Walk a Mile in My (Your Customer’s) Moccasins

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moccasinsYour small business is your baby and, like most parents, sometimes it’s tough to remain objective. There can also be a bit of ego involved when assessing the efficacy of your small business strategies for achieving the vision and mission of your small business. After all, a lot of personal effort went into creating those strategies, objectives, and tactics – and that can make it difficult to let go of what isn’t working.

As a matter-of-fact, it is quite possible to think you are accurately reviewing those strategies, measuring those objectives, and deploying successful tactics when all you’re really doing is patting yourself on the back for persevering in your persistence to make your plans “work.”

The error lies in perspective. We tend to view personal effort through personal perspective. But small business owners aren’t doing business with themselves – they’re doing business with clients and customers. Which means that the most important perspective as to whether or not your plans are working is your customer’s.
Surveys and focus groups are a great tool for gaining insight into how your customer’s see your business – but it can be even more of an eye opening experience when business owners and decision makers act like a customer.

Become Your Customer
One of the greatest emperors of Russia was “Peter the Great.” Just as small business owners have as their core goal creating a profitable business, Peter’s main goal was to make Russia a prosperous county – a goal he achieved during his reign. How did he do that? He did this by going on an “incognito” fact finding mission that allowed him to view his nation outside his own perspective.

Small business owners can learn a lot by going on their own incognito fact finding mission. And a great way to do that is to experience your business as your customer’s do. Here are a few ways you might do that:

  • Either “in disguise” or from a location your customer cannot see you, simply observe what happens when a customer or client comes into your place of business. Do they appear happy with the service they receive? Do they become impatient? Are they ignored? Do they seem confused as to how to proceed? Can they easily find what they are looking for?
  • Put your cell phone on speaker and have someone your employees don’t know give your business a call asking for information, assistance, or with a complaint. Better yet, find three people they don’t know and have one ask for information, another for assistance, and another with a complaint. You’ll get a very quick assessment of how your customers are responding to the service they receive. You’ll also be able to better access how well the processes you have in place to deal with these customer issues are working (or not.)
  • Set up a “bogus” email account and send an email to your small business. How long does it take to get a response? What impression would a customer most likely form about your business based on that response?
  • If your small business provides on-site service calls to customers, go on a ride along with your service employee without letting your customer know who you are. You’ll get a very good idea as to what kind of service your employee is providing, as well be able to observe your customer’s satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with the service they receive. Ditto with a sales call.
  • Grab someone unfamiliar with your small businesses’ website and observe them as they navigate their way through your site. Can they easily find what they are looking for? Do they respond to any calls to action? After they’ve explored your website, ask them a few questions about your business to see what impressions they’ve developed as well as whether or not the messages and information you think you website provides customers are the actual messages and information a customer receives.
  • If you’re not the one who normally responds to customer complaints or comments on your small business blog or other social media platforms, take on those responsibilities for at least a week. You may be surprised at what you “hear” about your business. While you’re at it, do an Internet search asking for reviews of your business.
Last modified: April 2, 2013
Annie Kile

This story is part of our Small Business Corner, a peek into the life and trials of small business owners.

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