Why Pleasing Your Customer Isn’t Always a Good Thing

It Could Be Bad for Your Business

We always want to push the limits of customer service, but sometimes it can be the worst thing for your business.

In 2008 I quit soccer and took up bicycling on my 24 year-old Cannondale that had been top-of-the-line in 1989. In 2009, after a year of riding a lot, I knew I wanted to take it seriously. I had some experienced biking friends who tried to convince me to buy a metal frame, because carbon was too fragile and flimsy. But carbon was the new thing, all the rage, lighter, faster, etc. None of the industry marketing mentioned durability differences (they still don’t), so I forged ahead to buy carbon.

In fairness to the manufacturers, they are all responding to their professional customers and other very serious customers who relentlessly push for lighter and faster bikes. But in trying to please them, the manufacturers are jeopardizing their reputations among a growing population of those serious bikers, and the much larger general population like me, who are looking for the “best” bikes. They don’t disclose that today’s bikes are not meant to stand up under even normal amateur conditions like my old Cannondale would. See the difference below:

Repair History of the 24 year-old, top-of-the-line aluminum Cannondale w/ Dura-Ace components-90k+ miles:
• Regular tune ups. All original components, wheels and frame still functioning very well.

Repair History of the four year-old Specialized Tarmac SL2 Pro w/ Dura-Ace components – 4.5k miles per year – 14k total miles:
• Complete frame replaced at 9k miles – Bottom Bracket separated from carbon frame (extremely dangerous)
• Seven defective wheels – cracked rims at spoke holes – very dangerous
• Both front chain rings replaced at 3k miles – defective – too thin/light; recall
• Head tube defective at app. 1k miles – full manufacturer recall – too thin/light – had fallen apart on some riders – very dangerous
• Bottom Bracket (BB30) rebuilt five times.
• Front derailleur replaced – snapped while being tuned up
• Seat post bracket defective at 5k miles – too thin/light – replaced w/ heavier one.
• Front brake lever replaced at 8k miles – internal mechanism messed up
• Entire crankset declared “too old” and in need of replacement at 12k miles
• Back derailleur hanger snapped on new frame at 12 months old (4.5k miles) – destroyed back derailleur and back wheel
• Back derailleur replaced at 14k miles
• Loud clicking and grinding noises on every turn of the crankset (people could hear me coming for 20-30 yards) – never resolved.

How Slow Am I?
This all cost me a few thousand dollars beyond the price of the bike, endless time in the shop, and some dangerous crashes that fortunately I walked away from. I’m obviously a very slow learner. I assumed that the more expensive the bike is, the better it would last, as well as perform. The bike industry is turning out bikes that are extremely high performers, but with no durability at all. But they’re not telling anybody that. And that’s the problem.

There isn’t a thing wrong with building a bike that stretches the limits of design. They want to please us by pushing those design limits. The problem is they haven’t been up front in telling us we’re buying race cars where many major components will need to be replaced regularly, and that a carbon bike is more dangerous than previous designs. You’re just supposed to be geeky enough to know that the most expensive bikes on the market will need the most maintenance. They don’t want to displease us with reality. It’s not just Specialized. Anyone selling carbon frames is marketing them the same way – all virtue and no warning.

The local bike shop has given up. They won’t repair the bike anymore. They feel I’m too demanding. I finally get it. If they or the manufacturers had told me up front that the most expensive bikes are now the least durable or reliable, they would actually be right to say I am too demanding. Armed with that information, I could have made the decision to buy speed but not safety or reliability, or stick with a metal bike. With that information, I would have known what I’m buying – caveat emptor would be on me. And I might still like Specialized.

Full Disclosure – Tell the Whole Story – Not Just the Fun Part
The lesson here for all of us? Sometimes pleasing your customers comes at the cost of losing your customers. If you want to please them so badly that you won’t disclose the downside of a new product, you set them up for false expectations. Only after a miserable experience did I figure it out for myself. I’ll stick to metal bikes except when I want to go 8 seconds faster over a mile, which isn’t very often.

Be up front and clear with your customers about both the upsides and potential liabilities of everything you sell them. You and your customer will both be a lot happier, and you will make a lot more money.

My 24 year-old aluminum bike still rocks. The high-end custom steel one I’m about to buy will cost me 10-15 minutes or so over 100 miles, but it will be inherited by my kids. How cool is that?

Only The Lazy Rely On Marketing

A better chair, delivered better.

We fixate on marketing. With my fancy marketing background, I could make big money selling people complex marketing strategies. The best marketing isn’t marketing, but is much more effective and costs a lot less money, too. The problem is it’s work. We don’t like work. Even when it makes us successful. We’d rather do marketing.

