Defining A Customer

I’ve never agreed with the retail definition of “customer,” and I’d love to share why, using a short story from my experience as an customer at the often imitated Apple kiosk in Best Buy.  

Big electronic retail store

When someone is wandering aimlessly through a retail store like Best Buy, they are not a customer just because they are under the roof.  

Shopper?  Yes.  |  Customer?  No.  

When a ‘shopper’ is keeping me from getting the attention I need, in order to actually buy something like an Apple product, they’re more destructive to Best Buy than the price-match policies of Walmart or Amazon.  A customer is someone who buys from you.  If you have an established relationship like I do with the Apple associate stationed in a nearby Best Buy store, they KNOW that YOU are not wasting their time.  They will greet another “shopper,” while focusing on you.

Here’s my example from mid-2009:

I was chatting with my first Apple guru (Ray, who was stationed at Best Buy) about a 13″ vs. 15″ MacBook Pro and learned to my surprise that all of them shared exactly the same keyboards.  I was concerned about typing, not ‘seeing’ so the screen size wasn’t the driving feature, so I was pointed in the direction of the lower priced 13″ laptop.  Next I was asked, “What do you want to do with your new Mac?”  When I mentioned the desire to work with video, I was advised to consider the higher-end model (still less money than the 15″ version I originally contemplated) because of the extra processing power.  Sold.  Done.  Conversation over.  “I’ll take it.”

This may seem like a simple transaction, but the future value of this experience cannot be overstated:

I have continued to return to the same store, buying an iMac, MacBook Air, Apple TV, Airport Extreme router, iPad mini, and even a 17″ MacBook Pro (for my mom)…from Ray – and his successor, Alex.  When this relationship is built, do you really expect the salesperson to stop talking to me when you ask them where the 30 pin connectors are?  I am a customer – you are a ‘Suspect’ customer, ‘Prospective’ customer, or maybe even just a price checker.  There’s a huge difference.  Huge!  When I’m looking for a 30 pin connector and Alex is demonstrating MacBooks to someone, he greets me and I tell him I’m not in a hurry; but if I were it wouldn’t matter, because he needs to sell MacBooks to keep my connectors in the store and keep the lights on.  Customers understand that business is partnership.  You don’t get to be a customer just by being “in the market” for a new thingy.

The prequel – the secret sauce: “I’m going to buy…”

What can you do to assist the relationship from the first step?  It’s really easy, and it’s what I did when I first met Ray – it’s the prequel to this story.  I walked up and introduced myself; “Hi, I’m Lee, I’ve decided to buy an Apple laptop, but I have some questions.”  That’s it.  Customize this anyway you see fit.

A former employer of mine once called five Ford dealers with a simple notice, “I’m going to buy a truck on Friday and I need your best offer.”  He did buy one on that Friday, but one of the dealers didn’t seem to understand plain English, and called back with a sales pitch a few weeks later.  That proves my method may not be 100% effective, but that feedback shows you where to not-buy next time too.  Try it, and you’ll win over time.  “Hello, I’m here to buy…”

Branding Snafu

I replaced my toothbrush yesterday and accidentally learned that there’s no way to identify most toothbrushes.

I wanted to get the same one (model), because I liked it, so I intentionally looked for a model name, number, or any descriptor that would help me get the same brush.  No luck.  I was surprised to notice the same level of generality at the store when comparing every other alternative too.  When building a brand, it makes sense to find something that makes you unique.  No toothbrush maker seems to understand this.  I can’t understand this logic – and I’m not buying generic toothbrushes; the old one was Colgate branded but the only other identifier was color (green), so it wasn’t possible for me to continue that brand loyalty and my new one’s an Oral B.  The new one is actually branded – Pro Health, however in similar stupidity, there’s nothing ON the new brush to remind me that it was Medium bristled, or that it was Pro Health for that matter.  Branding on the packaging that gets thrown away or recycled won’t earn you repeat business.  It was a losing strategy yesterday for Colgate, because they’ve lost a customer for a single purchase.  It’s probably a really bad long-term business platform too, because anyone who makes one that I’m fond of at this point, might just sell me a ten year supply.  I might buy a couple dozen just to beat the system, and that would kill the lottery of buying blindly.  This is silly and represents brand suicide, but these two corporations aren’t alone.

