Who’s your customer, really?

In a “customer-centric” world, we too often lose sight of the customer.

“But I paid no attention to what mattered most”

— Ty Herndon, “What Mattered Most”

Geoff Wilson

I’ll level with you: I espouse a professional-services ethic that is decidedly “client first.” It’s frustrating to some who have worked alongside me, and perhaps edifying to others. I’ll write on where it comes from one of these days.

What “client first” means for me is this: If you’re working for or with me in serving a client on a project, the only productive discussion is one that reasonably focuses on the client mission within the defined scope.

However, I’m also experienced enough to know that not all service providers are bought into this mentality. WGP has at least once engaged specialist consultants who simply can’t step outside of their own rate structure to figure out what is best for the end client (or even WGP as their own client). The “job” is to spend time on an account and to bill fees.

What a boring mission. What a boring definition of “customer.”

In that mode of consulting, the product is hours or days of work, and the customer is actually the consultant, who seeks ways to serve herself through development of fees. The true client—the “Big C” client paying the bills—is incidental to the process.

If you employ consultants or employees who focus more on their time, their process, and their rights than on your problem to solve, you are incidental to the process. You’re like Facebook users—important to the business model because you make it go, but incidental to the business.

If you’re an executive, you have multiple customers: likely a boss, board, shareholders, and the Big C customer. And you have yourself. If you find yourself trouncing Big C in order to please your other customers or pad your income, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Some of the best consultants and executives I know make income, fees, and work nearly incidental to the client relationship. Good service is well compensated, unless you do work for bad clients (or bad bosses). But then again, why would you want to help them?

The “client first” model that we work hard to champion at WGP is simple: Listen, bring something new, do real work. Too many in professional services do too little of each of these, and then wonder why they look and act self-centered.

The key is in knowing who the customer is. Do you know yours? Is it the Big C customer, or some other customer you’re serving.

What do you think?

Technology – Putting the Cuss in Customer Experience

Why technology is indirectly stressing our customer service experience


The other day, while waiting for my prescription to be filled, I was subjected to one side of a heated phone conversation. A clearly frustrated lady was yelling at some poor person over the phone because her credit card had been denied; after several minutes, it transpired there was in fact nothing wrong with the card. As consumers, our expectations these days are high and our patience is low, and the same situation is also evident in the workplace. How many times in the last week have you heard someone complain about their job or their coworkers?  Happy workers seem to be the exception rather than the norm.

That got my brain ticking. Why is this, and what does it all mean?

I believe that technology is the root cause. Let me elaborate.

The prevalence of technology in our lives means that we are always ”on,” and this drives the expectation of instant results with minimum effort. Heck, you can even order a pizza with an emoji these days—pepperoni is only one click away. The speed of life in the developing world is beyond warp.

At the same time, we have become increasingly preoccupied with ourselves. Much has been written about the “me” culture and the incredible sense of entitlement that prevails. Social media has fueled this, providing an outlet for our narcissism and validation that the world does indeed feel we are worthy. This has to have an impact on our levels of tolerance and patience.

So there you have it—empowered consumers who expect instant, high-quality products and services; if they don’t receive them, they will let everyone know, and then take their business elsewhere.

Now let’s look at the business side. Thanks to technology, the pace and level of competition are now at record levels in many markets, and to stay afloat, businesses often have to become lean and mean. This inevitably means employees have fewer resources, greater workloads, and pressure to deliver.

What’s the impact?  You have to believe this affects levels of customer service. And do you see where this is going? Disgruntled employees meet demanding customers—it’s a powder keg.

So what can we do?  I believe there are small things we can do. As a consumer, a little empathy can go a long way. If you encounter a frazzled employee, instead of sharing your mind, share a few kind words, maybe wish them a pleasant day. If nothing else, it might just blow the person’s mind. As an employer, remember that your employees are human too. Small, genuine acts to show your appreciation can do a lot to build trust and loyalty. For example, a monthly pizza lunch can do wonders for team morale. And don’t forget, that pizza is only an emoji away.

What do you think?  Share your comments.

When Your Client Doesn’t Get It…

Blaming your client or customer for their confusion is a good way to get yourself fired.

Ever get into a situation where your audience (of any kind) just doesn’t seem to understand or get comfortable with your drift?

For those of you who follow my writing across platforms, you may have run across an article I wrote this summer titled “It’s Never the Audience’s Fault.”  Here’s a link to it.

Based on circulation, you had to look pretty hard to catch it.

The thesis:  The audience’s discomfort with your performance, as a rule, says a lot more about your performance than about the audience.  So, refrain from blaming them.  They have brains, too!

I had the privilege to witness an exceptionally good example of bad behavior on this topic recently. A consultant I happened to be near witnessed behavior from a client that just didn’t make sense to the consultant.  The consultant, an expert with decades of experience, kept receiving requests from the client for guidance on process and approach.