Clever Marketing 101 – Not Sustainable
People buy great marketing once. If the product isn’t great, they’re out.

There are a myriad of marketing firms out there showing you how to get someone to give you more than the three-second glance at a trade show or on your website and how to take them deeper and deeper through a series of bigger and bigger commitments until they finally buy something from you at the bottom of the website.

People tell me this is great marketing, but I believe that by itself, it’s terrible marketing and does more damage than good in the long run. It’s also the lazy man’s approach and because of that, not sustainable.

Recency & Frequency
The two main tenants of good marketing are “recency” and “frequency”. If you talked to me recently, but only once, I’m not likely to buy. If you talked to me often a year ago but not since, I’m not likely to buy. You must do both all the time.

This costs a lot of money if you’re doing it via traditional print, radio or TV advertising. One of my clients spends $2million a year in one mid-sized market alone just to stay in the recency/frequency game. If you’re going to use money to do marketing, you usually have to have a lot of it to make enough noise to drown out the other guy with only $250,000.

Then there is the clever website approach, that gets people to go deeper and deeper down the page and finally click on $27.77 (clever marketing says your price should always end in 7). What if people finally respond to your clever website or your $2 million in advertising? Neither of these are your best marketing – not even close.

Future Clients Come From…
Where do the overwhelming majority of your future customers come from? When I ask this question to live audiences, almost every person will say – “from existing clients and existing friends/relationships.” Then why are we investing so much time in cool logos, tortured websites that lead me down a clever spiral path to a commitment, and advertising to find people you’ve never met?

One of my clients has a company called “Jungle Quest”, a ropes and repelling environment for kids, that is franchising nationally now. In the early days he had $1,000/ mth in profit to reinvest in the company. His first instinct was to buy $1,000/mth in advertising. He decided instead that he would use the $1,000 each month to do something to make the customer experience more “Jungle-icious” as he describes it.

It was a brilliant move. He improved the look and feel of the environment, added new experiences, improved the clothing on the staff and trained them better, and instituted a customer satisfaction program to stay in touch (recency and frequency). Today virtually all of his future clients come from his existing clients because he has done such a good job delivering a better product. It was hard work, but with a sustainable result – a better product and better relationships with customers.

Better Marketing? Absolutely.
Most people would say he didn’t improve his marketing, only his product. But in fact he did both because the best marketing you can do is to make a better chair, deliver it with flair, and apply “recency and frequency” to staying in touch with your existing customers and friends. It’s lot less expensive and more effective than chasing people you’ve never met.

The problem is that it takes work. We have to constantly work at our craft and get better and better at it. And we have to regularly find a way to touch our existing clients, say hello, and let them know we care. All of that sounds too much like work. We’d rather put together a clever website or marketing campaign that does this for us.

People buy great marketing once. If your product isn’t more jungle-icious than the next one, they won’t be back. But if you work hard over a number of years to make your offering distinctive, unique and presented with great customer service, people will refer you to all their friends.

The Best Marketing of All
Make a better chair and say hello to people you already know. It’s the best marketing you can do.

How to Get Your Business to Grow Up and Run Itself

Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, understood that to have his business grow up and run itself, he would need to pay attention to all of the Seven Elements of a Business – so he did.

Kids need to grow up and stand on their own two feet without leaning on you – that is maturity. Your company should do the same thing.

We assume we should wait until we’re big enough before we figure out how to make the business run itself, but – where we start is where we end up. No matter what size your business is, you should be manically focused on getting yourself out from behind the steering wheel from the gitgo. Pay attention to all Seven Elements of a Business, like Kroc did, and watch your business grow up.

Element 1: Vision and Leadership

“I was 52 years old,” recalled Kroc. “I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns, but I was convinced that the best was ahead of me.” And when he first saw the McDonald’s brothers’ restaurant, he saw what they didn’t, an opportunity to create an international business, not just a restaurant.

“If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business,” said Kroc. What risk is holding you back? Get clarity on your vision to take more risk.

Element 2: Business Development

Kroc had to create the need for his product! Fast food was not an existing market – tough job! He clearly knew his niche, learned how to communicate that niche, and stuck to his knitting – he didn’t get sidetracked trying to make great food. And he didn’t let ego get in the way of making money – a very common disease.

Element 3: Operations/Delivery

Work from the result desired. “I didn’t invent the hamburger,” said Kroc. “I just took it more seriously than anyone else…We take the hamburger business more seriously than anyone else.” He built a small business into an international empire by focusing on the operational details and the desired result.

