They are powerful and let you know it. They are hard to satisfy and proud of it. They expect everything to be higher in quality and lower in price — an impossible task of inverse pricing that you somehow manage for them. Even after beating the life and profit out of you, they want to feel special, appreciated and warmly remembered (and offered a loyalty discount) when they next stop in to pummel you! Who are these bullies and why are "they" picking on you?
"They" are your customers! They might not even be your BIG customers, but in their minds they're huge. They hold the keys to your security, your growth and your kid's college fund. You've fought for them, salivated over them and now you're thinking you want to send them back! What happened? All you know is the role of the customer changed dramatically and you don't remember voting for it
Henry Ford: ‘Let Them Eat Black'
It wasn't always this way. Previously, the economic power was firmly with the producers. They had all the technology and the knowledge. They controlled all the action. Customers, for the most part, were willing to bend to the might of the producer. Henry Ford typifies "The Golden Age of the Producer." Atop his famously efficient production line, spitting out one fabulously popular Model T car after another, a reporter asked if he had plans to offer them in colors. His response: "Sure, as long as they're black." And black remained the No. 1 choice among 100 percent of Ford Model T buyers for years to come.
If you have entered the business world in the last 10 to15 years (second-generation shop), you have only known the rising tide of our consumer-centric customer economy. Younger business owners and managers will never know the producer power of first-generation shops. That "power party" may be over, but the evolutionary change found when businesses let customers decide what they produced (rather than the opposite) created far-reaching dividends that outpaced management methods of the past.
For a long time we had a homogenous and far less knowledgeable customer group (who had yet to discover their power). Larger companies often offered products and services without critical customer input. With less competition, stagnant markets and long product life cycles were often the outcome. In this bricks-and-mortar era, flexibility and speed were not as prized as a secure line of supply. The stand-still American auto industry of that era is a fine example of producer power gone bust.
Leveling The Playing Field
There wasn't one particular day when the tide turned and consumers made a grab for the economic power. It was a process, not an event. Gradually consumer advocates appeared on the landscape. Next came consumer protection laws and publications like Consumer Reports telling us which blender was best. Suddenly, the consumer had a body guard!
The face of classic consumerism may have showed its new expression most clearly with remarkable and unpredictable consumer happenings: Domino's successfully offered pineapple as a standard pizza topping (Who knew listening to customers would produce Hawaiian Pizza?); Starbuck's introduced expensive coffee in a small cup and called it a "tall" (Who knew coffee drinkers were looking for an "experience?"); and we began a planetary wiring job called the Internet that connected all to all (Who knew we would embrace such impersonal shopping?). Each event tells a different story but shares a common feature: No one could have predicted the success of asking customers what they want. When asked what you want enough times, you start to feel in charge.
The Service Gap
Every business, regardless of industry or size, has common goals. One central objective is to serve customers. For as long as there have been merchants and shop owners, success or failure has hinged on that simple rule. You'd be surprised by the number of owners and key employees who do not list "serving customers" among their core responsibilities. That service gap is nearly impossible to backfill. If service is not right out front as a behavior to be mimicked by your staff, it is grueling to surgically insert it as an afterthought.
The Economics Of Service
If treating customers to amazing service experiences isn't in your nature, then perhaps you can convince everyone to do it for the money. Studies confirm what you might already think to be true — companies that serve customers better are more profitable. In fact, companies rated "high" on service quality: