Lessons learned: Gain an advantage by putting customers first

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November 12/19, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 11 

By Tom Jennings


It is a reality that most local, independent businesses are constantly being pressured by large mass merchants. It does not matter if you are selling toothpaste or televisions, some large firm is bound to have a bigger, faster, cheaper version that they are promoting with yet another barely believable offer. The floor covering business certainly falls into this category.

Too often it seems as if the local merchants view this form of competition with something between disdain and contempt. They want to blame the suppliers, the media and the gullible public. This is understandable; however, it is flawed logic. To compete with any opponent, you must first find out what their strengths are before you can determine where any vulnerabilities may lie.

Remember that large businesses did not begin big. They were born small and grew only because in the public’s eye they did a lot of things right. One of the key common aspects of these successful businesses is they all developed strategic operating systems. They have learned the most effective methods to bring their goods and services to market at the lowest possible costs. That is one of their strengths.

Think of these systems as the “rules of the game.” As customers, we are asked to play by the vendor’s rules. That is not a problem—until it becomes a problem. This is where, in many operations, a weakness exists on which you can ultimately capitalize.

Always remember that at the core, the customer only cares about her own situation—not yours. We have all been told something to the effect of “the computer will not let me do that,” “no substitutions allowed,” “deliveries to your area are made on Tuesdays only,” or the classic “you do not qualify for this offer.” It certainly seems that the bigger the company, the more bound they are to doing things their way.

As the customer, how do you feel upon hearing these types of comments? My guess is, these remarks do not exactly warm your thoughts. What we need to learn from this is that the core problem usually does not lie with the message, but rather the messenger.

Rather than projecting an attitude that says, “I will do everything within my power to see that your wishes are honored,” you are more likely to hear, “That is not our policy.” These untrained sales representatives just do not understand that it is the customer’s total purchasing experience, not just the product alone, which is most important.

All businesses must have clear policies that are fairly administered. Without them there is chaos. Just remember that when we explain these policies to the customer, it must always be with her point of view in mind. She should always sense an attitude of, “I am working for you.”

Big stores with big offers will initially attract customers, but without the right messengers they will always struggle to keep them. Use this weakness to your advantage. Make a customer-first approach one of your greatest strengths. You and your customer will both be happier for your having done so.

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Volume 34, Issue 11 

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