The Customer What Customer Syndrome Part I

Jim Blasingame

Recently, the following advice came across my desk from an unknown author. "It is essential to know at all times what your competition is doing, or you might lose old accounts and new prospects."

Fundamentally, this advice is sound. But it becomes dangerous when a company is obsessed with the competition.

Alas, there is evidence that obsession with the competition is becoming an unfortunate operating trend. I call this trend the, "Customer? What Customer? Syndrome," or CWCS, for short.

A company has CWCS when it is more likely to ask, "What is my competition doing?" rather than the much more important question, "What do my customers want?" There are two levels of CWCS. Level One afflicts employees when the company focus is not on the customer. You see CWCS all the time.

A fast food employee shoves a sack of burgers at you without looking or saying anything; no smile or, "Thanks for your business." That's CWCS.

Here's another one: When three employees at a mall store can't break away from their very important chat to make sure you find what you're looking for, you've just been a victim of a drive-by CWCS.

One more: You call or go by a business to get help with something that they should have taken care of. Afterwards, you thank the employee who helped you, who then says, incredibly, "No problem." You were just slimed by CWCS.

Let's rewind these three scenarios and correct the responses. In the first example the proper behavior is direct eye contact, a sincere smile and a simple but powerful, "Thank you."

In the second situation, since virtually every retail purchase is preceded by, "Just looking," no chatting is allowed when customers are present.

And finally, in the third scene, instead of, "No problem?" which has to be one of the worst things to ever say to a customer ? how about, "I'm very sorry you had this problem. Thank you for allowing us to make it right. What else can we do for you?"

Organizations with Level One CWCS commit plenty of resources to stay one step ahead of the competition in products, pricing and marketing. But if training happens at all, it's usually to sell "at" customers, rather than take care of them. Sadly, often there is no training, which allows CWCS to occur naturally, but with the same unfortunate results.

The good news is Level One CWCS is absolutely preventable. All it takes is hiring the right people and training them to focus on customers, not the competition.

There is one more thing: management has to operate the business so that employees believe the company is focused on getting customers what they really want, rather than manipulating customers in order to beat the competition.

This leads us to Level Two CWCS, which we will discuss next week. Level Two CWCS only afflicts management.

Write this on a rock... Knowing the competition is a key sales fundamental, but focusing on the customer is the prime operating fundamental.

Jim Blasingame
Small Business Expert and host of The Small Business Advocate Show
©2008 All Rights Reserved

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