Focus on customers, not the money


– manage the experience by treating customers the way they want to be treated

Years ago, in the early years of my career, I knew a consultant who always made a point to remind us about his love for money. It was clear that he was making some good money and was never hesitant to make noise about that fact. Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire associated with the Virgin brand, threw spokes into this wheel once when he answered a question in an interview, saying that his motivation in everything was first of all to solve a problem, and in the process hoped to make money. Our focus on money can cause us to lose sight of the most important actor here, the customer.


When our attention is on making money, we forget the importance of ensuring that we deliver what is most important – the out-of-world experiences to earn the loyalty of our customers. Your direct interaction with the customer – internally and externally – is what determines your success and the success of your business. The key is to manage interactions with customers to ensure that we amaze them throughout their journey. To do this effectively and consistently for the results we seek, we must be prepared to amaze customers every single time we engage with them.

To paraphrase the words of Shep Hyken, the customer experience guru, anytime we deal with the customer we should have the sense of being ready for the show. It simply means being prepared to engage with the customer the moment the curtain goes up and they walk into the store. In other words, as a service provider or salesperson with products and merchandise, you must embrace the fact that you are dealing with an audience who engages you on your counter. With that in mind, you must commit yourself to pleasing the audience with your best effort.

This means every time a customer shows up, staff are always ready and eager to help. They will take you through the stalls and help you locate what you are looking for. I recall my years in the UK walking into the retail chains where the staff were almost always willing to walk you through the aisles anytime you asked for help and would even go on to ask: “Anything else”? I get that a lot from the call centres here. The key is that where customer-centricity – as a culture – is strong, everybody understands the importance of paying attention to the needs of the customer and applying themselves to meet the need. To keep customers happy, we must deliberately raise our standards.

Specifically, there are a number of things we can do to keep us aligned with the customer experience. Here are some thoughts I have cited from Shep Hyken. First, treat the customer the way they want to be treated, be empathetic, and sense the mood. Second, focus on the customer, not the money. The function of business is not just to make money, it is to get and keep customers. Third, manage the first impression to set the tone for whatever follows. Fourth, the customer is not always right, even if the customer is wrong let her keep her dignity. Fifth, learn to bounce back even when things go wrong.

Treat Customers the way they want to be treated

Different customers come through the door with different needs. Some customers are quite talkative and do not mind chit-chat when they walk in. There are others who may be very serious and would only focus on their purpose, not seeking anything more than that. This is where empathy could be very valuable. To this end, it pays to sense the customer’s mood and to engage them in a way they would prefer. When a customer is willing to talk, you might want to know their goals, needs, and pain points. Show them you are human too and share relatable conversations to demonstrate your humanness.

On the contrary, a customer walks in and is in a hurry. Such a customer would have very little or no interest in small talk. If such a customer has a question, all he wants is an answer and nothing else. These two kinds of customers will obviously have to be treated differently. The responsibility for adapting to the customer’s preference is both personal and organisational. Employees must be trained to recognise key personality requirements and adapt accordingly to suit the moment. Different types of customers have different needs.

The following sub-groups have been identified by experts; Mission shoppers who know exactly what they are looking for; Browsers are customers browsing for certain items or pricing; Project shoppers are customers working on repair, maintenance, and home improvement projects; Business customers include schools, churches, local businesses who buy for their business or organisation; Service customers bring in items for repair. Whatever category in which you find a customer, the truth is plain and simple: customers expect to be understood; and if you don’t get them, they will find someone else.

Focus on the customer, not the money

Let’s heed the words of the Late Dr. Theodore Levitt, a senior professor at Harvard Business School: “The function of every business and organisation is to get and keep customers”. Whether the customer is purchasing from you now or not, your goal must be to deliver the best service you can, and eventually, the sale will come. Dr. Levitt emphasises that when you focus on customers and keep them happy, you will make money. Without customers, there is no business and ultimately no money. This resonates with my personal experience in Morrisons years ago in the UK.

I walked into a Morrison’s shop after work one day and decided to use the self-checkout machine. I was tired and thus was looking for a quick service hoping to get home as quickly as possible. I finished selecting my items and walked to the self-checkout to scan the items and make the payment. Unfortunately, after scanning, when I inserted my debit card the machine gave me an error. I sought help from an attendant and she could not help out either so she called the manager. Seeing that the machine was malfunctioning I offered to use the next console.