I needed replacement razors too…and Gillette’s Fusion brand has become so confusing that I wasn’t able to confidently buy replacements.  I know mine is not the Power (as in battery-powered) model, but there are too many other Fusion replacements (ProGlide, FlexBall, Manual)  and I’m not sure if they’ll all work in my shaving kit.  I suspect they will because of the shared Fusion brand, but there’s nothing there to reassure me that “All Fusion refills share Gillette connection technology,” or anything to let me know.  These are PREMIUM shaving products and that means it costs too much to buy the wrong replacement.

These are simple mistakes, and most likely require a team of marketers to miss…but it’s really bad when you forget about the customer and forsake a brand.  It’s rare for me to criticize here, but I have no loyalty to toothbrush brands – I am loyal to particular features, so anyone who decides to help me make sure I can get those benefits will have me hooked indefinitely.  My razor / razor-blade buying locks me into an ecosystem and that added complexity makes me angry.  I’m shaving with five dull blades this morning because I considered buying disposables last night and decided to review my current refills in an attempt to get the right ones next trip to the store.  Brands like these should know better, and we all deserve it!

It’s Better To Be Nice

Too often, we rage, rant, and rave against the wrong people.

Wars effect the least of a population first – nations focus weapons against regimes and dictators but it’s the sick, the poor and the elderly who suffer first and suffer worst.

Another business principle extracted from the tales of Jesus, is that we should respond in kindness – especially when those helpless victims are the ones who may be hurting us, through no choice of their own.  Look closely at the story of Peter’s sword-swinging, ear-chopping defense of Jesus, when the guards came to take him:

“Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.” ~John 18:10, KJV

Now, consider this perspective:

“…the victim of the violence is identified as the slave of the high priest.  A slave is someone who does not act independently but only under orders.  It would be unusual to arm a slave, especially if armed men were already present.  The victim of Peter’s sword is, quite possibly, an unarmed man who had no choice about being there in the first place.” ~Gospeled Lives: Encounters with Jesus, A Lenten Study by John Indermark.

How can we apply the wisdom of Christ in our modern lives?  I think we should examine the way we treat similar people every single day.  Maybe you don’t realize it, but you’re interacting and conducting business with people who are “just following orders,” with as must innocence as the slave in the story of Jesus’ abduction.  It’s better to be nice to them, and treat them like they matter – they are (after all), there to serve you.

  • The waitress (She’s at the mercy of the kitchen, and only delivers what they produce.)
  • The cashier (Even when s/he is having trouble with your return.)
  • The telemarketer (I know…this one cuts deep.)

I have a really difficult time eating with people who are rude to the servers in restaurants…it’s hard for me to ever think well of someone who’s a jerk to a complete stranger.  I’m not alone, because many job interviews are conducted over meals simply to observe how you interact with others.  {Theres also a legend of Henry Ford, not hiring someone who salted their food before tasting it.}

Being pleasant is better than presenting yourself as a grumpy or arrogant customer.  Appreciation goes a long way toward getting what you want, and it’s better to acknowledge that you’re in charge of yourself and your emotions, rather than defaulting to visible anger that creates a “get rid of this idiot,” objective from someone’s manager.

Bottom line: sugar goes further than salt, so you’ll stand a better chance of getting what you want if you help the other person maintain their dignity by respecting them.

Someone’s Out of Touch

This won’t be an attack of the famous Chick-fil-A leadership process, or their fantastic training program that’s part of a proven American success story.  


I do want to voice some criticism based on my observations and  I sincerely hope that someone else can learn from their mistakes.

If a manager’s looking for someone to work the closing shift, why force them to interview from 8-10am in the morning?

Taking applications: CLOSING SHIFT.  Apply 8-10am only.

In case you don’t already know, no one can survive on minimum wage.  It should be expected that everyone you’re interviewing is already working another job (part-time or possibly even full-time).  It’s irresponsible, lazy, disrespectful and self-destructive to ignore the responsibilities of others.  Hundreds of candidates might be available to close the restaurant, but also unable to interview when it’s “convenient” for you as a manager.

