To Thine Own Customer Be True

With apologies to Shakespeare, when it comes to best business practices, to thine own customer be true. We all know we need to do right by our clients, fess up when we screw up, and treat them the way we wish to be treated. The trouble is, some companies don’t match their words with actions. Additionally, they think they know who their customer is, and they think their messaging is on target, but it’s not.

So, who is your customer? What does he or she want? And how do ensure they get it? Whether you market to new moms, long-established monarchs, or someone in between, I promise you these three tips all apply equally:

Your customer is more than a demographic. Sure, you may have a mostly male clientele, or work with customers primarily over the age of 55. But reducing them to a statistical data point means missing out on all the nuances that make them special. Worse, you’re not paying attention to your up-and-coming customer.

Cadillac nearly put itself out of business this way two decades ago. It long marketed to elder Americans with conservative tastes. In turn, it churned out conventional sedans year after year, since the 60-year-old buyers would turn into 70-year-old buyers, and so on. However, 70-year-olds don’t always become 80-year-olds, sad to say, and Cadillac’s customer base literally began dying off. With no models appealing to the middle-aged or younger generations, it needed to breathe new life into itself, pronto. Furthermore, It needed to ditch the neon lights and balloons in showrooms (remember those horribly cheesy days?). Enter the CTS in early 2002, and the rest of the luxury models with edgier, cooler styling, along with a smart ad campaign. Younger, more affluent buyers sat up and took noice. So, too, did BMW, Mercedes, and the other stalwarts of the luxury auto sector.

It’s the customer experience, stupid. Harsh, I know, but the truth. Whether your average customer spends a few figures or six figures with you, how do you make them feel? Walk into any Ritz-Carlton around the world, and you’ll find a stunningly beautiful hotel. There are thousands of stunningly beautiful hotels, though, so the Ritz-Carlton experience is what sets it apart. Time after time, people I know who stay there say that the staff is warm and friendly. From a random barista in the lobby coffee bar to the staff they encounter in the hallways, they get greeted, genuinely. They get the sense that the staff actually cares about them. It’s so successful, in fact, that the NFL has sought the Ritz-Carlton trainers’ input into ensuring the concession stand workers, security personnel, and more in its various stadiums adopt the same attitude.

Empower your employees. Staying on the Ritz-Carlton theme for a moment, those experiences only happen because the company empowers every employee—every single employee, regardless of position—to make in-the-moment decisions to better the customer experience. Furthermore, all of the employees—Ladies and Gentlemen, in Ritz-Carlton parlage—can spend up to $2,000 to resolve a guest issue. It can be a bottle of Veuve-Cliquot sent with a new steak when the original steak was overcooked. It can be a whole host of things. The Ritz-Carlton even has a special webpage outlining this policy to encourage others to empower their staff. It reads, in part:

There are ways you can create empowerment in your organization that aren’t necessarily a $2000 per incident policy, that will show you trust all your employees. And if you trust your employees to care for your clients, guests, and patients, they really will.

That says it all.

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