Leadership on Point

In the New Marketplace, the Customer is King

January 12, 2011 Richard Levin

Now that the holidays have come and gone, what have we learned?  If we didn’t know it already, we’ve learned that the customer is quirky, unpredictable, demanding, and…more than ever, the customer is king.  We’ve also learned that many businesses haven’t figured this out.  They feel the customer is an intrusion into their workday, and businesses are still woefully unprepared to deal with the challenging customer.

But just to clarify: this is not going to be a business-bashing blog.  On the contrary.  It’s a wake-up call for both the business and the customer, neither of whom understands their new role in a very different marketplace.  For businesses, it’s time to learn how to see around corners, to shine a spotlight in to the dark corners of the consumer’s psyche, and most of all to be prepared.

The marketplace is a psychological place, not just a physical and financial one.  It’s filled with mind-games, strange behaviors, and psychopathology.

Success in business is dependent on high-performing, well-trained, satisfied workers who understand that customers can be demanding.  Satisfied, appreciated workers who are trained in the fine art of stress management are more likely to build a better product and/or provide better service.

Some New Englanders may remember the original Lechmere Sales, operated for years by the Cohen family and their colleague Morris Glickman before it was sold to a national chain.  The Cohens intuitively understood that their employees would treat their customers like kings if the employees themselves were valued, treated fairly, and respected.  What emerged was a work ethic that permeated the company.  Long-term relationships evolved between customers and employees.  Authentic relationships were built, based on trust, collaboration, commitment, and competence.  Customers and employees alike remained loyal to Lechmere.

That kind of relationship is less common today.  First, customers have become used to buying according to price, not relationship (Lechmere, impressively, managed to balance both).  Second, the art of tending to the customer has been lost, in part because workers are in and out of service jobs so quickly.  Managers are often so thrilled to have a live body in a job (and some of those bodies are just barely alive) that they become afraid that heavy training will scare the worker off.

So that is the business side of the story.  And the lesson for consumers? When you call to complain, recognize that you’re talking to another human being who may be as frustrated as you are, who likely wants things to go well, and who may simply be a cog in a broken wheel.  We’re all in this together, folks, and mutual respect goes a long way.


Written by Dr. Richard Levin, President of Richard Levin & Associates. He can be reached at rlevin@richardlevinassociates.com.