Posted by GozHa on Monday, February 27, 2012

The customer is always right. How dumb were we to follow this mantra? I think most of us in business and sales can explain what this philosophy was intended to be and yet we've all witnessed the unintended consequences.

This attitude came from our desire for instant gratification which never generates the best results. Do whatever it takes to make sales became the strategy in the, 'Just win baby! and  Just Do It!' age. To win today the mantra needs to shift to, 'Just Do It Right' but first let's look at the unintended consequences before we talk about how to be the leader who can reverse their effects.

The unintended consequences...
If the customer is always right, then the employee is always wrong. Imagine going to work and knowing you will always be wrong...Very demoralizing.

A dysfunctional relationship between buyers and sellers occurred during, 'The Customer Is Always Right' age because buyers were entitled too much and salespeople were focused on make a sale, not doing what's best for the buyer.

The focus on making new sales, not customers, caused buyers to feel that salespeople were more concerned about the transaction than they were about them or the outcome they wanted. Mistrust grew.

Salespeople, customer service and executives became afraid to tell buyers no, walk away or look for a better relationship. Business is all about relationships and it needs a healthy one between buyers and sellers to grow a profitable business.
People were actually treated poorly. Employees were abused and buyers indulged to the point they became spoiled, non-compliant buyers who couldn't be satisfied, sold at a profit or had any loyalty.

Employees began to not trust their own companies. The belief that the company really didn't care about them or the buyer grew. They started to feel that the company only cared about making a profit. Don't get me wrong, leaders need to make sure their company is profitable or they won't be around to care about people. However, if people are their company's greatest asset then they need to act like it.

The phrase 'Do what's best for the buyer' was, and in most cases still is, interpreted as, 'Do whatever they want' to get them to buy or go away if they are complaining.

We intended to improve customer service by pleasing the buyer.  Instead, spoiled consumers soon had no loyalty. This reduced their buying decision to the lowest price which usually didn't result in what was best for the them, creating more dissatisfaction. This became a vicious cycle and war broke out between buyers, sellers and companies.
We talked about customer satisfaction, spent millions on surveys and customer retention programs while our intention and focus to make new customers (sales), offended our existing customers.
None of this is part of a good business plan which created many unrealistic expectations that could not be met.

Business historians will surely look back and write about how foolish 'The Customer Is Always Right' age of business was and the mess we made of business relationships during this period. We chased short term gains and created long term disaster!

Now it is time for the 'People First' age of business and the good news is that the results can be the largest economic boom in history.

To lead your business to the healthiest, most profitable place, you'll have to be more realistic and your people will need to be more important than your customers. That's right, 'People First Leadership' starts with your people, then you can create a 'Customer First Company'

'People First Leaders' do what's best for the people who work for them, and then ask them to always do what's best for the buyer.

A 'Customer First Company' makes customers, not just sales. Doing what's best isn't always what the buyer wants but what's in their best interest. This holds true with your employees as well. What's best for them isn't always what they want but it's a leaders responsibility to serve people, not please people. Serve your people and ask them to serve others and make customers and your sales, revenue and profits will increase. In addition, you'll create long term sustainable growth.

I knew an uneducated man, a high school drop-out, who ended up owning a car wash.  He left for lunch one day and left his son in charge.  When he returned from lunch he found his son at the booth taking new customers money.  The line of cars to wash grew longer.  They seemed busy with lots of new customers and the son was happy.  The son felt good as he talked with the new customers waiting to get their cars washed and the line continued to grow. The father took the son aside and explained that it's easy to take people's money but the most important part of the business was to keep them coming back. He further explained that it only happens because of perfectly washed cars.

He made the point to his son to stay focused getting the cars washed and keeping the line moving. I said he was uneducated, I didn’t say he wasn’t smart.  The memory of this event comes to mind even when I am working with large corporations, industry leaders and multi-million dollar companies. 

He was explaining 'People First Leadership' without knowing it. It's always more important for a leader to spend their time with the people who make customers because customers come back and send other people to your business ready to become new customers. In addition, word of mouth spreads virally in the social age and allows 'Customer First Companies' to establish their brand and grow faster.

This is 'People First Leadership' and it works for all businesses and organizations. Make the people who serve your customers more important than new sales and your business will prosper and grow. 

By Mike Moore

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