The manager held up her hand and said: “No, that’s alright! We have wasted 20 minutes of your time, just take the things home”. I took the items home for free that day. The experience was phenomenal as following that incident, the supermarket became my preferred retailer more for sentimental reasons than rational. The emotional effect of an experience will potentially trigger a domino effect with the ultimate effect of a financial windfall. Money is definitely important in business but like Sir Richard Branson shared, seek to be a problem-solver and hope to make money afterward.

Manage the first impression

It is imperative that we consciously manage the first impression with our customers. First impressions are evident variously. This could be when a customer picks up the phone to either make an inquiry or initiate a transaction. It could be a customer walking into your store to perform a transaction, or it could be a visit to your website; either way, how you engage speaks volumes of the first impression. That Makola lady who welcomes you or the pharmacist who is eager to suggest options for the prescription you have can change the narrative – bearing in mind the customer’s need and not just the sale.

According to industry experts, the first impression could be when you are engaging the customer for the 500th time! Really, with customers, it is not only about delighting them. It goes beyond that; they are more interested in reduced effort in getting things done, and this is what inspires loyalty. Today, leading companies are solving challenges with interactions on phone and mobile app authentication using voice biometrics, a technology that allows your customers’ voice to serve as a password. Aside from technology, there is the little matter of how we engage at the shop front.

Recent research indicates that 71 percent of consumers have ended their relationship with a company because of poor service, making it essential that your touchpoints are easy for customers to access, either physically or otherwise. Customers interact differently with products and services. Some may feel savvy while others might encounter difficulties. Either way, you should always be there to help them out. This process can only be managed intuitively with the right toolkit, such as surveys and feedback from customers to ensure that you are aligned with the customers’ needs.

The customer is not always right

This statement is profound! Only an expert like Shep Hyken, with years of experience under his belt can make such a telling statement. According to him, “if the customer is wrong, let him be wrong with dignity; after all, he is still the customer”. This means when dealing with customers, we must be sensitive – knowing that as humans, we are not always perfect. Therefore, even when the customer is wrong, it is no time to show how much we know. We must ensure that we navigate the experience with the customer’s dignity intact.

Imagine this scenario. You are leaving for lunch and this customer walks in to complain about a faulty product bought from you. Upon examination, you realise that it’s not faulty at all but the customer is insistent. Well, you could go on and argue about the fact that the customer has not been observant and win one over that customer. Or you could offer to help the customer out with the installation; perhaps, go along with the customer to the home or office to get it done. This personalised support will earn you great plaudits with the customer and guess the effect of this afterward.

The key is to give the customer the long rope until you can figure out exactly what the problem is. The customer is not always right but he/she is still the customer. Remember our mantra of focusing on the customer and not the money. Frontline providers must be trained to be sensitive to the customer at every encounter. I have shared this experience once about an outing with my boss, where he complained about a bad taste in his lobster. The waiter he complained to was overly defensive but his boss noticed it and quickly came over to our table and offered a replacement to my boss.

Although he did not accept it, he left satisfied that his voice had been heard. This is a moment of truth and can easily be missed if you lack awareness of the pivotal role of the customer in every engagement.

Learn to bounce back

Customer experience focuses on managing every encounter with the customer to achieve positive outcomes. This leaves the customer satisfied and willing to come back for more or even become an advocate. In the real world, it may not always be the case that we achieve positive outcomes. The key is to quickly recover when things go amiss. We must learn to bounce back quickly to keep our customers engaged and to make them feel valued. A conversation with a customer can start on the wrong foot; this may happen even in real life where you meet people for the first time and don’t get along.

Let me share this somewhat humorous story. Years ago, aboard a flight to Singapore, I sat by an American lady. We were having a chit-chat just before the flight took off and the subject went on to politics, and with my big mouth I expressed admiration for my side of American politics. Unfortunately, she was on the other side. Oh my that ended our chit-chat! Don’t get into that kind of cul-de-sac with a customer! Shep offers a 4-step process to recover from unfortunate encounters with customers. First, disengage. You may transfer the conversation to a colleague and ask for a time-out and assure the customer that the issue will be addressed.

Second, take time to cool off, take a break and make a conscious effort not to replay the whole drama you just encountered, perhaps do something else. Third, learn from the encounter, once you have had time to decompress, ask yourself how you would do things differently. This is called “smart failure” @Prof Eddie Obeng. Fourth, be deliberate about the learning. Take some notes if you can and share your insights with your boss. Use what you have learned about the experience to make your company’s process more customer-focused. It is important though that the company culture encourages learning.

The key is not to worry about the sale. Just direct your best efforts at taking care of the customer. Give the customer the best customer service you can deliver, even if the customer isn’t buying, eventually, the sale will come. Just try it and thank me later!


The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected],



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