(Originally published Aug. 12, 2012, in Capital, here.)
I’m finally convinced that businesses here have wasted a perfectly good crisis. What a shame.
I walked into a toy store recently. The lights were glaring. The colors were too bright. It looked like a warehouse. The one lonely employee smiled behind the register but did not get up. I’ve been in auto parts stores that were more fun. It was so depressing and painful I turned around and left.
My wife and I were thrilled that Mega Image put a store near our home. But then it opened. Shelves go unstocked. Security guards get in the way. The line grows longer and slower. The vegetables are old. No one is helpful. Just entering puts me in a bad mood. Now we don’t want to shop in any of the company’s stores. I go to Nic’s, a more-expensive store, just to avoid this one.
I enter any of the several branches of the several banks I have tried. I wait in long lines. The tellers are unhappy. The two women who assist look overworked and rushing, as if perpetually late. The branch manager sits in the back, doing nothing, with a look on his face that says he is too important and too busy to get up and help. Nobody is pleased, especially not the customers.
And to all these companies I want to explain that, contrary to what your PR firms and marketing departments tell you, the problem is not that you need more new customers. First, try working to keep the ones you have. How much do you spend on advertising? How many marketing programs do you try to get funded? How much time do you waste talking about customer acquisition?
If you have spent the past few years complaining about the lack of money to bring in new customers, then yes, you have wasted a perfectly good crisis. Because what better time than during a recession to focus inward and improve what remains? Expansions were delayed. Branches were closed. Employees were cut. What else were you doing?
Try cancelling the meetings about the cancelled expansion. Delay the strategy about the marketing delay. Instead, spend some time thinking about the customer experience. Not customer service – that’s too narrow and simple. Don’t become customer centric – that illogically named metaphor is not the solution.
The customer experience. You know, the one you would need if all the senior executives and owners did not have assistants and special numbers to call to fix all their problems. Because the very simple truth is that no company ever failed by never losing a customer.
And if you think one unhappy person doesn’t signify too much, let me take you back to that Mega Image store. “Oh, what a list I could give you about the problems with this store,” I said one day to my favorite cashier. And out of nowhere to my left, a well-dressed man smiled and leaned toward us. “I’d like to see that list,” he said to us both, “because I’m sure I could add to it.”
Yes, indeed, that’s a definite sign of a wasted crisis.