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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Understand your customer

On a Saturday some weeks ago, I was driving from Chapel Hill to Durham along a commuter-friendly back road. The car in front of me suddenly turned its hazard lights on and stopped. Luckily I was some distance and I too turned my hazard lights on and stopped. Cars that were behind me were quite far off and also came to a stop behind me. I was about to get out to see if I could help, when a man jumped out of the car in front and went to pick up something from the road. He emerged holding a turtle by its shell and started walking to the ditch with the obvious intention of helping to speed the turtle’s road crossing. As we were all admiring this act of grace and how it had saved the turtle’s life, the turtle seemed to be of a different opinion. It turned its head and tried to snap at the man’s wrist. Startled, the man quickly finished his task of escorting the turtle, and I laughed to see the relief on his face.Your customers are like the turtle. You think they think like you. Unfortunately, they don’t. And this is the biggest marketing myth that is being propagated these days. How often have you heard: “Treat your customers like you would like to be treated.” No. The market is never homogeneous. The best customer service is when you treat your customers as they would like to be treated. I can’t emphasize that. Imagine a hotel manager who arranges feather pillows for you in your room before you check in. Great thought! But what if you are allergic to feathers, or if, like me, you simply hate the thought of some poor bird’s feathers under your head? Seth Godin has an interesting take on this.I’m reminded of a story–perhaps fictitious–from history. When Alexander came to conquer India, he faced the mighty king Puru (“Porus” as the Greeks called him). Puru had a huge army with terrifying elephants. Alexander’s victory on the banks of the river, Jhelum–the Greeks called it Hydaspes–was hard and long-fought (some say the victory was so Pyrrhic that his army rebelled, and Alexander had to go back without conquering the rest of India). The legend goes that when Puru was brought before Alexander, Alexander asked him, “How would you like to be treated?” Puru replied, “Like a king.” Impressed, Alexander let him retain his kingship.Firms had better start asking their customers, “How would you like to be treated?” instead of making stereotypical assumptions. This used to be difficult in the past but today’s technology allows us to do this. But more than the ability to do this perhaps, one needs the courage to do it.Vivekin’s Pay WYVAYCan pricing policy (in a sense) asks–”What would you like to pay?” I hope other consulting firms follow this example.