What The Customer Really Wants

Passionate people prioritize their principles! That’s great – when it’s what the customer wants. But most of the time, the customer just likes simplicity. It never ceases to amaze me how many times world class companies and their entrepreneurs just don’t get this.

I get to spend a lot of time in airports these days, and most of all at Amsterdam Schiphol, where we are launching a world class new service for frequent flyers. The great thing about airports is that they are such an amazing opportunity not only to people watch, but to watch mankind – imagine all that amazing talent from all over the world and from so many different cultures. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.

A weakness of mine is my coffee and so I get to spend a lot of time in the Starbucks queue at Schiphol. They know me well by now. So, the other day, I was performing my perfunctory queue duty at the height of the airport rush hour, and I made note of the following: 6 different spoken languages, 12 different orders for coffee, and 12 moments of insistence….and the conclusion?

Bearing in mind the wide cultural diversity, not one single traveler mentioned “venti”, “tall” or “grande”. To them it was simple: small, medium or large. 12 points of denial on behalf of the “barristas” who insisted on using the language they were trained to use, and 12 points of insistence from the customer….”NO, I WANT IT SMALL. Don’t you get it????” Starbucks creates a world class experience for some of us who like coffee. But they didn’t change the world for any of us with a tongue in our heads. People like it small, medium or large. Period.

Likewise I see many entrepreneurs embark on a journey ground-breaking, world-changing, top-of the curve, bells n’ whistles, super-particle accelerating, record-breaking product that will change peoples’ lives forever. Truth is, it hardly ever does. Never over-engineer, keep it simple and humble, and ensure ALWAYS it’s what the customer wants.

The Thin Red Line

OK, so I end the day by sharing with the world a dirty little secret.  The other day my company went into temporary unauthorized overdraft. It was the first time in the company’s history that his had happened, and, as always, an “oversight”.  I was about to call the bank with the usual “sorry, I won’t do it again”. But I didn’t. I waited….and waited….and waited….for a call.

You see, I am the CEO of a start-up. And for once, times are sweet. Any day now, a rather large sum of money is about to hit the bank account….the result of  years of sweat and patience, working with investors to finance a rather large project at Amsterdam airport that will change the travel world forever….but that’s another story….

You see, I didn’t call because I wanted to test a reaction and this is the reason why:

Here I am, probably one of several hundred thousand CEOs and Managing Directors, watching for any potential red lines on their bank statements. On the other hand, the major banks are all about to publish their year end results, and with huge city bonuses being paid out, memories of huge government bail-outs this time last year are still rather fresh in the minds of business owners.  Why? Because the apparent government pressure on the banks to start lending more to business doesn’t seem to be working. But that’s another story too….

The call came! He introduced himself as Mr. so and so from “Collections” and he wanted to know about the red line. I explained the mistake, reminded him of the imminent arrival of a rather large sum of money, and of course, that it “wouldn’t happen again”. He blurted out some technical garbage suggesting he wasn’t paying a blind bit of attention to what I, the customer, was explaining, so I raised my voice with the words, “Listen, this if the first time in the company’s history. It is an oversight. And besides, why am I getting a call from “Collections” rather than my “Relationship Manager”, who by the way , I have never ever met during the entire history of my company”. I knew I had hit a nerve.

The best opportunity for any organization to establish and reinforce a relationship is during a momentary period of pain. It doesn’t need to happen often, and at the end, there may be no successful outcome. But sometimes, it’s not the outcome, but the moment itself that is memorable, and gives the customer a reason to maintain the relationship.

You’d think it was human nature…but some organizations do not possess that gene.  Great entrepreneurship is about spotting thin red line moments like this, and doing something about it.

On Yer Bike

One morning about 6 months ago, I remember an agonizing pain in my feet as I was getting out of bed. For the runners amongst you, I am sure you’ll agree – we don’t like to be reminded we’re getting old, and so I tried running through the pain. But the more I tried to grin and bear it, the worse it got.  Doc told me it was a common runner’s (and apparently ballet dancer’s complaint) called planter fasciitis, also known as runner’s heel. The cure was remarkably simple: get some rest, and don’t run for 6 months.  “On yer bike…” I was literally told.

I hear of many entrepreneurs who start something new….and then, text-book style, they wake up one morning with an enormous pain. They try to manage through it. Sometimes, the pain goes, but most often it doesn’t. When it doesn’t go, the only remedy is time itself.

Time stands still for no-one, least of all the entrepreneur who has given it all for the business. Passion gets most entrepreneurs out of bed in the morning, but if you start to feel a constant and recurring pain during your first waking moments, it’s really time to take stock. Better to save yourself the time by moving onto something new and afresh – than to persist on slogging though something that gives increasing pain and injury.