If You Were Your Customer - Would You Buy From You?

It is no secret that small business owners work hard and work often.  For most of us the investment in our business is total.  When we talk about investment the first one that usually comes to mind is the financial one.  However, often the biggest investments are not even viewed as investments, such as: or creativity, our dedication, our time, our risk, our dream our livelihood, our sense of self-worth and last but not least, our legacy.  Another issue for us is that we often perform many of the key functions of our business, monitoring our financials, sales and marketing, employee management, etc.  Because of that overload, we sometimes lose our focus and sometimes even more disastrous, our way.

 A few nights ago, I was flipping through the channels and stopped on one of those restaurant makeover shows.  It highlighted a wonderful couple who has owed their restaurant for over 30 years.  However, the last 5 years had been very bad and they now found themselves within months of losing the business.  The owners worked extremely hard, that was not the problem.  The problem was easy to diagnose.  The sign outside was old and shabby. The décor was extremely dated and tacky (a way over-the-top western theme), they had over 7 different menus and an owner (the husband) who could not let go and delegate responsibly.  Over time the owners had become oblivious to all of these things.

 They were committing a FATAL ERROR – They no longer saw their restaurant, their business through their customers’ eyes.  They had assumed that the customers’ eyes were the same as theirs.

We all get stuck.  The Definition of Insanity fits here – “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” In the above situation, the owner spent all of his time IN his business instead of LOOKING AFTER his business.

 The restaurant owner held fast to the following beliefs:

·       He just had to work harder and the customers would not only come, but come back.

·       No one could do it better in the kitchen than him.

·       If he created just one more new menu item the customers show up.

·       He had designed the western décor 30 years ago and it still worked.

·       Presentation was not important.

·       Decision-making belonged only to him.

·       The restaurant and he were the same. Criticism hurt his heart.

·       Because he worked hard, people would find out about the restaurant and want to come.

 Because of the desperate financial situation, he was now forced to open his eyes, his ears and his heart to criticism and change. He was being forced to become customer-centric. Or in other words "look at his business through his customer's eyes."

 Within a few days, the old décor and carpet were gone or re-utilized. The interior was now bright and inviting.  The dinnerware was white, shiny and sparkling.  The sign outside was new and modern.  There was only one menu listing dishes with an updated Western taste and flare. Not only was the menu fresh, but he was running his kitchen more efficiently because he was no longer buying food he did not use or need.  He delegated the cooking to his employees (some had been with him for 25 years). He was not in the kitchen; he was on the floor building new customer relationships. But most importantly the owner’s vision had changed. He now saw his restaurant through his customers’ eyes.

 Yes, I know this is just a reality TV show, but Is there a lesson in this for all of us? I think so.  We may not own a restaurant, but we own a business.  Have we got stuck? Are we focusing on what will really make a difference in our company or just the current crisis?

 STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN – You probably learned that rule as a child. Here are some suggestions about how to begin:

 ·       Do a customer survey.  Ask them how you could improve your product or service.

·       Mystery shop your competition; see how they compare to you.

o   Create your own mystery shopper.  Create an evaluation form.  Ask a friend to send a friend (someone you do not know) to call your office or go to your store or even website and complete the evaluation.

·       Check out new trends and new technology that might help you move forward or do a task more efficiently.

·       Learn to delegate with accountability.

·       Ask your employees how you might improve the business.

·       And most importantly, give yourself permission to forget the past, forgive mistakes including your own and move forward.

 Albert Einstein said it best...

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

 Begin today to STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN to improve your business.