MONSTER CUSTOMERS

Do what you are good at. This is common business advice and even great life advice. You would probably share this advice with anyone who asked. The question I am posing is; are you taking your own advice? Do you ever cave in when you realize that customers want more than you are currently offering? While adding new products, services, and features may be a key part of your business model. It could also be the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope to the eventual erosion and possible failure of your business. I want to introduce you to a small town bakery that has made it big by perfecting a few key products and refusing to cave in to the pressure from the customers (some of them monster customers) who often expect and ask for more.

Here is a little background on the bakery.Loaves of Bread

  1. My amazing wife works there and regularly brings home loaves of fresh baked bread and French pastries. I love her job!!!!
  2. This bakery is seriously dedicated to the art of French baked goods. They have a simple selection of products that are made perfectly every time.
  3. They are located on the side of a highway surrounded by pear orchards in what many of their customers would consider, the middle of nowhere.
  4. People love this place and plan road trips around stopping to stock up on products and get a cup of expertly made coffee.
  5. These owners run a savvy business making smart use of waste from their various baking processes and manage a massive wholesale business.

So what’s the problem? The problem is they regularly get grief from a specific breed of customer (the monster customer) who walks in and expects a full service bakery/coffee shop, i.e. 30 different types of donuts, 20 different cookies, multiple types of bread, multiple milk options for coffee including soy, coconut, almond and flax milk, a myriad of syrup options and sugar free, fat free, wheat free, dairy free, guilt free options. Instead they discover themselves in a gourmet specialty store that is unlike anywhere they regularly visit.

The monster customer is a product of a business and customer service culture where the customer is always right and their demands are nearly always met. When this monster customer walks into our small town, out of the way bakery they raise hell for the staff when their demands are not met. Outrage, anger and disgust for this small town bakery oozes out of them. I’m serious, they really behave this way. It is like dealing with a child who has been told no. The challenge of dealing with the monster customer is real and can at times diminish the joy of hundreds of pleased and loyal customers they serve everyday. Some of these monster customers, upon discovering for example that whole milk is the only milk option, are completely dumbfounded and rendered speechless. They have not been told no when requesting a milk preference in at least 5 years. In addition, upon discovering that every pastry sold contains butter and wheat or that an item is sold out (unthinkable) it is like they cannot process this information. They truly cannot believe what is happening to them and will often repeat their request while giving you their best you’ve got to be kidding me face. As we all know the pressure we feel when confronted with someone who doesn’t like how we are doing business is intense. It is tempting to consider making some changes just to keep the occasional monster customer happy.

Baker with a customerIs it unreasonable for the monster customer to have these expectations? Not really. If they frequent Starbucks or the average bakery then this myriad of choices is what they have come to expect. So, is it unreasonable for our bakery to run their company differently? Of course not! They have chosen to specialize and perfect the products that make sense for their company and that they care about. Do they lose some business? Yes. Are they okay with that? Yes. They know what they are good at and have committed fully. I will mention, that they do occasionally add new products or update recipes. They do it for themselves and not necessarily due to customer demand.

I know we can’t all run our businesses this way but wow, imagine the freedom found in knowing your strengths and being able to say no to your customers. Developing a business based on something you are good at can also become something that you love despite the occasional monster customer. When the monster customer arrives, stand strong remember why you exist and then forge ahead with confidence. Do not cave in.

That said, there are times when you will desire some outside input. How else will you determine if you are staying true to your vision? Making a regular practice of asking for feedback regarding your business is really important. People you should consider asking for feedback are your customers, your employees and trusted mentors or friends. Finding out how you are actually delivering on your business promises and goals is tough but so worth it.

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