What Are You Paid For?

Why EVERYONE in your company, even the IT person, needs to value the customer

What is the difference between the companies that succeed and companies that do just okay??  Why do some companies inspire greater engagement and loyalty in their customers, which translates to more success, more “wow factor” for the company?

I had a great conversation recently with franchise industry expert Bob Gappa, business consulting guru and founder of the well-respected company Management 2000, and we got into this very discussion.  To put it simply, Bob says that “most people don’t grasp the obvious, that we are in business to acquire lifetime customers”.

He was telling me that his favourite thing to ask people on the front line is, “What are you paid for?”  Let’s use a coffee shop as an example.  A classic response from the barista might be “To take your order and make you a great coffee”.  WRONG!  The simple answer should be “To make you want to come back”.  The barista needs to be constantly thinking about the customer experience and truly understand that without the customer, he or she would not be there.

The concept of making the customer want to come back doesn’t stop on the front line.  It needs to be instilled in the culture of the company.  Every single person in the organization needs to understand that the company exists because of the customers who trade their hard-earned money for the product or service being offered.  This includes but is not limited to the people working in the corporate head office.  When decisions are being made about information technology, operational systems, marketing, and even human resources, the question needs to be raised, “How can we keep creating experiences that enhance what our customers value?”.  Even the suppliers of the products the company sells need to understand the goal of attaining lifetime customers.

Let’s look at three simple strategies for attaining lifetime customers for people on the front line, whether it is someone working a retail store, a restaurant server, or a mobile service provider (e.g. car washing, fitness, in-home senior’s care, etc.!).

1.  Start with a friendly, open-ended, ice-breaker question.

When you first greet your customer or client, imagine they are a guest in your home.  This applies to all types of businesses!  Maybe you might ask them about their day, or what plans they have for the weekend.  It needs to be a sincere question that gets them talking a little.  And ideally, it should be an open-ended question, meaning one that elicits more than just a yes or no response.  Typically these questions begin with “what”, or “how”. The goal is to offer an opportunity for conversation, break the ice, and make them feel comfortable.  I tell my “Meal Advisors” at M&M Food Market to have a small inventory of ice breaker questions in their minds at all times.

2.  Now that you got them talking, LISTEN UP!

The ideal situation that arises from using a friendly, open-ended ice-breaker question is that the customer or client feels comfortable with you and starts sharing what brought them to you.  By getting a customer talking and then really listening, you can often find out a lot about a customer’s needs and how you can help solve them.  For example, at M&M Food Market, sometimes I ask the customer what their plans are for the weekend. The next thing you know, they are telling me that their one kid has hockey and the other has dance and the in-laws are coming over for a birthday dinner on Sunday.  Now I know they are a busy, active family who might benefit from some healthy, kid-friendly meals during busy times, as well as a special birthday meal and maybe even a delicious M&M cake!

3.  Always THANK the customer!

How often have you finished paying and found yourself saying thanks as you make your purchase and walk away?!  This is so backward!  Why do we thank people for taking our money?  It should be the other way around.  When someone chooses to give you their hard-earned money in exchange for the product or service you are offering, you need to thank them for choosing you.  When the customer (maybe out of habit?) thanks you, we need to say something along the lines of “No, thank you.  We sincerely appreciate your business”.  We can even take it one step further and say something like “No, thank you.  We know you have other options out there and we appreciate you choosing us”.

Try and tell me THAT customer isn’t going to get a warm fuzzy from that interaction and want to come back?!?  I’ve used this phrase many times when customers are about to leave my store and it clearly makes an impression that I’m sure makes the customer want to come back.

Now, what about behind the scenes at the corporate head office?  How do we instill this customer-driven culture into the people who are not on the front line?   Here’s a couple of suggestions:

1.  Company Mission Statement

Have a clear, one-line mission statement that revolves around making the customer come back.  For example, at M&M Food Market, our mission statement is:

To create a friendly food shopping experience that makes our customers say, “I’ll be back”. 

So simple!  Everyone in the organization including the people in the corporate office needs to memorize and be able to recite the mission statement.  When I was out in the field working as a field consultant for M&M Food Market, that would often be my first question when arriving at a store.  Franchisees and meal advisors always seemed to like the challenge.

2. Learn what the customer values and stay on top of it

So many businesses get it wrong by guessing at what the customer values – or even worse, not thinking about it.  Is it convenience?  Low price?  High-quality products?  Highly trained service providers?  And how can you find out?  Just ask!  You can do this verbally in conversation, by running surveys or conducting other market research.  And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is concerned about saving money.  We are often hard-wired to think that customers are overly focused on price.  I have seen first-hand in my stores and also by talking to people out and about that this is not always the case

I recently had a conversation with the well-established business leader and advisor, Clemens Rettich, and he was telling me about an experience he had in an M&M Food Market.  He said he enjoyed picking out a meal so much that he didn’t even look at the price or the final bill and has no idea how much he paid. He told me he valued the convenient, good quality food and the overall experience of picking out what he was in the mood for.

3.  Make it a great place to work

Have you ever been to a café, clothing store, health club, or other places of business where everyone just seemed to love their job?  Doing things like creating a team environment through fun, morale-building activities, as well as ensuring all employees are listened to, respected, and treated fairly translates into a better environment for customers and clients.

According to Bob Gappa, in a great place to work, team members are well trained and executing a process that creates a great customer experience.  This great environment will create loyal, satisfied, frequent user-promoter guests who will drive your profitability and growth.

The bottom line here is that companies that inspire and instill a customer-driven culture outperform in their financial metrics companies that aren’t customer-centric.  Focus everything you can on creating an experience for the guest that answers “How do we, as a brand, enhance what we have discovered the customer values?”  Being customer-driven means we make every decision based on the answer to the question “How can we keep creating experiences that enhance what our customers value?”

I was laughing out loud when Bob Gappa was talking about mission statements and said that most airlines’ mission statements seem to be:

“We’re not happy until you’re not happy”.