Your customers mean business

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Your customers mean business_IHFRA HFA blog

“A good pilot is compelled to always evaluate what’s happened, so he can apply what he’s learned.” Viper, 1986

I thought an original Top Gun quote is an appropriate way to start this Summer of Maverick blog post. In the time it takes my teenager to flip from one Tik Tok to another, the economy has gone from boom town to empty pickle barrel, and the world is in a flat spin headed out to sea. Blame whomever you like for the predicament we find ourselves marinating in; China, Biden, Russia, Kamala, Trump, COVID, logistics, partisan politics… I can go on. Ultimately, it’s time to apply what we learned during COVID because it’s important to look around the corner and try to evaluate what could be coming next.

As of the time of this writing, the problem is simple. We went from a world of abundant demand, no supply, and shrinking inflation to one of abundant supply, shrinking demand, and rampant inflation. One perfect storm to another. I spoke with a top leader of a fast-growing retailer a few months ago, and the conversation turned to the finite amount of products available in the market. As a rep, anything FINITE makes my stomach turn. As a retailer, I’m sure you’re simpatico on that. I’m not an economist, but these highs and lows may very well be the roller coaster we’re on, and we won’t be back to normal for a while.

As a leader in your organization, you have to feel responsible. Not that COVID or supply chain issues are your fault, but your responsibility is how you responded. Crystal balls and tarot cards being what they are, they’re no help in running a business or managing a team. When the world shut down, I wrote an article in the IHFRA newsletter about what to do during our 15 days to flatten the curve. It was a remarkable piece of prose that we never wound up publishing as it was becoming obvious that the curve wasn’t gonna flatten any time soon, and the “fluidity” of the “new normal” had matriculated to simply “uncertainty.”

In the guild of furniture, the two commonalities seem to be the two P’s; people and product. Let’s focus on what we can control: the people.

  • Listen to feedback. And don’t just listen. Solicit it. Solicit it from all sides. Customers have stuff to say. Employees have opinions. Vendors have thoughts. Are you adult enough to want to know what people think of your business, or are you too scared to ask? The best way to make an apathetic past customer a passionate returner is to find out what they think of you and make that opinion better. And you can’t do that unless you get vulnerable. Ya can’t fix a problem you run from or don’t know exists. If you run into a past customer at a bar, would you turn the other way or engage them?
  • What was once routine transactions now mean so much more. There once was no furniture to deliver. When my wife and I asked our gardener to find some citrus trees a few months into COVID, and he returned apologetically with a Charlie Brown Christmas shrub, we knew no one was immune to supply-side constraints. When a customer buys something that costs 60% more than when they saw it a year ago, the purchase becomes more emotional. It’s never been as much a two-way street as it is today. These days, I am much more appreciative of the job employees do, and I’m honestly happy they’re there. Those of you on the floor and in the office ought to be just as grateful when a customer walks in. If there is a positive that has come out of all this, it seems that mutual respect and appreciation have returned. Let your team and customers know that on a personal level as often as possible.
  • Reviews go two ways. While traveling in Mexico with a factory, we used Uber as our main mode of transportation. Uber has it right because your rating as a rider is at the top of the screen. The ultimate in democracy! How genius is that? I try to spread joy and happiness wherever I go. I picked up Jersey Mike’s with my high schooler today and chatted up the kid making the sandwich, and it was fun. I’ll bet, even though my daughter was mortified because this boy was in her biology class last semester, he would have rated me a 5, and I would have done the same for him. He made a mean sandwich. Way to go, Kyle! Anyway, my rating on Uber dropped after that trip, no doubt because of something someone else in the car did, so the system isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty cool, and I’m happy to report I’m up to a 4.82 and that makes me happy. Solicit reviews from your salespeople and share them with your customers. Maybe not ALL of them at first, but the good ones. Customers, like all people, want to be appreciated too.
  • Don’t game the reviews. I got my car back from the dealership, and that afternoon there was the omniscient JD POWERS survey asking how I would rate my experience. It was alright, so I gave them a 7, which I thought was generous considering the expectation that the car I brought in to be serviced was indeed serviced, and they were done about when they told me it would be finished. Is that a 10? Not in my book. Shortly after that, I received an email from the service manager inquiring about the low score and asking how they could have improved my experience. I didn’t reply. He called me the next day and explained that if they didn’t get perfect tens, there was a penalty, and asked if I would reconsider my score. I told him his survey wasn’t worth anything since the data is coerced, but since I need to see him again in 20,000 more miles, I told him he could fill it in for me if that helps. Do you have what it takes to get to your business’s dark, ugly truth? If you do, let the info flow freely. If you don’t, concentrate on trying to out-market the churn you’ll achieve by burning through customers. I know that was harsh, but I’m passionate!

Kindergarten was a good proving ground for adulthood because the Golden Rule has never been more important than right now. Be nice to the people you encounter at home and work. It’s not hard. Sometimes it ain’t easy, but it’s never difficult. I know Drucker said the goal of any business is to stay in business. How do you do that? You sell something for a profit. How do you do that? You have to be inspirational enough to earn a customer. We inspire by getting people to understand we are credible, professional, and good at what we do. I know I’m just a guy with an opinion, but I say the goal of a business is to enrich lives. Your customers, employees, and vendors’ lives need to matter to you substantially. If they don’t matter, what does?

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