the waiting area.

Rather than jump in, I watched for another minute to see what would happen. This employee walked over to the other employees who were working with other customers. She began complaining about our poor parenting skills, talking, then pointing at us, then talking more.

"We're not staying here," I said to my wife. "Let's gather up the kids and leave. I've never seen someone treat you so disrespectfully. They'll never get our business--not today, not ever."

Yelling at the children of the people who pay you is not good business. Belittling, both directly and indirectly, the person who is parting with their hard-earned money for your services contradicts everything I was taught in business school. But the real problem is this--that employee did not know, and, therefore, did not care about the customer. What parent of four young children, all under the age of 8, doesn't feel a little frazzled, lucky to get them all into the store successfully? Rather than hammer an already-overwhelmed mother, why not help her succeed. Maybe carry the child across the floor. Have an extra pair of flip-flops for such an occurrence.

Notice I am not suggesting that an employee should deviate from a policy that exists to protect the customers and the employees. But how about a little creativity to help the customer succeed? With a little kindness, my wife would have frequented that business for a long time. A total of six kids, each needing a haircut every 6-8 weeks, for their entire childhood--any idea what the lifetime value of my wife, the customer, was when she walked out the door, never to return? Clearly they didn't, and I'll bet that has something to do with why they're no longer in business.

My point is this--every business needs to know their customers, intimately. Know what their challenges are, what makes them tick, what helps them succeed. Become an advocate for them. If you do so, it's pretty unlikely your company's fate will be likened to past, present, and future businesses too focused on their company, their policies, and their procedures to notice, and know, their customers.