Put Your Customers First

When it comes to running your business, is it all about you?
Senior Scientist, Global Workplace Analytics (formerly Telework Research Network)
December 15, 2011

No doubt you’ve wrestled with products that are impossible to pry open, electronic device tags that can’t be removed with anything short of napalm, and clothing labels that are so scratchy they result in bodily harm.

Why do companies put you through that? Because they’re so focused on what’s important to the company that they don’t consider what’s important to you.

Here’s an example. We called a mobile-phone company about an accounting issue, and they told us we had to go in to a store to solve the problem. What? You can’t do business by phone with a phone company? If the company was more interested in what’s convenient for me, not what’s convenient for them, I’d be a lot happier.

In fact, all the devices sold by mobile-phone companies are made by someone else. Sure, they provide a network, but what are they really selling? They are selling service. Yet, they repeatedly earn among the lowest retailer customer-service ratings.

So how do you keep your business from falling into the “it’s all about me” trap? Here’s how.

Make it easy for me to understand what you sell

I’ve been investigating dashboard software that can make brain-numbing spreadsheets more understandable. I downloaded a demo, and was immediately contacted by one of the company’s “customer success representatives.” A little pushy but, so far so good.

When the demo didn’t work (as in “at all”), I contacted her, but received no response. So I went to the website and watched what was described as an introductory video. It explained how to change the colors of the user interface. When I signed up to download a tutorial, I didn’t receive a download link. I managed to find a set of instructions billed as “First Steps” but the very first step didn’t work. I gave up.

Make it easy for me to do business with you

Every company struggles to find ways to attract customers, and some do an amazingly good job. But many could flush the money they spend on ads down the toilet for all the good it does them. They make it so difficult for hard-earned prospects to do business with them that would-be customers simply go elsewhere.

  • Websites have broken links or links to the wrong places.

  • Ads and websites don’t provide contact information, maps or directions.

  • Web forms don’t fill in city and state when a zip code is provided.

  • Telephone systems require endless navigation to reach an operator who spends the first five minutes asking questions (like verifying your address) that solve their problems, not mine. Why not start with, “How can I help you?” and solve the customer’s problems before solving the company’s?

Apple has made it so easy for you to do business with them. They even let you use your iPhone to pay for accessories in their stores. The Apple Store app lets you scan a UPC code, touch a few buttons, and just walk out of the store with the product. It’s so easy some say it feels as if they’re shoplifting.

Make it easy for me to use your products

Is some assembly required? Give me the tools. Does your gizmo use batteries? Include them. You expect me to actually read the instructions? Make them big enough for humans to see—the 65 and older population will double in the next 15 years.

If you think I’m ranting about a problem that doesn’t exist, consider how many VCRs, DVD players, cameras and cars have clocks with the wrong time because they’re hard to set. Consider how many apps you have that you never use because they’re too hard to figure out. Consider how many Wi-Fi or Bluetooth products you have that aren’t networked to anything because it’s not clear how make them talk to each other.

But I bet all your clocks would be set, your apps would get used and your gizmos would be networked if manufacturers and vendors made it easy for you to do so.

Make it easy for me to return your products

From an odd sort of perspective, one of the important ways to make people happy to do business with you is to make it easy for them not to do business with you.

There are plenty of apocryphal stories about people who have been allowed to return products to Nordstrom and Home Depot that, in all likelihood, weren’t purchased there. Costco will accept returns without question on almost every product they sell. Zappos is famous for paying shipping both ways, as they put it, so you can’t not buy from them.

The message? If they treat unhappy, non-customers so well, imagine what they’ll do for you.

Where to start

If you think about it, the golden rule is a pretty good place to start thinking about customer satisfaction. Ask yourself, would you like your business to do unto you as you do unto your customers?

Tom Harnish is a serial entrepreneur. Always on the bleeding edge of technology, he learned what works (and what doesn't) by leading projects, products and companies to success (mostly). He can't play a lot of musical instruments.