Even the simplest financial choices that your business makes can have shocking consequences.
A few weeks ago, I was visiting an independent book, comic, and game shop in my local area. The shop has a small vinyl cling on their glass door indicating their membership in the local Chamber of Commerce, something I’d idly noticed but never thought too much about. To put it simply, the owners of the business have judged it worth their money to join the local Chamber.
As I was browsing, I heard somewhat of a heated discussion between the person behind the counter and a customer who was irate with the business for being a member of the Chamber. The customer was loudly complaining about the political stances of the Chamber and said that he would no longer be a customer of the store before leaving.
When I took my purchase up to the counter, I told the person behind the counter, who happened to be a manager, to not take the situation too seriously. He was obviously shaken by the situation and stated that thoughts of turning in his Chamber membership were rattling through his head. I told him to not consider it for a second.
Simply put, a small business cannot afford to change a significant component of how they operate just to please one or two community members.
If the net benefit of the money that the business spends on their Chamber membership outweighs the cost of losing a customer or two -- and I’d be willing to bet that it does by a fair amount -- then they shouldn’t consider turning in their membership. Similarly, there will be some customers that are encouraged in a positive fashion by the membership, while the vast majority of their customer base will feel essentially neutral about it.
The principle that the customer is always right can be a valuable one as it can guide you towards superior customer service choices for your effort and for your dollar as a business owner. However, “the customer is always right” is not an infallible principle. There are many times when the customer is not always right, simply because the customer doesn’t always have all of the information that you do.
Take this example, for instance. The angry customer was protesting the political stances of the national U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which lobbies Congress on behalf of a number of positions. The business, however, was touting membership in the local Chamber of Commerce, which mostly exists as a way for small business owners to improve local business contacts and to demonstrate their support for the local economy. Their contribution mostly stays local, helping out many causes and small business interests in that very town.
The key here is to remember that when you make decisions for your business, you’re often operating with information that the customer doesn’t have. Always listen, but don’t react without getting full information.
In this situation, the best thing the business owner could have done would be to simply state that he was unaware of such political stances being held by the local chamber, and write a note in front of the customer to contact the chamber to find out more about the stances it holds. If the customer returns, let him know of the true nature of the local Chamber of Commerce. That way, you win in both regards -- you keep the customer happy and also protect your own investment.
Image credit: Bernard Pollack