If you really want to make a difference in the community, look again at the Golden Rule, and try to understand that you’re not the almighty engine of economic revitalization in your city…but if you choose to be a Linchpin leader, you might make a difference for one person at a time.

Finding the right person might require you to interview them in the time-slot that you expect them to work.

Voldemort and the Zen of Marketing

We’ve all been there before, and it doesn’t matter what business you’re in…the same rules apply.

You’re calling on a potential customer and that fatal moment arrives in the introduction, right after you tell them a little bit about what you do.

You ask them who they’re doing business with now.
They answer.

They utter a name that seems to grow in power and prestige every time it reverberates in your ears:

  • Consolidated takes care of our payables.
  • Safe Haven does our pest control.
  • Leak Free has the contract for all our plumbing.

It doesn’t matter what they say…what matters is what you HEAR.

If you’re not careful, you’ll notice a trend developing as you keep knocking on doors…and that’s the challenge.
If you hear the same names too many times,you might begin to think they are better than you.  Maybe they are, but you must find something unique about your business that matters to the prospect. If not, you’re better off looking into changing careers…maybe a desk job at the competitor might suit you.  Funny thing though…when you get there you’re going to hear a lot of prospects saying they do business with “You Know Who.” (You’re old firm.)

Try these responses on for size, as a way to move the conversation forward when you hear them utter the name of your nemesis.

Don’t be afraid of their name…or their business acumen. Your prospect doesn’t think they’re all powerful, and neither should you.

Find the good in them and you can find the strength to survive.

  • Consolidated typically does great work. Do you have cell phone access to your rep.?
  • I love the Safe Haven website…it’s the next best thing to our iPhone App.
  • It it true that Leak Free is reducing invoice paper waste?  We started doing that ten years ago, and we’ve passed those savings on to our customers every year.

Unless you find a unique position of strength that gives you a stable platform, you’re not going to persuade anyone to use your company. More importantly, unless you have that high ground, you’re not going to effectively serve them either.

The Kindle Inflation Killer:

The Kindle Edition of a printed book is typically priced lower, because there’s virtually no cost associated with printing, storage, or delivery.

The Kindle platform allows you to offset the inflation costs of buying a book, making it even less expensive.

How to Make Money – Revisited is discounted 89% on Kindle from it’s original 1922 price of $2.00, when adjusted for inflation.  My version doubles the content and costs 89% less in today’s dollars!

{$2.00 in 1922 is $27.55 in 2012 dollars.}

As prices rise, and inflation takes a toll on buying power, the electronic versions of all products become more attractive.

Not only is the Kindle version at $2.99, less than half the price of the $7.97 printed copy of my book…the Kindle is more likely to remain at it’s price point over time.

Mastery: Is it OK to be Incompetent Sometimes?

Mastering anything is always a challenge, always a struggle, and always an ongoing evolutionary process of growth and personal development.

You have to start somewhere, and there are four phases to becoming a master at anything.

1.) Unconscious Incompetence – you don’t know what you don’t know:

It’s not always an insult to have some level of incompetence.  Some people walk around in ignorant bliss akin to “Dumb and Dumber,” but everyone’s been through this stage.  Anytime you start something new, you’ll enter that newness with a certain level of the unknown; like a new job.  You don’t know that your boss’s brother-in-law is the third-shift foreman.  You don’t know how long it will take to finish your month-end paperwork.  It’s new.  You can’t know everything in advance…you have to start somewhere.

2.) Conscious Incompetence – you know what you don’t know:

Soon, you should develop a list of things you already have proficiency at, and “another” list of things that you need to learn.  CPA’s exist because of this one…you know that you don’t understand IRS tax code, so you hire an expert.

3.) Conscious Competence – you know what you know:

When you figure out what you need to know, the next step is to develop those skills.  After a short while, you’ll become confident in your abilities.  It’s exciting to be able to say, “I’ve got this.”  You’re a pro, but not yet a guru, because you still have to aim before you shoot, and you still have to follow the recipe.

4.) Unconscious Competence – you don’t know what you know:

While performing at standard levels, there are additional skills that you acquire subconsciously.  You can’t teach these to anyone, because you’re unaware of them.  This is why mentoring is a powerful training method.  This level describes those times when you’re doing something without thinking, like riding a bicycle.