Customers or numbers. What do you say?

Image result for cart before the horsePoor service. It seems to be rampant these days. But why? What’s the main reason? Is it bad attitudes? Is it management? Is it lack of training? Is it Millennials? They seem to be popular scapegoats for all manner of ills these days. I’m sure you could make a long list and you could make a case for most items on it, but I think it goes deeper and is more basic at its core.

Focus, yes, focus. The real problem has to do with focus, the focus of business. There was a time when mom and pop owned the corner store and knew their customers, in fact, they were neighbors and friends. The focus of the business was clear, it was to provide for customers, those neighbors and friends, and make it make it as easy and friendly as possible, and in turn, those customers would reward you with their custom and their money.

In our current climate however, businesses seem to have changed the focus. Go to a business meeting today and the first thing on the agenda is numbers, any talk of customers, if there is any, is buried somewhere deep down the line. And what’s the impact? Whether subtle or overt, a message is sent that customers are not the most important thing. And when that message becomes clear to employees, they behave in like manner. They make customers secondary, and treat them as such.

See what I mean? Focus. With most companies today focused on numbers (think revenue, profit, share price, EBITDA, cost, speed, efficiencies, you name it), customers have been thrown into a vast ocean and abandoned. But this misguided practice has resulted in so many problems that it boggles the mind why it persists. It also boggles the mind how backward it is. Think about it. Where is any business without customers? I mean, what is the sole purpose of any business? It’s to help people, a.k.a. customers, achieve things, it’s not to hit numbers. Numbers are a byproduct of helping people. The better your help, the better the resulting numbers. Business today has put the cart before the horse, whereas in days of yore, mom and pop had it right, take care of your neighbors and friends, make them the priority, and they’ll take care of you.

The backwardness of this cart-before-the-horse thinking was thrown in my face many years ago when, returning from a management meeting, I came to the office fretting about the numbers my operation was reporting. Then, after a few minutes of my rant, one of my team members who could hold his tongue no longer, gave me a lesson. I’ll never forget what he said and how passionately he said it, “Stop worrying about the numbers, just worry about the customers and the numbers will take care of themselves.” And he was right. I started focusing on customers and their success, made this the main item on the agenda, and the numbers came like magic.

So why is service so poor today? Because business today is focusing on the wrong things, business today is talking about the wrong things, business today cares about the wrong things, and that misplaced focus has virally infected work forces everywhere. If you think I’m wrong, pick up your phone, dial a call center and see how quickly they shove you through a system before you get a word in edgewise, all to hit their quota for number of calls handled in X amount of time. See, numbers before customers, it’s the scourge of business and it makes customers sick.

So, what do we do about it? How do we get the focus right? It starts with managers sending a better message. It starts with making customers the first thing on the agenda. It starts by getting rid of call-time quotas and pushy selling to hit sales goals. It starts with caring, really caring, about the well-being of those people who are about to part with their hard-earned cash. It’s about making it clear that your business is here to make the lives of those you serve just a little bit better. That’s how the change begins, and it needs to begin now.

So what do you say? Will you start changing the focus in your workplace? Will you be the one who stands up in that business meeting and asks, “How does this impact our customers?” Will you be the one who puts the customer in front of the numbers? What do you say?

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