The Customer What Customer Syndrome Part I

Jim Blasingame

Here’s a classic business maxim that was an article of faith for generations: "It’s essential to know at all times what your competition is doing, or you might lose old accounts and new prospects."

Do you still worry about the competition? In the Age of the Customer, an obsession with the competition can result in an unfortunate and dangerous condition I call the "Customer? What Customer? Syndrome," or CWCS for short.

A company has CWCS when it’s more likely to ask, "What’s my competition doing?" than the much more appropriate questions, "What do my customers want?” and “What are my customers’ expectations?” 

There are two levels of CWCS. In this column, we’ll focus on Level I.

Level One afflicts employees when the company focus is not on the customer. You see Level I CWCS all the time across the marketplace.

·         A fast food employee shoves a sack of burgers at you without looking or saying anything; no smile or "Thanks for your business." That's CWCS.


·         Here's another one: When two employees can't break away from their very important chat to engage you as you enter their store or department, you've just been a victim of a drive-by CWCS.

·         You call or go by a business to get help with product or service issue that the company needs to fix. Afterwards, you thank the employee who helped you, who then says, incredibly, "No problem," as if you’ve just been forgiven for bothering him. You were just slimed by CWCS.

Let's rewind these three scenarios and correct the responses. In the first example, the proper behavior is direct eye contact, a sincere smile and a simple but powerful, "Thank you. Please come back again."

In the second situation, no chatting is allowed when customers are present, even if they said they’re just looking. More times than not, a “just looking” visitor will need help within minutes, and you should be ready when they look up.

Finally, in the third scene, instead of "No problem" – which is the worst things to ever say to a customer – how about, "I'm very sorry you had this problem. Thank you for allowing us to make it right. What else can we do for you?"

Organizations with Level One CWCS commit plenty of resources to stay ahead of the competition in products, pricing and marketing. But if training happens at all, it's usually to sell "at" customers, rather than deliver on expectations. Sadly, often there is no training, which allows CWCS to occur naturally, like rust, with the same unfortunate results.

The good news is Level One CWCS is absolutely preventable. All it takes is hiring the right people and training them to focus on being relevant to customers and their expectations first, not the competition.

There is one more thing: Management has to operate the business so that employees believe the company is focused on getting customers what they really want, rather than manipulating customers in order to beat the competition. This leads us to Level Two CWCS, which we will discuss next week. Level Two CWCS only afflicts management.

Write this on a rock ... 

The more you focus on the customer, the irrelevant the competition becomes.

Jim Blasingame is the author of the award-winning book, The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance, and host of the Small Business Advocate Show.

Print page