“It’s not about the Customer”

Image Credit: Christopher Brown

Image Credit: Christopher Brown

Recently, I was speaking with a prospective customer who was explaining an objective. The statement used to describe the objective was “it’s not about the customer.” I was so stunned I literally wrote it down. There were no words. I did not agree or disagree. For once in my life I was speechless.

Later as I was thinking about the conversation, I began playing different scenarios. Taken out of context the statement that “it’s not about the customer” is beyond pale. Then again, taken in context the statement “it’s not about the customer” is beyond pale. It is my belief that the bottom line on this subject is that it’s always about the customer.

Do brands become so removed from their customers that they merely see them as representing revenue on a financial statement?

When I started out my career, I had the opportunity and privilege to work for a mid-size family owned independent media company.   At that period, it was being run by the second generation. The owner was emphatic that management and editors perform annual “field work”. We had to select a customer and then go visit them. It was a three day out of office experience. Once we returned, we had to write a report (think college papers) with what we learned from our “field work”. The owner read each one and made comments on the report. There were times when he would cite information from reports in meetings. It would impress all of us!  Also, office gossip had it that sub-par reports were returned; and, employees had to re-write and submit it back to him. The point here is that the owner took getting to know the customer seriously.  He invested in those priceless experiences to educate his employees about the customers. He invested in our career growth through those experiences. He was willing to give up productivity with employees being out of the office (for three days) because he felt strongly that it would pay off in the end.

The field work that I did at that company taught me that you have to invest time and money to visit the customer. With every customer visit there were goals and objectives. It was not a get together or a boondoggle (as we would call it back in the day) but, a purposeful visit to understand the company’s customers. I learned a lot from those visits.  Here’s some universal lessons I learned from the customer’s perspective:

  • They appreciate that you took the trip to come in visit them in their headquarters.  That means that you cared enough to come and see their contribution to the world.  Think about it when that friend or relative gets on a plane and comes to visit.  You’re happy that they’ve come to your home.  This is the same experience that many feel when visited at their flagship stores and/or corporate headquarters.

  • They introduce us to their employees and colleagues.  You are able to meet the team behind the success.  Otherwise, you are relegated to meeting one or two executives who represent the company at industry events.  Think about it, when you’re able to introduce associates to your family and close friends.  It’s a sense of pride and those people get a glimpse of those you love and who you choose to be surrounded by.

  • They showcase the company’s accomplishments and are able to share with you their achievements.  It’s a feeling of delight.  Think about it when you share with others your achievements or your child’s accomplishments; it gives you a sense of pure joy.

In each of the above lessons learned, it’s always about the customer.  When you make it about the customer it is transparent and they really appreciate your product and/or services.  When that happens it truly brings you a feeling of delighting the customer!

 Sonya Ruff Jarvis, is the Managing Member of Jarvis Consultants and the Founder of the eRetailer Summit and JC Event Group. An expert in her field, Sonya has been published in numerous retail industry b-to-b publications.  Sonya shares her experiences in her book series Mindful Minutes:  A Marketer’s Journey Through Business.  In addition, Sonya collaborated in publishing an anthology, Mentoring Moments:  14 Remarkable Women Share Their Breakthroughs to Success.

Sonya has a M.B.A. in Marketing. She is married and has a daughter and they live in Trumbull, Connecticut.  

Follow Sonya on twitter at @jarvisconsult or @eretailersummit.