This would be an easy business if it wasn’t for the bloody customers!

When I went to school, I was taught that the purpose of life was to get a professional job that would pay you well and not involve too much hard and dirty work with your hands.

So, I went to university to study Law.

Within about two weeks of starting, I realised that Law wasn\’t for me: there were a lot of people who were far more suited to it than me and I was never going to be excellent at it …!

But I decided to stick it out and finish the degree, because I believed that having a Law degree would always be a useful thing – and then decide what I wanted to do for a career.

In those days, in the last year at university there was a system called the ‘milk round’, where large companies came to try and recruit the best talent for the future.

Out of this system I very luckily was employed by Whitbread, who at that time were Brewers with lots of pubs.

My first job with them was as a beer rep in mid-Kent.

One of the things I remember hearing people in the industry say – and this was said quite frequently – was:

‘This would be an easy business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers!’.

And what I think they meant – certainly in the pubs – was that selling beer and running pubs is a wonderful way to earn a living, but unfortunately your customers sometimes get out of hand when they\’ve been drinking alcohol!

And I think in the brewery they probably meant something like owning properties and renting them out is a lovely business, but if only the tenants weren\’t so demanding, and difficult and making life so hard for us!

It always struck me as strange.

Because I\’ve always thought that any business is its customers: the whole purpose of a business is to serve its customers, and those that anticipate the customers’ real needs and serve them the best, are the ones that win.

Recently, I came across a story about a cafe in Cornwall that was complaining about customers giving them poor reviews on TripAdvisor without telling them first.

Indeed, this story was about someone who’d given them a one star review about some dry cake and a poor cup of coffee.

In response, the cafe posted on Facebook that customers should – and I make a point of using that word – speak to them first before giving them a one star review.

In the wording of the post, it was implied that customers were rather stupid, and it\’s a very hard job to run a café, and really the customers ought to change their behaviour in order to comply and make life easier for the cafe owners. In other words:

‘This would be an easy business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers!’

It seems to me that this attitude is prevalent across many businesses. I speak to business owners, and very often employees, who say to me their own version of ‘This would be an easy business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers!’

So that\’s why I felt it was worth writing a blog about it, and it seems to me that the most important point here is that the people who say this, shall I suggest rather poisonous phrase, or similar, are making a grave error.

They\’re focused on their customer service as a sort of service to the customer.

But the real issue, in my opinion, is that It\’s not about customer service at all (i.e. what you do for them).

It\’s about customer experience (what they think of you).

The key is to remember that it is hard to get it right for customers. It is hard to run a business well. It is hard to deliver exceptional customer experiences, and it is hard to earn customer loyalty and reputation.

That\’s why so few businesses do it well, and that\’s why if a business can learn how to do it well, they will immediately stand head and shoulders above their competition.

So, the key here is not to focus on your own business and your own ‘customer service’, but instead to accept that it\’s difficult, and accept that customers can be awkward or not want to tell you about things and rather tell other people, and to deal with this by focusing on their experience by looking at and listening out for their thoughts and signals.

Consistently and continually in all you do.

When you commit to this and start to put simple systems in place to do this well, you’ll then start to put yourself head and shoulders above your competition – because they will still be stuck in the: ‘This would be an easy business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers!’ mindset!

The other side of this coin is that actually it would be a terrible business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers.

  • If you didn\’t have the ‘bloody customers’ first of all, you wouldn\’t have any business.
  • And if you didn’t have the bloody customers, and they didn\’t tell you or other people about you, there wouldn\’t this pressure on customer experience and customer reputation, and you would never learn and grow. There would be no need to keep improving, and business would stagnate – just as of course, we used to see in the good old days of nationalised industries – customers would stay away and your business would die.

So it’s vital not to moan about the customers and say ‘this would be an easy business wasn\’t the bloody customers!’. I know this may be said often as a joke, but underneath every joke is a powerful element of psychology and reality.

The key is to change how you see the situation, and then you will change what you do about the situation. And then you\’ll change what the situation does for you, i.e. the results that you get.

What I teach in this area is the following phrase. Instead of, ‘This would be an easy business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers,’ I teach:

‘The customer isn\’t always right, but they are always the customer and earning their reputation and loyalty is what our business depends upon.’

