business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Possibly the most challenging part of customer relationships surround the unique value equation that each person brings to every experience. Simply put, there is no easy way to understand what delights every individual. But it is absolutely necessary to remember that the same things do not delight everybody.

Last week, in "FaceTime with the Content Guy," Kevin talked passionately about how much he valued a single employee at a local dry cleaner and how much difference that one staffer made. All I could think was: really?

Let me be clear, I passionately believe a single employee can make that kind of difference, which is why I believe every individual associate can make a profound difference in any customer relationship. Small moments and seemingly small connections can make or break the relationship.

But not always, which is why there is never one single answer to every customer need. Sometimes we want that type of relationship and someone, well, we don’t.

Where I live a small chain of dry cleaning outlets has changed the market and as far as I can tell it has nothing to do with any employee or location. Rather, we use Zips Dry Cleaners because the service is good and quick. Oh yes, and it costs far less than all competitors.

Zips' formula is simple: essentially one price - $2.29 - for most everything, which includes no pricing difference between men’s and women’s garments. The customer pays up front, cash is heavily preferred and that’s pretty much it. The transaction is fast, impersonal and the garments come back the way you want them.

So unlike Kevin, I don’t know anyone’s name or have a relationship at the dry cleaners. And unlike Kevin’s dry cleaner, which is closing, Zips keeps adding locations.

The bottom line is what delights Kevin simply doesn’t matter to me. That is a great reminder on the challenges of understanding the complexity of our shoppers.

As readers of MNB know well there is much that unites the two of us, especially our love of movies as a metaphor for almost any problem you can present. But actually it goes further than that. Though we didn’t know each other, we grew up less than two miles apart and our career paths crossed a stunning number of times.

We’re about the same age (Kevin is a little older, as I like to remind him) and in many ways live very similar lives. But knowing all that tells you very little about who we are. In fact, our differences are both simple and profound.

When we travel together, Kevin loves to bring his shirts pressed, folded and wrapped, while I arrive in hotels, pull out the ironing board and go to work. He also always needs to be within pouring distance of a Starbuck’s and I don’t drink coffee. Kevin loves driving his Mustang convertible, which is a tad peppier than my Prius.

Believe me, I could go on. The point is that while a demographic survey might make the two of us look the same, in countless ways we are incredibly different. And we are just two consumers - you’ve got thousands more.

Each shopper is unique and each brings a specific value equation. Businesses today need find a way to appeal to many of us at the same time.

Fail to do that and you could get taken to the cleaners.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
KC's View: