How to be a better customer
I typically spend a lot of my time identifying ways that my consulting clients — a mix of large corporations and smaller, high-growth businesses — can design a more compelling customer experience. To build a winning strategy, naturally, requires the ability to identify deep customer insights, then define a vision and plan of action.
As a strategist, I make observations, ask probing questions, and synthesize disparate elements to identify nascent trends. As one of my financial services clients points out, this means I can help his team “see around corners.”
What do I see happening right now, during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Small business owners and service providers who work with the general public are carefully re-evaluating their business models.
More importantly, they are carefully choosing which clients they will continue serving — and who they won’t.
Let’s look at a few examples of how small business owners and service providers are approaching reopening now and planning ahead for when the next wave of coronavirus comes.
A hairstylist. She’s lucky that she owns her salon, because four others in the neighborhood have already closed permanently. She’s also lucky that she is established with long-term, loyal customers. This gives her the ability to turn away walk-in customers, because she believes unknown and untrusted equals higher risk. To protect herself, she locks the salon door to keep walk-ins and anti-maskers out. Locking the door also gives her control over how many customers can be in her shop at a time. She’s figuring out her backup plan in case we face a second round of mandated shutdowns.
A massage therapist. He’s an independent contractor who works out of two clinics, renting space from each location on different days of the week. He opened up a limited schedule for online appointment booking as a test run to evaluate both demand (would there be enough work?) and which clients would book appointments (were these respectful, considerate customers?). The clinic owner gave all the therapists permission to opt-out of online appointment booking — giving each therapist total control to privately accept only those customers they felt most comfortable working with.
A project manager. She’s fortunate to be able work fully remote, helping entrepreneurs and other business owners with developing and delivering complex projects. She’s noticed that some clients are not coping as well as others with the stresses of shutdown-and-reopening, and their stress negatively affects communication, collaboration, and other things that put the project at risk. She is cautiously screening prospective clients and prioritizing those who demonstrate respect and kindness.
The owner of a coworking space. He just sold his business because the liability of the desk-for-a-day model is just too high. He has opened a new business in a new space, one with closed offices and reserved desks.
Everyone is figuring out their level of comfort and finding creative ways to keep a measure of control over their health and business risks.
Here’s how to be the A+ customer that everyone wants to work with:
- If you are a new customer, signal trust and respect from the first interaction. Trust is two-way, more than ever. If you want a business to take a chance on you as a new customer, you need to signal that you’re worth the risks.
- If you are an established customer, be kind or be fired. Just about everyone is emotionally exhausted from 2020. Nobody has the time or tolerance to deal with difficult customers.
- Tip heavily and leave good reviews. These are short-term and long-term ways of helping your favorite small & local businesses survive.