You chase margins. I’ll care about my customers.
When right choices cost money.
If this crazy, reality-television of an election cycle has taught us anything it’s that transparency and trust are entering a world incapable of spin. Despite continuing to speak about Democratic Socialism (as opposed to rebranding it as Nordic Capitalism) Bernie Sanders has gotten farther in this race because he seems to be the only candidate saying and operating under the same principles for the last 50 years. Whether you agree with him or not you should be paying attention, because the Trump way of doing business is coming to a close.
Shows like Shark Tank, books about global logistics, and the outsourcing vs. insourcing debate are all dancing around a single issue; what’s the goal of your organization’s existence. The primary goal for most has been,
We are in business to make money.
But ask 99 out of 100 small business owners what they’re doing to get new customers and the answer comes back like clockwork.
“We’re all word of mouth over here.”
So on a global scale we have corporations operating to maximize every penny from every customer and on a micro level we have business owners leaving every aspect of the growth of their business up to chance conversations around a BBQ pit. That’s how we’ve operated for the last 65+ years. And it’s quickly disappearing. Why?
Because now, when you care about your customers the world knows. It’s not just little Johnny and his mother you help out of the car who feel valued. It’s her posting to Facebook how good you were to let little Johnny play with your socket wrench while you fixed the Smith’s sprinkler system and now her entire women’s group knows you’re the best damn plumber in the area. Because you built trust.
Okay, fine. But we still have to care about our margins. So let’s still bring in the MBA and figure out how to leverage costs.
Stop! Caring about your customers extends beyond “customer service”.
The world is moving towards small town rules and if you think it’s just through customer service you’re going to be left behind. Let me give you a real example.
I run a men’s only yoga line called Cabra Yoga. We’ve been slowly building up our collections, interacting with our customers, establishing a community. It’s hard work, especially since I’m doing pretty much everything myself, with occasional and invaluable help from my very talented friend Abbey Pint.
The majority of our apparel was being made with a performance cotton blend. It’s a quality fabric but with the bootstrap nature of our company our margins were low to begin with. We thought we were fine. But one day I got the following feedback.
I wore your Flagship shirt during a run and got chaffing bad! What the-!?!
A single comment. So we tested it. I took our Flagship Tee on a run for 18 miles around Manhattan. And you know what happened? Chaffing.
So we spent the next several months testing fabrics, finally arriving at a three way blend of polyester, performance cotton, and rayon for a weathered, vintage look while being softer and absorbing more sweat. The only problem was these shirts cost more to make. A lot more.
What did we do? We cared.
We changed every shirt’s fabric across the entire store to the new blend.
We kept the prices the same.
We gave up more margin.
If you don’t feel valued as a customer of your business then you’ve no right to be in business. Period. We don’t build businesses by making money. We build businesses by getting customers. And we get new customers by caring about people and delivering on that care. Margins be damned. Because at the end of the day
We’re in business to provide value.
Welcome to the global “small town”. If you need to make a change in your company, I hope this gives you the courage to do so.