Category Archives: Customer Care

Small business ethics

While talking with an attorney friend of mine, our topic of discussion was about professional behavior in the marketplace. She reminded me that attorneys have very specific ethical and professional standards that are published, plus a well developed monitoring organization, complete with sanctioning authority.

The story is quite similar for CPA’s, architects, medical doctors, or any securities representative such as stock brokers, financial planners, etc. Much of the behavioral track these professionals run on is pretty well spelled out for them. Not that the members of these groups need to be led or coerced into good professional behavior. It’s just that, when in doubt, they have published guidelines with which to refer.

Small business owners operate in the same marketplace as the so-called professionals. Indeed, they are often our clients and customers. We serve the same businesses and consumers as other professionals, plus we enter into similar relationships, contracts and agreements. And we often find ourselves perched precariously on the same horns-of-a-dilemma as other professionals. But here’s the difference: The Universal Small Business Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics doesn’t exist.

Small business owners, like all humans, ultimately behave according to their own moral compass, sense of fair play and inclination to deal in good faith. When we find ourselves in a quandary over how to respond to a difficult situation with a customer that is in the gray area of a contract, we’re on our own. When we are faced with an ethical issue that would challenge King Solomon, there is no sanctioning body or support group to dial up, or to whom we can email a “scenario.”

There are many ancient codes small business owners can turn to for behavioral guidance in the marketplace, such as the last three of the Ten Commandments. But in terms of a handy guide, I think philosopher and 1957 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Albert Camus, may have given us the best ethical vector when he wrote, “Integrity has no need of rules.”

Wise small business owners know that life is much simpler, and exceedingly more rewarding, when we just do the right thing.

It’s The Age of the Customer—the rules have changed

For 10,000 years, customers refined their search for products and services down to a couple of semi-finalist sellers based almost entirely on the classic competitive value proposition: price, product, availability, service, etc. I’ve termed this period the Age of the Seller.

That was a nice trip down memory lane, wasn’t it?

The new, prime differentiator today is no longer the competitive model, but rather a customer’s appraisal of how relevant a seller is to them, often before they even know if a seller is competitive. So does this mean that sellers no longer have to be competitive?

Not at all—no one will pay you more for less. But consider three new marketplace truths:

  1. With value now presumed, customers expect to find what they want, at a price they want to pay, from many sellers.
  2. Before a seller’s competitive position has even been established, they are being ruled in or out by customers.
  3. Differentiating by customers based on relevance is happening before prospective sellers even know the customer exists.

That last point is perhaps the most breathtakingly disruptive development in the shift from the Age of the Seller to what I’ve named The Age of the Customer®.

So what do you have to do to prove your relevance in order to be among the last to be considered and hopefully anointed as the Chosen One? Here are three important Age of the Customer relevance practices:

  • Technology matters. Your online capability must match the expectations of your profile customers, such as having a mobile-optimized website.
  • Contribute first, contract second. Now confident of acquiring value, customers are increasingly seeking and collecting trusted advisors and experts in their quest for relevance before they make a purchase decision.
  • Connect with credentials. Use new media to establish relevance credentials and connect with prospects and customers.

In his book Megatrends, John Naisbitt prophesied, “The more high-tech we have, the more high-touch we will want.” Here are three high-touch Age of the Seller practices still relevant in the new Age.

  • Remember the customer’s name and use it—often.
  • Make eye-contact and smile—early and often.
  • Be grateful and say “thank you”—a lot.

Find success in The Age of the Customer by doing the following absolutely in this order: be relevant, be useful, and then be competitive.

Your greatest danger is not being uncompetitive, but being irrelevant.

Blasingame’s new law of customer relevance

When you take a photograph, the resulting product is two-dimensional: tall, wide, and flat. But in most cases, you want the photo to actually show depth, where images in the foreground and background are all in focus.

In photographic terms, the range of focus front to back is called depth of field. The way to expand depth of field so more of the subjects in the photo are in focus is to add light. Light creates depth of field.

If you were given a photo of people who were the most critical to your success, you’d easily recognize your customers in the foreground in perfect focus. But as you look deeper into the photo you’d notice the images behind that first row increasingly drop out of focus with each receding row. The reason is because for most of the history of the marketplace, businesses have gotten away with having a very narrow customer depth of field.

When the coin of the realm was to be competitive, that meant you spent all your time thinking about how to serve the person in the foreground, the first row of your business world: your customers. But as I’ve revealed in the past, being competitive has been trumped by being relevant. And in The Age of the Customer, perhaps the most important component of being relevant to business customers is helping them serve the most important person in their photo: their customers.

Let me say that again with Blasingame’s New Law of Customer Relevance:

If you want to have customers for life, help your customers help their customers.

The way to accomplish this is to increase the depth of field of your customer photo. Light up the view beyond the first row of customers so that the second row is completely in focus. This three-step process works every time:

  1. Identify the customer of your customer.
  2. Find out what your customer needs to do to become relevant to their customer.
  3. Whatever the answer to #2 is, help your customer do that.

Executing this approach is how you acquire customers you almost can’t run off. Because when you help your customers help their customers, they know you’re doing more than just delivering stuff; you’ve become part of their team – integrated and committed, like a true stakeholder.

And if you want to pull off the customer relevance hat trick, light up the third row of your businesses photo: Help your customers help their customers help their customers.

I’ve done it – it’s a beautiful thing.

Achieve maximum relevance with customers by helping them serve their customers.