Posted by: Joe Hoffman | July 7, 2008

Real Value for the Customer

The other day a couple of friends and I were talking about the state of the economy and reflecting on our observations of the number of local small businesses that seemed to be in trouble or have closed recently. There is always a background level to this but with fuel prices up and a general concern about their financial future, consumers are becoming increasingly careful in who they buy from, so the close rate is going up.

The big question was asked: “Why”?

The answer from one of us took me by surprise. “They don’t really offer enough value”.

As I thought about it, clearly he was exactly right. The businesses that do well and survive, especially in bad times, are the ones that offer their customers real value.

But what is real value? For starters, what it means to me is situational. Some times, but not as frequently as you might expect, it is pricing. More often, it is an intangible like, attitude, ambiance, extra services; all things that make me feel better or satisfy a personal need beyond the product or service.

Value is personal to the consumer but too often businesses end up with value propositions that reflect the business’s needs or a laundry list of what they think their clients value. Things like faster shipping, great customer service or low cost are all good but from my perspective as a customer, faster shipping is expensive if I don’t really need it overnight.

Customer service is another area where value is frequently mis-understood. When I go to buy a new suit, I hate having a salesperson hanging around. If I can’t find my sizes/quality selection, I’ll ask to be pointed in the right direction and then want to be left alone until I ask for assistance. I am a big boy and know what I want and will recognize it. I definitely do not want unsolicited advice from a commissioned sales rep.

Restaurants and deli’s, any food service business, are another group that doesn’t get it far too often. Cleanliness first of all. I value my health and if the establishment can’t keep the parking lot clean, the entrance attractive, the windows clean, why would I trust their food. I don’t care how cheap the food is, I’m more concerned about the possibility of spending the night in a hospital. The fast food franchises have it right, clean, fast, consistent. It’s not dining, its calories.

When it comes to dining as opposed to simply eating out, I’m not in a hurry personally. If the waitperson keeps dropping by to see if I am ready to order yet, I’ll probably never be back. It is their job to be unobtrusive but observant and know when I want assistance. Do not to give me the impression that you or the house wants to turn over the table. If that is the case, let me take desert and coffee into the lounge and turn the table. (Only one check though) Once again, I am in the place for reasons that have little to do with the food.

While I am on restaurants, my pet peeve!  Why would the waitperson ever ask me if I want change back when I pay in cash? Of course I do! Take the plate away and bring it back with change. I’ll leave an appropriate tip. It’s all about me!

How many businesses have hours that make sense to the owner, but are not open when the people who are potentially their best customers, could use them. This is especially true for small one/two person operations. Why not open later in the morning, stay open later in the evening, and catch the commuters. The custom butcher, the dry cleaner, the greengrocer, the bakery all are convenience service businesses but choose not to be easy to use. I’d kill for a fresh loaf of good quality bread some evenings. KFC gets it!

Don’t these businesses ever ask their customers what they want? Find out why people are buying from you for real, not why you think they are and give them more of it. The CBO did a study of small businesses to identify what makes some more successful than others and found that one of the five key business drivers was offering additional services. Sometimes, it is as simple as free coffee or soft drinks in a waiting room or a sincere “Thank You”.  The key is to match your “extras” to what people want in addition to the basic offering.



  1. It may be as simple as the other folks are more interested in their success and methods to get to the endpoint.

    One may understand the market and the targets better.

    One may pursue a double option with consumer and commercial subsets.

    One may have fashioned a better public personna about their work and how to achieve it.

    The options are never equal but the loser likes to think they afre or have been loaded against them.

    What works in one geopraphy may not be transportable.

    One may be more disciplined about researching what the market wants and reacts faster to a changing environment.

    The successful one is simply a better manager and sought the advice of professionals before taking the leap.

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