Growing a successful business is not straightforward; you can work hard, read all the right books, follow all the best advice and still get nowhere. One piece of advice that is often heralded as a golden rule whether you run a restaurant or a retail giant is: ‘the customer always comes first’.
It’s a valid piece of advice, however, there is something left out of this mantra. We all know that we have to operate for the customer but what is often overlooked is how important it is to be the customer as well. You don’t have to try and think about what the customer wants when you know it from experience. Start using your company as a punter and you will be surprised with the lessons you learn.
See the change needed
As a CEO it’s often hard to know where to take your company if your only inspiration is coming from a boardroom. Meetings kill creativity. If you feel like your business is under-performing, or being outstripped by competitors, don’t just crunch numbers, get your ear to the ground and start seeing as the customer sees. If you don’t you will end up making decisions for execs instead of consumers. Take the Ford Edsel as an example.
The automobile in question goes down as one the most catastrophic failings in production history, making a grand loss of $350m in under three years. The reason being, there was no customer for the Edsel, it was too expensive for Ford’s typical demographic. Once you start thinking like a customer, however, decisions will present themselves as far more straightforward. If it doesn’t benefit your customer then you’ll be able to predict it. Instead, you will start implementing ideas that have the customer at heart.
Ideas from a Leading Peer-to-Peer Firm
For Fat Lama, the peer-to-peer rental marketplace, one of their most popular innovations was to add on the live search page to the website. As a peer-to-peer rental platform, this allows users to see what products are trending and consequently what they should look at listing themselves.
This idea was nothing more than the result of the actual Fat Lama team poking around in back-end search data to work out what, out of their own possessions, would get the most rentals. It was an organic idea that was purely functional and has been a great success so far.
Tailor Your Customer Service
Really excellent customer service is hard to come by. It is so often the case that as a business grows customer service become a bit like a game of whack-a-mole: trying to pin down an advisor before they re-direct you to someone else. It might make sense from a managerial position but remember you’re not building your customer service department for executives. Some strategists advise treating customers like a close friend’, which is good advice.
However, it needn’t be that complicated. Once you have experienced your own customer service you’ll know what needs changing. This was the approach that Will Shu took when starting Deliveroo. Before he launched his app the entrepreneur spent a year working as a deliveryman in order to really understand what customers wanted from a delivery service. Now, this is an extreme case but the point still stands that the more you understand the customer, the more effective your customer service will be.
A Lesson For All
This advice isn’t just for those at the top. In fact, it probably has its most useful application in middle management. It is the C-level employees that tend to spearhead innovations, triage customer complaints and implement policies, so the more affinity they have with the customer the smoother the company will run. More than just being good for the company, it also leads to a far more positive office environment.
Employees want to feel inspired at work, and getting personally interested in the company, not just professionally will certainly help. Companies like AirBnB have this sort of approach nailed and encourage their staff to list their own properties on the website. Indeed even co-founder Brian Chesky had his sofa up for rental until a San Francisco bylaw forced him to take it down. Moreover, they have tried to make their offices as vision orientated as possible. Every single conference room is a recreation of those cities most popular listing. This sort of environment makes AirBnB not only incredibly successful but also makes it an enviable place to work; a balance that every CEO should try and strike.
Get Some Joy Out of It
Business acumen aside, using your own company should feel like that natural thing to do. Thinking about the example above, Chesky didn’t just have his sofa listed merely for a PR stunt. He is a shrewd CEO who is passionate about AirBnB but most importantly, enjoys getting a use out of what he has created. Similarly, you will have spent years, possibly decades building your company up, so have a go yourself, take a bit of joy out of what you’ve achieved.