Don’t assume I’m not your customer!

Our recent Business Dinner Club meeting revealed a mistake which so many business owners and sales people make, that is assuming that the person you are talking to is not your customer. I may not look like I fit your target age profile, income bracket or interest group but that doesn’t mean I won’t buy from you or recommend you to someone who would.

I’m reminded of an old gentleman who used to come for tea in our staff canteen years ago. He looked like a tramp but was actually a very wealthy man with a title and some influence. He could have taken his tea anywhere he chose. I have a great exercise that I sometimes use when I’m running training courses. I show a selection of photographs of women who have very different careers and ask the participants to match the woman to her career. They usually get it wrong. They assume that a lawyer must look dull, that a lorry driver must be ‘butch’ and that a doctor cannot be trendy!

It is said that there are only six degrees of separation between us and any other person. I’ve been trying that out with a few famous names and am beginning to think it’s true. So even if I am not your customer I will more than likely know someone who could be. So just because I don’t fit your image of your customer doesn’t mean that you should assume I’m of no interest.

All too often people assume that the customer and the consumer are one and the same but they may not be. I don’t look like a customer of Primark or H&M and yet I’ve just spent real money there. No not for me but for my daughter. Amazon think that I’m interested in PS3 games and Agatha Christie novels. I’m not! However Amazon know that I buy these things from them regularly. I’m the customer but not the consumer, that privilege belongs to my son and brother in law respectively. For years Tesco’s very sophisticated loyalty card driven information system thought I owned a cat. Wrong. I’ve never been a cat lover but my mother-in-law was and I bought cat food for her cats so I was a customer.

Making an assumption about people can be dangerous. If you imply that someone is too old, too poor or too stupid to buy your product or service they will be insulted. What’s more they will tell other people how insulted they feel. It used to be said that a customer would tell up to five other people of an unhappy experience and one in four would tell up to twenty people. However we live in a brave new world of blogging and social media, now the word spreads further, wider and faster. Insult me or my friends at your peril!

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