So, that\’s easy to say, but often so hard to do.

Because people have this hidden belief that ‘it would be an easy business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers!’. 

I would suggest that any business is only as good as the mindset it puts forward, and the systems to make sure that the mindset gets delivered consistently and continually at the frontline every time.

So, I suggest business owners need to first of all change their point of view and instead focus on:

‘How fortunate we are to have customers that are picky and how important it is for our business to focus on customer experience reputation and loyalty – because it\’s what keeps us on our toes, keeps us improving and keeps us rising above our competition!’.

Then they need to put systems in place to listen to the customer, engage them, learn from them and continually improve.

To finish this simple blog, a story of a pub I worked with a few years ago in Somerset.

The owners of this pub bought it as it was going bankrupt. They started by working on their mindset, and ended up with a belief phrase or a mission statement that said:

‘Our aim is to ensure that every customer leaves with a smile on their face, keen to return.’

Okay, easy to say. Like everything else, much harder to do.

So what did they do to make sure that this phrase was both believed and jugular to every system and person in the business, and what systems did they put in place to make sure this behaviour was delivered consistently on the frontline every day?

Well, first of all the systems to make sure it was believed and jugular to the business:

  • They printed this up on every document they had, they changed everyone\’s job description to achieve this, i.e. your job is no longer bar person … it is to ensure our customers leave with a smile on their face, keen to return.
  • And they set up a feedback and reward system for the staff based on the results of the feedback.

And the systems they then used to make sure this happened every day?

  • They trained everyone in this idea, and what it meant, and how they were going to gather feedback and what rewards there were for this.
  • They put a simple, powerful feedback and response system in place. Linked to a weekly ‘Go the extra inch’ system:

The customer feedback system operated like this:

Step 1:  On sitting at their table the customer was told about the mission to ensure they left with a smile on their face, keen to return, and explained about the feedback system and how the pub would ask for feedback.

Step 2:  They were handed a poker chip, colour coded to the person serving them, which they were asked to put into one of three slots in a transparent plastic box on the way out. The box read, ‘How was experience today, poor, okay or great? Similar to the smiley face systems you sometimes see in toilets and things, but much more thought through and personal than that.

Step 3:  The server would tell them that if there was any reason why they felt they couldn\’t put the poker chip into the ‘great’ slot, would they please let them or their manager know – and both were introduced by name – before they left, or as and when any issue arose? That would be the only way that the server could ensure that they solved any problems that arose.

Step 4:  Every server wore a T-shirt with a picture of a smiley cat on the front. The front of the T-shirt read ‘My job is to make you look like this.’ On the back it said, ‘If I have done, please tell all your friends. And if I haven\’t done, please tell me or my manager.’

Step 5:  There was a comment card left on the table with a pen asking them if they wanted to be signed up to the priority invitation list (We’ll learn more about that on another blog) and if they had any comments that they would like to make that could result in an improved experience.

This system was implemented and a score line set. It started at 80% as the target into the ‘great’ slot and ended up at 93% as the target. If they achieved this, then whatever tips were given were increased by 50% out of the profits of the business.

And indeed, on one notable occasion, on one evening, everyone went home with over £100 in tips.

So it worked like magic because it was set out right from the start with the intention of valuing the customer and valuing their feedback, and then a system (that was put together slowly and comprehensively, using the ‘Slow Selling’ principles) was implemented to ensure that value was passed on systematically at every step in the customers’ experience.

And within a year this business had increased turnover by over 20-fold.

So, if you, or anyone in your business, has either consciously or subconsciously the belief that ‘this would be an easy business if it wasn\’t for the bloody customers!’, then it\’s highly unlikely that you\’re going to be able to put any systems in place to achieve and deliver excellence consistently and continually, and your business will continue to struggle.

The key to all of this is to change how you see the business, and remember that the customer isn\’t always right, but they are the customer.

The success of your business depends on their experience and the reputation they spread about you.

And the success of that depends on the systems you put in place to make things happen.

Slow Selling is a UK based not for profit organisation for leaders of independent businesses.

It is a set of principles to help you slow down, set up systems for long term success, and use these to grow sales and profits through reputation, attraction, recommendation and referral.

Without wasting time, money and stress on unnecessary marketing and promotions.

To find out more, please click here

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