Shake off client coddling in favour of generating genuine, successful business relationships
Amazon’s Chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos famously leaves a chair empty at every meeting. Why? He’s reminding all of the staff present that the customer – and their best interest – is represented at their table. It’s a symbolic gesture of a bigger idea: that your audience – whether they’re your clients, customers, or other stakeholders – should always be top-of-mind when you’re making decisions.
On its surface, being client-focused isn’t a new idea. Harry Gordon Selfridge – founder of British department store Selfridges – coined the phrase “the customer is always right” in 1909. Here in Canada starting in 1948, “Honest” Ed Mirvish built an empire from his famous store, pairing generosity (free turkeys, anyone?) with self-deprecating “cheap” humour to convey a deep understanding of the needs of budget-conscious Torontonians.
What can be revolutionary about centring your business around the customer is your intention behind it. A lot of the language around “client-focused” or “customer-first” business tends to be self-serving at best, and predatory at worst. From the article “Are You Client-Focused, Or A Client Vulture?”:
Client focus, as it is too often practiced in business today, is the focus of a vulture. It is all about the benefit to the firm—not to the client. When client benefits are discussed, they are as discussed as a means to the seller’s ends. Yes, we want to serve clients better—but for our sake, not theirs.
Take Selfridges’ old adage as an example. It’s tough to build a long-lasting, meaningful relationship with a client when you treat them as “always right.” You’re creating a situation where not only they’ll be frustrated when their expectations don’t match reality, but your employees will, too. True client-focused relations find them better served through an honest dialogue about what you’re aiming to accomplish together from the outset. When that’s established, your staff can also act – gladly – with the customer’s best interests in mind.
Eliminate “always right” from your business vocabulary in favour of another tried-and-tested customer service phrase: “How can I help you?” Pivoting towards help is simple in practice yet radical in result.
A great example of putting this thinking into practice is CrateJoy, an ecommerce platform solution for subscription box companies. It’s pretty easy to anticipate what a CrateJoy customer would want: more subscribers. But CrateJoy knows that it’s retention, not acquisition, that spells chief success for subscriber-based businesses, and made customer retention metrics into key performance indicators on the CrateJoy dashboard. Their help led to higher customer retention rates than the industry average, meaning success for CrateJoy customers, and success for CrateJoy, too.
Instead of an empty chair looming over your next meeting, ditch the symbolism in favour of focused thinking and dialogue about how to help your client best. Your customer relationship and end product will be stronger for it – and while the success that follows is no longer your focus, it sure is a great perk.