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Pick your customer

You can't be everything to everybody

The Las Vegas Boulevard and the hours after the SEMA Show each day provide attendees with many options to occupy their time. Restaurants, shows, bars, and simply walking the Strip are among the options.

One of the hotels has had a magician performing nightly for many years. This magician has a wide range of ways to mystify and entertain the audience; making things disappear, slight of hand, optical illusions and card tricks are among the tools of the trade.

With the card tricks, the magician engages someone from the audience as a helper for the trick. The magician shuffles the deck and spreads the cards on a table placed between the helper and magician. Pointing to the cards, the magician gives the instruction, ‘Pick a card; pick any card’.

The person from the audience thinks for a moment and then selects one random card from the deck. Showing the card to the audience, the card is then returned to the deck followed by the magician reshuffling the deck with the intent of being able to find that same card and showing it to the audience to demonstrate their ability to pick the right card.

It is at this point that this writer begins to see a similarity in the magician and the cards and many of the small businesses within the performance racing industry. If we were to take the magician’s words and put them in the industry, we would hear them saying, ‘Pick a customer; pick any customer’.

While our customers are not cards laying on a table, many do not think about picking a customer. Instead, because the owner of the business wants to grow in sales and profit, they think they are thrilled with any and all customers walking in the door.

However, over the years some businesses begin to think there is something wrong with this thought process. While the owner of the business may have had the intent of providing a quality product or service with necessary information and a fair price as a means of attracting customers, the owner has found that some customers have not seen it as what the relationship should be about.

Some customers are always looking for the best price. The thought of paying one dollar more than someone buying the same product or service somewhere else is repulsive to them.

Some customers look to the local shop as a free source of information, whether it is on the phone or in person. With that information they will then look online or call multiple shops looking for the best price for what is not the right product.

There are other customers who do not see the transaction as a component of a relationship but see the transaction as a game in which only one side can win.

Not that the problem is always one sided, some businesses in the performance industry are ‘guilty’ as they make the mistake of trying to do anything and everything to keep a customer, or worse yet, to keep that customer from doing business with someone else, be it another jobber, engine builder or any other business within the industry.

This writer remembers an experience in our show with a customer that was always a challenge. Whether it was something they felt should have a better price, free shipping, expedited service, or just about anything they wanted. In addition their language was colored with a multitude of vulgarities and insults of which many were directed at our staff.

When it got to the point that we decided it was time to terminate this customer, we named a competitor and suggested they take their business to them. However, the quick response from the customer was that doing business with our competitor would not work. It seems that our competitor had already fired this person as a customer.

Perhaps the card trick is a wrong comparison. Instead, what if the business were to decide which customers they wanted; and those they did not want.

The first group that most would give a second thought about would be those customers that are always looking for the best price. Perhaps it is also the customer that sees the transaction as a game instead of a relationship.

This is the point where someone wants to throw back at us the, ‘Is the customer always right?’ question. And someone else responds with, ‘No, but the customer is always the customer’.

It sounds good from someone that is writing, and is not standing on the frontline today between the customer and the person behind the customer. However, a dose of reality of necessary for any business in deciding what is their position with regard to customers.

Instead, the suggestion is your deciding about the customer from two perspectives. If you accept the premise of the customer is always the customer, a valid retort is to ask if the individual qualifies to be a customer.

Our business believed that the relationship with the customer went two ways. We had responsibilities to the customer as well as the customer had responsibilities to us. We believed our customer can expect to get a product or service of a quality relevant to the price. This meant if you were paying high dollars you should expect high quality; the same is true for a low price.

Every customer would be entitled to speaking with someone from our business who had a high level of knowledge about our products and services. And that same person knew to treat the customer with respect and appreciation.

The person who fit the definition of ‘our customer’ would be required to respond with respect and appreciation. Our customer could not come to our staff to gather information and then use that information to shop for the best price elsewhere. Our customer would know that while we definitely will not always have the best price (and no one business will always have the right price), they can expect the best from us to help them with parts and service.

When we commit our business to stand by our side of this equation, if a customer could not stand by theirs, we would have to decide what efforts, if any, we would make to earn that customer’s business. In the example of the customer our business ‘fired’, clearly the customer was not honoring their part of the relationship.

Our business could have allowed this ‘customer’ to have their way. However, in doing so, we would have set our business up for multiple challenges. The first is that we would be telling our employees that we are not there for them. If a customer wants to be demanding, scream, be verbally abusive and use repetitive profanities, it says we expect our employees to bear the brunt of that customer. Allowing this situation to continue tells our employees that ‘this is the way business is done'.

Giving in to a discounted price, free freight or other factors that would cost our business money would require changes we did not want to have to consider. The first is we would have to establish with our staff that our prices and related expenses are only ‘suggested’. Now we would have to create the boundaries of how much each of our staff could discount prices, delete charges, or give away merchandise or services for our customers.

An alternative would be that all price changes and ‘deals’ would have to be approved by a manager or owner. The problem with that scenario is one that our family had experienced with a previous business that we owned. Too much of the day was spent approving the ‘deals’ that all of the staff brought forward.

This occurs because any customer that gets a deal is sure to tell everyone they know in the racing industry; they tell where they got the deal; how much of a deal they got; and who you have to see to get a deal like they got. Once this situation is started, it is very challenging to stop.

Perhaps you are the business owner who stated when you first opened the business that you wanted all the business you could get from all the customers you could find. While on the surface this may seem like a good idea for a new business, you can take the suggestion from many business owners with many years of experience; this is not a good idea.

The relationship for a profitable business with their customers is not like a race track in which traffic is supposed to go one way. The relationship should more so resembles the streets and highways we all see every day; it is a two way street.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.
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