Jobs? Maybe, and certainly from a labor and economic point of view. But, just having employees and filling jobs does not mean a successful business.
Let me give you a hint by telling you about my recent trip to New Hampshire to move my son into his new home. The effort involved driving from North Carolina in a convoy of four vehicles with many back roads to avoid tolls (nice scenery but it lengthened the trip significantly). During the stops for fuel I noticed similarities for each location in which we stopped – all were less clean than we hoped for and the staff not as helpful as they could be.
That trend got me thinking about what was going on. Each operation was identical in that the staff was not well trained and the facility poorly kept – almost untouched from a maintenance point of view, or so it seemed. Not once did I think to myself “I should here visit again and soon”.
Ultimately, I realized they were after a particular type of customer – the ones that don’t come back necessarily. These customers would be “drive by” ones that just fill up on gas and drive on to a distant destination. There is no intent to attract them to come back since these customers live in faraway places. Therefore, the restrooms and surrounding areas are less than spotless (I’m being kind here) and the staff is not interested in being overly helpful (being kind again). Although I’m generalizing, we’ve all experienced these sorts of places on the road. Although not all are like this, many are and on purpose to minimize costs.
So, back to the original question. According to Peter Drucker (the revered management guru) the purpose of a business is to create…(wait for it, wait for it)….a customer. To do so, the business needs to ask what does the target customer value? In the case outlined above, it’s a quick stop for gas (assuming no expectation of a return visit). And that’s what the customer gets – a gas stop and little else.
Looking at a gas station that has the expectation of repeat customers (like the one up the street from where you live) I suspect the dynamic is different. The staff might be friendlier and make an attempt to connect with frequent clients. The restrooms might be cleaned, or at least checked a few times per day. The food and drink items may seem more palatable based on the overall appearance of the facility. Clearly the target customer in this case has different expectations and values than the customer discussed above.
The lesson to be learned for any organization is to determine who your target customer is and what they value. The second part to this arrangement is to measure the results – are you actually providing the expected value to your customers? One of the best ways to find this out is to simply ask them – get feedback by talking to them (not all of them, but enough to get a sense of what’s missing or what is hitting the mark). I discovered a great example of customer focus in New Hampshire where the McDonald’s and Panera restaurants offer – get this – lobster rolls with real lobster obtained locally. That’s customer focus.
In summary, the purpose of an organization (business or non-profit) is to create customers. You have to know and offer what they value and measure your results. If you are off the mark, you need to develop a plan to get back on track. The outline for this approach is Drucker’s book “The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization”. Although it sounds simple, the approach is very thought provoking and worth every minute of time you put towards it.
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Tim Parker is a Business Consultant focusing on Executives and Leadership. He is President of Parker Resource Management, LLC in Raleigh, NC.
"What do you want to be remembered for?" - Peter Drucker