The Customer in the Middle

customer in the middle

Group Marketing Director Mark Saunders continues a lifelong crusade to share his views on why placing customers at the heart of a business is more than just a trite marketing phrase.

My journey from home to the 9’s offices in Gloucestershire often starts early in the morning and takes me past the worryingly named “Soapys Car Wash,” run by my great friend Ron. I regularly use Ron’s services because Mrs. Saunders has banned me from ever firing up my own pressure washer again after the unfortunate incident with the loose gravel on our drive and next door’s cat.

Anyway, Ron is a great bloke, but he does like a moan while removing my latest evidence of the damage that eating Kit Kats while driving at 70 mph can do to leather seats. He regularly complains that the weather is ruining his business and if it doesn’t stop raining soon, he will pack it all in. Talking about the weather is not the only traditional British characteristic that Ron displays to full advantage – he opens at 9 and closes at 5:30, no matter what, because that is what every other business on his road does.

Now Ron’s place is between my house and the motorway, on a main route seemingly used by every poor soul en route to work or a place of education in Gloucestershire. In short, he has a lot of passing trade, but a lot of the “passing” occurs before 9 and after 5, which is clearly inconvenient for Ron and his overdraft reduction ambitions.

When I mentioned to Ron that he could open at 7 in the morning and close at 8 at night in the summer months, thereby playing the British weather and daylight hours for his own purposes, he clearly felt that I had gone mad. “Ice cream men do OK,” was Ron’s answer to how a business can cope with seasonal variations in the UK. Now Ron may be doing his bit for our faltering economy by employing Dmitri and Kasper to man the hoses, but he is running his business to suit himself, not his customers.

My question is how many other business models have the owners, employees and shareholders ahead of the customer on their priority list? It is increasingly hard to believe that any business that does not place the customer at the heart of everything can thrive, or even survive in an era where customer knowledge, insight and choice have never been greater.

I am pleased to report that Ron has now embraced road side advertising, a loyalty scheme to promote repeat business and even erected a covered area, where Kit Kat and other damage can be safely removed and cars restored to show room condition, no matter what the weather. He has even started staying open until 6 on Fridays!

Why not take a moment or two of your time to consider how you might shift the balance of your own business to be more about the customer? Think about your service from the customer’s viewpoint – could it be better, more extensive, timelier and more personal? These are not just questions for the aspiring ice cream man or the car wash tycoon, but for all business owners.