Hey customers: clean up your act in aisle 3

I’ve been working part-time in big-box retail for a couple of months now, and the biggest surprise I’ve had is the amount of time – and payroll – spent on just cleaning up after customers. When someone chooses a red rug, for example, and a few aisles over, they see another red rug they’d rather buy, the just drop the first one. If they don’t like how a tie looks with a shirt, they just leave the tie next to the shirts. And if they schlep around a picture frame, then decide they don’t want it after all, they’ll just leave it in the shoe department.

More than 90 percent of the time I and other employees spend on the floor is spent returning items to their proper place. And that costs money, adding to the price of goods.

Besides changing my own habits and trying to change the habits of my wife, this also got me thinking about what it takes to be a customer. I’m not talking about a retail consumer, but a consumer of business-to-business goods and services. What kind of a customer have I been? What kind of a customer are you?

Brand happens every day, even when you treat a vendor wrong. It effects your brand because vendors are one of your most important audiences. They know people who know you, and aren’t afraid to share their experiences just like you, as a consumer, do with your friends.

Do you beat your vendors up on price, or do you show appreciation for their brand? Do you always get three bids? Or do you trust in the relationship you’ve built with your vendor, like you want to be trusted by your customer?

Do you hold back payment or do you do everything in your power to pay on time…even a little early when possible?

Do you focus on a mistake despite a long track-record of positive experiences?

Are you quick to switch vendors because of a lower price, a mistake or a little quicker turnaround?

These behaviors cost YOU money.

When I was a marketing services manager for a large corporation, I tried to honor relationships with vendors. Loyalty was a key currency in the transaction because it paid great returns. I didn’t ask for a bid: I asked for a price range so I could see if it fit my budget. And in return my company received insightful answers and on-strategy work every time…and we received more value for our dollar than if we worked with the lowest bid provider,

At a former agency job, the controller was obsessively on time with her payments to vendors. She kept paper back up for everything and once fought an errant report on our credit record until it was corrected. She knew – and taught me – that being a good customer paid dividends…we got top priority when it came to scheduling, lower prices and stellar service.

Sure, things go wrong from time to time. We’re human. That’s what happens. But we gave our vendors the benefit of the doubt because we understood their brand. It was emotional. It was based on a long track record. If the relationship soured for whatever reason, we parted ways, but we did it face-to-face, not with an email or a letter….or even worse, by not returning phone calls.

It’s what we expect of our customers, so shouldn’t we expect it of ourselves? What are you doing to be a good customer today?

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