Your Business And The Forgotten Customer

The Forgotten Customer

How many owners of failed businesses can trace their demise to The Forgotten Customer? The following sign is on the wall of my local dry cleaning establishment. It can’t be said any better.

To our customers
You are the most important person in our establishment.
You are not an interruption of our work—you are the purpose of it.
We are not doing you a favor by serving you. You favor us by allowing us to do so.
You are not dependent on us, we are dependent upon you.

The above sign should be hanging everywhere in every organization. It should be above every phone, on the back of every bathroom door, on the front of the lunchroom refrigerator. It must be in every conference room, every executive office, in the entry lounge, and on the outside of the building over the main entrance. It should be on the back of every business card, at the bottom of every sales document. It should be the first thing seen in the morning and the last thing recited each night.

And what would be totally cool would be the following variation printed in watermark on each paycheck:

This paycheck is possible because of our customers.
Without them, there are no sales.
Without them there is no reason for our existence.
Without them, you wouldn’t have a job.

How about the following notice printed on the front of every pay check issued to all government employees:

This paycheck is made possible by people
who willingly pay taxes.
Without them you wouldn’t have a job.

The Forgotten CustomerIt might make a few of them wake up with a different attitude each day.

Eric T. Wagner, in his blog (September 12, 2013), references the Bloomberg business statistic stating that eight out of ten of business start-ups fail in the first eighteen months of operation. Wagner lists several reasons, but the number one cause for the failures is that the business is… Not really in touch with customers through deep dialogue. In other words, the folks in charge are focusing on other aspects of the operation and are forgetting their reason for existence — The Forgotten customer.

It is an uncomfortable but unfortunately accurate statistic that the majority of business startups will fail within the first two years. Of the ones that survive, only about five percent will become the success the founders dreamed of.

This is equally true for two lifelong girlfriends who decide to open that women’s boutique they have always dreamed of as it is for the group of genius level computer geeks who spin off from Giant Computer Inc. with grandiose dreams of becoming the next ®Apple or ®Microsoft.

Businesses are amazingly adept at putting roadblocks in the path of good customer relations making them the forgotten customer.

All of the following (and probably more) are employed quite effectively in the seemingly endless quest to make it difficult for customers to purchase products or services:

1. Phone systems, so complicated to navigate that they test the patience of Job
2. Business locations, so hidden that even a Google map can’t find it.
3. On-line sign in procedures that require entire life histories to get into a web site.
4. Advertising literature that leaves out important details, like how to contact the company.
5. Sales department procedures, like burdensome quoting practices.
6. Operating hours that insure that most customers have to take time off from their jobs.
7. Days of operation, closed when most customers are available such as banks and doctors.
8. Marketing procedures, like onerous surveys.
9. On line or telephone technical help provided by people who cannot speak English.
10. Snooty impersonal receptionists, like doctor’s offices or government offices.
11. Add a few of your own?

Little things can become very big things if not nipped in the bud. Bone-headed at times seem like really good ideas, but later come back and bite you in the ass. It’s about the reality of day-to-day business activity in a world that seems intent on throwing every conceivable distraction and roadblock in your way as you try to navigate the course you’ve selected and planned.

In other words, it’s the real world of commerce, not mahogany row, not an academic theoretical dissertation, but everyday experiences and examples taken from where the rubber hits the road.

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Bill Blowers is an Academy Award recipient and author who speaks publicly to groups and organizations. As a Titanic authority he presents compelling evidence unraveling the mystery at sea on April 15, 1912. Having built his engineering business from a garage operation to a major corporation he shares his strategies with companies across the globe through his articles and blog.