The client was uncomfortable, confused, needy, and absolutely un-versed in the consultant’s approach to business. The client was naive. This created a morass of nerves on the client side.  And, I could tell, wasn’t all that pleasant to the consultant, either.

So, what did the consultant do?

The consultant blamed the client.


In an exchange that was almost amusing if it weren’t terminal, the consultant referred in short form to the consultant’s expertise, the client’s lack of trust, and how the client’s communications and questions were driving cost and time.  To add a dessert topping to the interaction, the consultant proceeded to lecture the client on what “right” looks like for a professional services practice in terms of process and value.

What the consultant didn’t do was address the root issue:  The client’s discomfort.

The consultant sought to be understood instead of seeking to understand.  And, in the process, the consultant sapped any remaining client confidence that the consultant could actually deliver on a satisfactory experience.

The chemistry wasn’t there.

The consultant was fired–not for performance, but for lack of openness to the idea that the client’s discomfort just might be justified.

Professional services relationships provide a stage (and an economic stimulus for immediate feedback) for practicing leadership principles that matter.  This was a good example of one:

When your customer doesn’t get it, you have to look inwardly first.  It might not be their fault.

Your Sleeping Dogs Can Bite You

In sales, customer service, and leadership, the cultivation of ignorant customers and followers is common, and figuratively lethal.

“We call those customers our sleeping dogs.”

The senior executive who said this was referring to customers who were being overcharged. You know, the customers who are really profitable?  The ones who are ignorant of their bad deal?

The executive referred to them as his “sleeping dogs” to honor an unspoken policy that loudly said “let sleeping dogs lie.”  As in, don’t bother a customer who is content to stay with a bad deal.

They exist in many businesses. In the cable and wireless space, they are the ones whose better deal is literally a few minutes away by phone. In the industrial space, they are the customers who have taken annual price increases loyally until their current deal is so far out of market that they could hire the procurement professional they sorely need if they only asked for a market price re-set.

The problem with this executive’s thinking is this:  Sleeping dogs bite.

A Matter of Service, and Ethics…

It’s a fact of life that if you choose not to serve your customers, somebody else will. A corollary to that is that if you bank on the ignorance of your customers, you are banking on a very fleeting thing.

Now, I’ve gone far enough so that some of you are thinking I’m writing about really unethical behavior, but that is only partly the case.

Sure, a company that charges your grandmother $25 a month for the Sunday paper (true story…) is profiting from the ignorance of a customer, but such behavior rarely passes the red face test when it’s found out.

The Lost Art of Calling on Customers

The reality is that in the realm of good sales and customer service, we treat far, far too many customers as sleeping dogs even when we are making only a fair profit from them.

You know why?

It’s the same reason our executive at the start of the story had: We are scared of our customer. We are scared that we might learn of our own shortcomings, or how unhappy the customer really is (but just hasn’t gotten around to firing your company).

In the modern world of sales and service (well, at least dating back to the fax machine), many transactions can be carried out virtually and without human interaction. Also, because many younger people have grown up without actually calling on people or interacting with them (I’m talking to you, Millennials), customers are being left alone as sleeping dogs far more often than in the past.

Combine that with a healthy dose of conflict avoidance on the part of many of the sleeping dogs, and you have a recipe for customer defection.

The Learning Applies to Leaders, Too

Don’t kid yourself that there aren’t also a lot followers who could be considered sleeping dogs as well.  You know them?  They are the people who are making 70% of the salary of the guy next to them while doing twice the work.

They deserve better customer service, too.  If you know this inequitable circumstance exists, and bank on it; you are right there with the friendly senior executive in my starting paragraph.  No, I’m not saying that we should all go out and re-trade our employees’ comp plans, I’m saying that your tolerance for inequity is a defining trait of your leadership profile.  We all have some tolerance for it, some of us to the extreme.  If you are found out by your followers as a leader who readily and enthusiastically allows a follower to sell himself too cheaply; you will lose their trust.

Count on it.

So What…

What this means is that in your customer service, sales, and leadership approaches, you have to embed a much better appreciation for sensing what customers are thinking. Sometimes, it’s a simple phone call from a customer service rep to see what is working (or not). Sometimes, sure, it’s a customer survey. Sometimes, yes, it’s an active sales effort to re-set pricing with customers or employees whose deals are, shall we say, out of market.

In doing so, you will create better customer and employee loyalty, you will learn more about your own company’s strengths and weaknesses, and you just might generate a moment of truth that brings in a few more customers via referrals and good press.

A customer loss is a damaging thing. In most industries, the cost of customer acquisition is far higher than the true cost of retention. The same is true (in spades) for employees.  A customer or employee lost to negligence is far worse—kind of like a dog bite.

When it comes to your sales, service, and leadership approach, beware letting sleeping dogs lie.

The near-term profit is rarely worth the long-term pain.

I welcome your thoughts and reflections.