Your Best Customer

By Bruce Johnson
6 November 2003

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Let me set the scene. In a recent public forum a long-time, and very happy, customer of ours (we'll call him Charles) posted a glowing review of our company. Now I've had good reports before, but this was positively head-swelling. After I read it even I had an immediate desire to go out and meet the folks he was talking about.

While we were wallowing in the pool of self-congratulation, another long-term, mostly happy, customer (we'll call him Bob) stepped in and pointed out where we were not living up to the hype.

As often happens in situations like this the forum immediately erupted as several other customers of ours sprang to our defense. (And it's nice to know you're out there - keep it up <grin>).

While it's nice to be defended, and it's nice to have positive feedback, I'd venture to suggest that of them all, Bob is our best customer.

Now before Charles et al get offended, please understand me. I'm not saying that positive feedback is bad. It's not. It's great. It's what we live for. It makes us get up in the morning, and it sends us to bed with a satisfied smile on our faces. When you have a positive experience, by all means let the person know. We need customers like Charles, people who are prepared to share the good stories. In any business happy customers are the key to growth and success.

But at the same time it's very important, for us, not to get swept away by the encouragement. Bob's point was fair, and true. Sure we could ignore it (write it off as "you'll never make everyone happy") or we can ignore him ("Bob's just a whiner who's always unhappy about something"), or we can take it to heart. The fact that we are doing some things right should not blind us to the places where we can improve. The moment we feel we've arrived, the moment we stop listening to Bob, that's the moment we start going downhill.

Apart from Charles and Bob there's also another group of customers. They're unhappy for some reason, but they don't tell us. They vote with their feet, and their wallets, and simply never use us again. If we only knew what went wrong for them, maybe we could fix it. Maybe we could make it right. (How many folks go to a restaurant, get a bad experience, don't complain, and never go back?) But since they don't tell us, we don't know. And they're out there, I'm not so naive as to think that everyone is having as good a day as Charles. Sure we want Charles. Sure we like Charles. And you had better believe we work hard to stay on his good side. But if we only focus on Charles then we're doing ourselves a disservice.

Bob is so valuable simply because he's one of the few who's prepared to stand up against the flow, and call a spade a spade. And I'll be honest - it doesn't make him popular. He's the boy telling us the emperor is naked. Most of all we know if we can make him happy, then we'll make others out there happy as well.

True excellence is built on the feedback from the Bob's of this world.

And for that Bob, we thank you.

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