Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Customer friends

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     People who start a business frequently don't know the difference between personal friends and business friends. Until you get the hang of it, it can be confusing.

     A personal friend is someone you're comfortable with. You willingly share private pieces of your life. You enjoy being around personal friends.

     A business friend is a customer or client. These people trust you to provide certain goods and services. They feel that you have integrity. The relationship is at arm's length and professional. 

     Example: I know the owner of a small gift shop who is downright unpleasant with some customers who wander into her place. Instead of assuming a professional attitude, she immediately "likes" or "dislikes" shoppers. She treats them accordingly, bringing her own attitudes and preferences into play. Because of unprofessional treatment, many potential shoppers leave and never return. The business suffers because of the owner's treatment of customers. People who come into her shop don't arrive looking for a personal friend. They are attracted by something they saw in the window. They expect, and deserve, respect. 

     Every business owner will encounter a difficult and demanding customer. Sometimes these types of customers are people you'd rather not deal with. Just be careful not to let your personal preferences drive away customers.

     Example: Bob does home improvements. He has a lifetime of experience in carpentry, painting and those small jobs around the house--hanging a door, repairing tile work, seeing to a squeaky stair. His estimates are free, but sometimes when he arrives at the homeowner's place, he turns and leaves without even knocking. He explained to me once that he had seen so many homes and dealt with so many people, he could quickly make a decision whether or not to knock on the door. If the car in the driveway is old and if he sees signs of neglect, he moves on. 

     This is not professional. Maybe the person has just bought the house. Maybe the old car means that the owner is thrifty. Maybe---anything. 

     You can run your own business any way you like. But setting up to serve only people you would consider having as personal friends will severely limit the business future. Best growth is achieved by serving business friends in a professional, arm's length manner. 

     Business friends are customer friends. They appreciate professionalism and they will refer others to you. Personal friends have another agenda. 

     When you let your personal "likes" and "dislikes" invade your business space, you run the risk of turning away the very customers who can help you grow.  

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