Never Turn Out the Lights on Your Customers!

by Kent Covington & Jimmy Harris

BEWARE! Don’t allow a slow economy to scare you into making short-sighted decisions! 

One evening, not too long ago, I was sitting in a café/bakery style restaurant, where I frequently took my laptop to catch up on a little work. I arrived at 6:45 and immediately confirmed with the guy at the counter that they did in fact close at nine that night, as the business hours posted on the door stated. 

To my surprise, less than half an hour later, one of the employees asked me if I would like a refill before they poured out all of the coffee. He told me that since business was slow that evening, they would be closing early. I scanned the cafe and noticed several other parties still enjoying a meal or a coffee. Minutes later, a lady walked up to the counter and was turned away. The irritation was noticeable in her voice as she lamented “I thought you guys close at nine!” 

I lingered for another 20 minutes or so, and during that time, I counted four more parties approach the entrance, tug in vain on the handle of each glass door, look at each other, point to the window sticker that listed the hours of operation, shrug their shoulders, and walk away. 

But this is a marketing newsletter, right? So what’s this got to do with marketing? Everything. In fact, if I were writing an article to show you how to KILL your marketing . . . this is the sort of thing I’d suggest! 

I for one will think twice before going back there again. And I’d be willing to bet the other eight or ten people who were there that night feel the same way I do. And of course, we’ll all tell our friends. 

“Yeah, but they DID save money” that evening, right? 

No. They didn’t. They threw money out the window. It doesn’t matter if they sell sandwiches and coffee, or tires, insurance or appliances… ultimately, they are in the customer service business (we all are, after all). Sacrificing service to save a few bucks is no better than serving a stale bagel or a cold cup of coffee. They just ran off probably 8 or 10 customers who are going to become “anti-evangelists” for this store. When you weigh that against the $48 they saved in man-hours and electricity... well, you do the math. 

When revenue drops, businesses of all varieties look for wasteful spending that can be eliminated. The key word of course, is “wasteful”. 

Maybe you can clean your own bathrooms, or answer the phone with one less person. Perhaps you can clean the windows and take the trash out yourself. Maybe you don’t need the water service, and you can paint that hallway wall yourself. But the moment you start closing your doors early, your customers will notice. When you turn off your on-hold marketing, your company will sound smaller, and less professional and confident on the telephone. 

Think long and hard before cutting your delivery or business hours. Keep visiting job sites. Keep going the extra mile. In fact, when business is slow, it’s time to do MORE, not less. The good news is that doing “more” doesn’t necessarily mean spending much more. 

I recently spoke to a man who built one of the most successful electrical wholesale supply locations in the nation, with Lowes and Home Depot right across the street. He accomplished this largely through a series of low cost innovations. For example, they brought in a few toaster ovens, and frequently baked cookies in the store for their customers. They intentionally baked them in-store, rather than just bringing them in, so that when customers walked through the door, it smelled more like a bakery than an electrical supply store. It was a small thing, but even the smallest of innovations can go a long way toward separating yourself from your competitors. Do the opposite of what the restaurant I visited did to its patrons, and constantly remind YOUR customers how greatly you value them! 

In a tough economy, it is more important than ever to provide a more remarkable customer experience than your competitors. Serve them in an extraordinary way. And don’t forget to keep talking to them! Continue investing in marketing & sales efforts! Customer service and marketing are the two lifelines to your customers. Sever those lines at your own risk. Enhance them, and you’ll be among the survivors – and thrivers – when things turn around! 

Then you can help those competitors who are, in effect, turning off the lights on their clientele… by taking some of those pesky customers off their hands.