Element 4: Financial Management

When Kroc was asked “What’s the #1 priority for McDonald’s?”, he responded, “The bottom line!” To Kroc, efficient meant most profitable. He didn’t want the best hamburger in the world, he wanted the one that would make him the most profit per fat molecule.

Element 5: Customer Satisfaction

CONSISTENCY of EXPERIENCE was key, not QUALITY of EXPERIENCE. He didn’t need the best food, just the most consistent presentation of it. And if there was trash in the parking lot, that was “a gross affront to me.” A great customer experience was everything.

Element 6: Employee Satisfaction

“None of us is as good as all of us,” Kroc said. A strong believer in teamwork, Kroc knew his growing company could only grow if he had dedicated people. Kroc treated everyone with respect. Every new employee got a badge with the title “Management Trainee” to let them know they all needed to participate in making McDonalds great. His Suggestion Box was legendary.

Element 7: Community/Family/Self

Kroc was an astute businessman who understood that community involvement was a key part of an effective marketing strategy. This tradition of giving back that Kroc initiated so many years ago remains an integral part of the McDonald’s corporate philosophy. Through community contributions, Kroc also established a corporate tradition of creating a positive presence in society.

What did McDonald’s have going for it? Kroc paid attention to all Seven Elements from the gitgo. As small business owners, we’re usually good at a few of the above, and have big holes in a few. Which are you really good at? Whatever you answered, you’re business probably needs help in the opposite ones.

Your business may not be running itself yet. That’s not the question. Are you setting it up to be able to do that at the earliest possible opportunity? If not, you’ll be babysitting it for years to come, and won’t know why every time you come home, your business is there waiting for you!

Let’s learn how to wean our businesses – pay attention to all Seven Elements of a Business. We deserve an empty nest at some point, with a business that can run itself.

People Buy Consistency, Not Quality

Okay, you make a great product or provide a very unique service. You’re in love with it and so are your customers. It’s a wonderful product/service. I get it. Now get over it. Because your customers aren’t buying it. They’re buying things you aren’t even selling.

I met with one of the top digital communications companies in the U.S. on Friday to discuss how to improve performance in their many call centers. They were measuring the standard things – call length, one-call resolution %, wait time, abandonment, after-call time, # of transfers, etc. The objective was to get the stats to go down.

The problem was that every call center director had been given the directive to figure it out locally, under the assumption that giving them ownership of the problem would create a better solution (which is like telling 12 different manufacturing facilities to produce their computers any way they want – disastrous idea). I told Corporate that my belief, without even looking at them, was that the call center with the highest quality of customer service was creating as many problems as the call center with the lowest quality of customer service. How could that be?

Because their customers aren’t buying the HIGHEST QUALITY product or service, they are buying the most CONSISTENT EXPERIENCE. We’re all out there trying to sell the best made chair, the greatest insurance, the grandest piano, and the slickest software. But our customers aren’t buying what we’re selling.

Don’t believe me?

What percentage of Americans would you say think McDonalds sells the BEST hamburger? Probably none. Yet they make billions, because we know that every McDonalds window you drive up to will produce the same hamburger coast to coast. It may not be the best, but it’s the same every time – reliable, consistent, and average. We can count on it and McDonalds can take it to the bank. Ray Crock had a motto on the wall in his office “In Pursuit of the Most Efficient Hamburger in the World.” Notice it did not say the BEST hamburger. We don’t buy quality from McDonalds, we buy consistency.

We don’t buy quality from Nordstrom’s either. Surprised? While Nordstrom’s sells higher quality goods, we’re buying the “Nordstrom’s experience”. There are dozens of other retailers selling the same stuff, but every time we go to Nordstrom’s we get that same legendary experience. We’re buying consistency there, too, not quality.

Every wonder how really awful, cheap products, as well as outrageously over-priced products keep being successful? Because we’re buying consistency, not quality. We have a minimum quality level expectation of both Nordstrom’s and McDonalds (at much different levels), but the thing that has created long term success for both is the consistency of the experience.

This is one of the reasons Microsoft is losing market share to Apple. People are buying the consistency of experience they can’t get from Microsoft.

A realtor once gave a weekend away to a friend for having referred a high-end house to them. They told another friend who referred a house, and they were given a large gift certificate to a high-end department store. They were disappointed. Even though both gifts cost the realtor the same amount of money, they second person was expecting the same experience as the first – a weekend away. Consistency is so important.

Do you have a written Customer Satisfaction Process in place that creates a consistent experience for everyone every time? If not, stop working on making your product so great, and start pouring your energies into creating that consistent customer experience. The guy who makes the best chair does not have the loyalist following. It’s the guy who “manufactures” the best, most consistent customer experience.