As a dirt poor uni student, I shared a near-derelict Victorian terrace that even the rats avoided. Literally.
No amount of vigorous scrubbing, slathered coats of paint or scratchy coir matting could disguise that it was one rotting floor board away from being condemned.
At first the only reason why I chose to live there was the super easy walk to uni. Just pretty much across the road.
But very quickly I discovered an even better reason.
Our little neighbourhood convenience store. It was run by a couple whose English was not just poor but quite possibly non-existent. Tough to run a business if you don't speak the language, you say? Luckily, no one told them.
Luckily, because the biggest business lesson that I learnt from that couple was never loose sight of your customer's needs. Their pain points, their problems. If you do loose sight, then there's another local convenience shop just around the corner whose service will be customer-centric. Or the big supermarket 100 meters back the in the other way that's cheaper and open longer hours.
So why was this small convenience store so damn busy?
So popular with everyone in our community, even us horribly impoverished uni students who had to pool our last few dollars to buy food? Why did locals walk 100m past the supermarket to shop there? (Well, besides that every Tuesday they stacked their freezer with tubs of home-made, unbelievably tongue-tantalizing ice cream laced with deliciously, seasonal fresh fruit or drunk with walnut liquor or Baileys or... you get the idea. It wasn't cheap, especially by supermarket standards.)
And every Tuesday they sold out. Every single tub! Every single Tuesday!
You want to know why?
They gave fantastic customer service. Every time. To every one. Every single day!
Want a crystal-clear example?
Between us we'd somehow scrounge up $2 to buy a slice of chicken liver pate to spread tissue thin on last week's Vita-wheat biscuits. Two dollars. Not two dollars twenty or two dollars fifty. Just two dollars. We'd count the cents out carefully onto the counter. And Helene would slice two dollars worth from the lusciously aromatic loaf of pate. Carefully weigh it, wrap it and hand it to us, her beautifully manicured nails polished a glistening shade of pink.
So one particular day, I complemented her on her gift for precision slicing. Exactly two dollars worth of pate, every time.
As a conspiratorial smile spread beneath her perfectly applied lipstick, my eyes followed her gaze to the numbers glowing in green on the scales. Two dollars twenty three!
But she charged me only for what I'd ordered. Two dollars.
She always had.
Because she knew my pain-point. She never lost sight of why I came to her shop.
She did it for everyone of course. Because loyal customers lining up out the door were worth more than the few extra cents that she could have charged.
Wow! What a smack bang business 101 lesson! Delight your customers with service so good they are addicted to doing business with you.
Now, I'm no big corporate hot shot. Clearly BHP isn't feeling threatened by my takeover bid... yet!
But today, as I perched on a sticky, vinyl folding chair in an airless conference room, I listened as business owners shared their entrepreneurial stories. Stories from a great salesman, so buy my membership, a story from a coach who stayed on Nekker Island, so buy my book and stories from a consultant who beamed broadly across the audience about faking it in the hope of making it, so buy my course.
These were also the stories of business failure, bankruptcy, broken family relationships and debt.
But nothing about the customer. Customer needs, wants, desires. Their pain points. Client motivation.
Why someone would choose to deal with your business instead of the one down the road. Or, why your potential customer clicked away from your page to visit the next one down on Google's search results page. Never to return.
Why did they navigated away from your business? Do you even know that they were there? Why did they not give you a second chance to connect with them? Buy your product or service? Reach out to find out more about your consultancy?
So many reasons.
But that little neighbourhood store was there for decades. Helene and Ivor and their loyal, repeat customers. When they eventually sold the business they kept the premises and neighbouring house they had invested in over their years. They moved to their south coast home to retire.
The new business owner survived only a year before he lost out to the supermarket. He stopped selling the Tuesday ice cream, homemade pate, crusty artisan breads and sold the same stuff stocked by the supermarket. But for higher prices because he lacked the advantage of bulk-buying.
Aiming for bigger profits with lower overheads seemed smart, except his customers didn't buy it.