Take a moment and think about the last thing you bought. Now, forget about the product and focus on the experience of buying that product. Was it an enjoyable one? Did you find what you were looking for? Were the staff courteous and helpful? If the experience was bad, would you go back? If the answer to that last question was no, you’ve already discovered the entire point of this blog post.
Bad customer experiences result in lower sales.
An article published in FastCoExist not too long ago argued this point quite well, and I’d like to point out how this theory applies to small businesses.
Before the advent of big box stores our economy revolved around specialists that did one thing really well. Everyone had their area of expertise and small shops thrived. Visiting the butcher, baker and candlestick maker was a way of life, and people cared about the quality of the products and services they received. They had a relationship of sorts with the people and shops they bought from and they were likely as invested in seeing that shop succeed as the shop was in seeing the customer happy.
In 1950 a little store in Bentonville, Arkansas was purchased and re-named Walton’s 5 & 10. It had no area of expertise, aside from bargain prices. Maybe it was a struggling post World War II world that drew people to lower prices, or the appeal of a variety of products in one place, but the idea took hold and that little 5 & 10 is what we all now know as Wal-Mart.
I don’t know if the Wal-Marts in the US are happier places, but the Canadian locations I’ve had the misfortune of visiting in the past have made me anxious and a little sad. You may think me an elitist for feeling this way about the largest big box chain in the world, but hear me out. The reason walking into it’s fluorescent lit belly makes me rather depressed is the looks on the faces of the people who work there, the way they treat shoppers and the way shoppers treat them.
To dive into why I feel this way it’s necessary to think about the way shops were originally meant to be run. There was a time when owning a shop meant being an expert on a service or product, not only to pass that knowledge on to customers, but on to the employees that would someday become the experts. It seems that it was actually a process of making sure that expertise and quality was not lost through the generations of shop owners. I’m sure the lowest level employees weren’t paid much, but they had the potential to someday become an expert in their field.
This brings me to hope. Without hope for something better people feel stuck with whatever life has dealt them, and it’s understandable why this would leave them miserable. Most people have a desire to have purpose and to contribute to greater well being, even if that’s just in the form of being heard by an employer, or learning something new every day. When you combine the lack of hope, purpose and opportunity for big box employees, you start to see why shopping at these places is often such an unpleasant experience.
In this Ted Talk, Simon Sinek talks about how leaders have the opportunity to inspire action. When you observe a company like Apple, it’s pretty obvious that the Why takes precedence over the What or How. Humans crave experience and inspiration, and in this day and age they look to makers of a product or providers of a service to entice them with the Why, and that Why is not “to make a profit”.
So what does this have to do with employees being well paid, healthy, happy people? Employees are a representation of a company’s Why, and when that Why explicitly takes advantage of employees through low wages in order to make a profit, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t be enthusiastic about promoting that to customers. Instead, they do the bare minimum, while looking for better opportunities elsewhere, or worse, resign themselves to a permanent situation and give up hope altogether.
As a small business owner, you have the potential to be a purveyor of knowledge and expertise, and a champion of good customer experiences. You also have the opportunity to extend this thinking into how you train, interact with and pay your employees. If you read the FastCo article I linked at the beginning of this post, you’ll know that employees who are treated better and paid more generally result in more profit for the business. If you understand this concept, you and your employees will be well on your way to projecting the Why for your product or service, giving your business the opportunity to thrive.
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