An Important Question

You’re really not in business to make a profit, but you’re in business to render a service that is so good people are willing to pay a profit in recognition of what you’re doing for them.
—Stanley Marcus (1905–2002)

The purpose of your firm is to add to your customer’s wealth. By focusing on what customers really buy—expectations—and how important it is to exceed them, you will be well on your way to continuously delivering on that purpose at an increasing rate each day.

Your firm’s value proposition is a combination of price, quality and service, which come together to create a unique offering for your customer in order to offer a superior alternative in comparison to your competition.

Since the 1980s, the Total Quality Management movement arose as a way for firms to increase their quality, moving towards a Six Sigma, or zero defects, standard. The flaws in this strategy for a professional firm are obvious, since to err is human and rather than focusing on zero defects, I propose a zero defections standard, along with an effective customer complaint recovery strategy. The most successful firms in the world today turn away more customers than they accept because they have a rigorous pre-qualifying process and they understand that, ultimately, bad customers drive out good customers.

In my last post, I suggested the metaphor of your firm’s fixed capacity as a Boeing 777 airplane, in conjunction with the concept of the Adaptive Capacity Model, in order to segment your customer base by the value they place on your offerings. I believe The Firm of the Future is just as diligent in forecasting this capacity—in terms of its yield and load factors—as the airlines are today.

Customers will continue to patronize businesses where they are invited and remain where they are appreciated. Your firm will get the customer behavior it rewards. Customer loyalty is worth rewarding.

Of course, that does not imply you need to accept all customers, or keep low–valued customers within your firm. Since you cannot be all things to all people, it is important to work with only those individuals and businesses you enjoy and who have personalities you get along with.

You Are Your Customer List

In surveys conducted by David Maister, he found professionals spend between 55% and 80% of their time working with people they are either indifferent about, or just don’t like. Why do professionals do this? As Maister pointed out in his book True Professionalism. Supposedly, professionals are among society’s most bright, educated, and elite members—people who are supposed to have more career choices than anyone else. Yet they seem to be willing to accept a work life made up largely of “I can tolerate it” work and clients, and they feel that they cannot safely do anything about all that.

The fact is, you can do something about it, and you do have a choice of whom you work with and whom you accept as a customer. There is no justifiable reason for accepting—or retaining—customers whom you or your team members personally do not like. Toxic customers can have a negative effect on team member morale, which will ultimately have a deleterious effect on the firm’s wealth–creating ability.

If, on the other hand, you work with people you enjoy, not only will you do better work, be a more effective marketer, cross–sell more services, and attract like–kind customers, you will be a better professional and have a better quality of life.

Indeed, you are your customer list.

How does that make you feel?

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