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Monday, April 09, 2007

One time customers, nah

If you are going to succeed in the construction business or its related professions you know that you cannot treat your clients as disposable property. First, it is unlikely your relationship -- even on the smallest job -- will be so brief that you can just collect your money and run. Second, references and referrals are vital for ongoing success in this business. You are doomed if you leave clients dissatisfied.

On the other end of the business spectrum (and thus representing examples to learn from, if only what not to do) are tourist traps that survive based on the constant flow of new 'suckers' who will never return -- and who can be induced by short-term marketing ploys. Another variation of one-time client abuse is the florist's wire service -- you know, the deal where you order flowers in one city, and they are delivered by an unknown-to-you florist in another place.

The florist at the receiving end, of course, doesn't have a client relationship with you and has the money in hand -- so can be tempted to ship out flowers that are near the end of their life cycle. Presumably, without any identifying information to avoid complaints. See Seth Godin's blog on this topic:

I responded to Seth with my own experience, as a teenager in my father's drugstore. Here are my notes:

Seth, your observations about the flowers delivered without contact information raises intriguing issues about “distant from client” marketing – namely, things like the inter-florist wire services (I’m not naming any business/organization here).

The florist getting the order on the wire service has no contact or association with the person who made the actual order, and presumably (since the relationship is out of town and one-time-only) will never have a further relationship. So what happens … those flowers, the ones that are virtually rotted, that would go to waste … they get sent to your home. (And clearly the florist has no interest in hearing from you

Of course this is badly short-sighted thinking. The local florist completing the delivery has the opportunity to show its quality, value, and service – and could, if it wished, knew you would be a good client for something more. But the florist is probably thinking “nah, that person receiving the flowers is never going to be my customer, and I have the money, so lets make some money on flowers we would otherwise throw away.”

Have I ever been tempted in business to give less than perfect service to a customer I don’t ever expect to see again? Yes, I admit it. And one telling story from my late childhood explains why. It was Christmas Day. My father had one of the few drugstores open in the city. A car screeches to the front of the store, and someone gets out, panting. He walks over to the cosmetics counter. “Give me something,
anything,” he says, and points wildly in the direction. I grabbed the most musty, dirty, stale stock, wiped it as best I could, took the old price tag off, wrapped it up, and sent him on his way.

Of course the person who bought this gift would never come back to the store, and the person who received it would not associate it with the source, so dead stock became 100 per cent profit for the business. The action is rational, in a way.

Ultimately, this is a crappy way to do business, much in line with tourist traps, and other gunk where one-time customers are reeled in only to be disposed of in a disappointing experience. The problem with the wire service, however, is that there is a real cost to all participating members and it is long term. I’m VERY wary now of using any wire service to send flowers because of the lack of control over the end result. My solution: check references and call a florist in the community
directly. They’re happy for the business, and of course the fact they don’t need to pay the wire service commissions.

As for my own business, this link explains how we do things now.

Seth's gracious response my email is off the record. Yes, in our business -- unlike yours probably -- we still have clients who might be one-time customers, obtained through relationships with third party organizations -- so the temptation could be to treat them brusquely and with limited courtesy.

We now treat all our clients with respect. The reward: Today, our North Carolina publisher Bob Kruhm reported a customer who originally placed a one-time support ad (and whom we thanked at the time) has arranged for a full-scale feature and has committed to advertising, as well.

My advice: Look at the tourist trap ripoffs, or the abusive one-time client deals, and recognize that you must behave absolutely the opposite if you hope to succeed in this business.

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