Sharing Success

Remembering What Customers Value Most

For as long as I can remember, I have been intrigued by successful businesses. Specifically, I have long thought about what makes some companies (in any industry) highly successful over time, while their competitors achieve only “average” results. In my opinion, what sets most highly successful businesses apart from “the rest of the herd” is that: They acutely understand what their type of customer values most (and they get really good at providing that value). On the other hand, most companies (the rest of the herd) seem to just go through the motions of “doing business” every day without focusing on doing any one thing particularly well. I have also noticed that among successful businesses, those who manage to remain successful for many years also do one more thing: They never let themselves forget what their customers value most!

Here is a real world story which illustrates why it is so important for successful businesses to remind themselves and their employees every day of what really drives their success.

What Customers Value Most

As a boy, I hated going shopping with my mother. So sometimes she would bribe me by taking me to lunch at my favorite Mexican restaurant. Named for the family that owned and ran the business, it was a true mom and pop place. The husband and wife first started their restaurant because they wanted to do something different with their lives and knew how to make really good Mexican food. In the beginning, it was just the husband cooking and the wife greeting and serving customers. Because their food was consistently good, their business flourished and their little business grew a little bigger. The customer experience was always the same. You were greeted by an owner who smiled and genuinely appreciated the fact that you were there. And the food and service were exactly the same, never disappointing. They clearly had a winning formula because other similar looking Mexican restaurants began opening in town with similar menus at similar prices. But none of these newcomers ever seemed as busy or successful as the original. From how they ran their business, it was clear that the husband and wife fully understood what their customers valued. (Consistently good Mexican food and warm, personalized service.) And under their watchful eyes, that is exactly what customers always got.

After 25 years of success, the husband and wife retired. Luckily, their son had an outgoing personality like his mother. So he took over greeting guests and managing the dining room and hired a good, consistent cook to manage the kitchen. At the time, the transition was so smooth, longtime customers like my family hardly noticed when it happened. The son continued his mother’s tradition of greeting guests and running the dining room, so not only did the tables remain busy, the small waiting room was also consistently full. Because of this, the son decided to open a bar next door so arriving guests could enjoy a margarita and chips while waiting for their tables. It must have been a good business decision because the bar became just as busy as the restaurant.

Then things changed. Perhaps because the son had seen that bar sales had higher profit margins than food sales, he decided to personally manage the bar and hire someone else to manage the restaurant side of the business. Focusing his management time on growing profitable bar sales might have seemed like “good business.” But, in my opinion, it sacrificed control over what attracted customers to the restaurant in the first place. They could get cold margaritas at plenty of other places. Instead, it had been his father’s recipes, consistently prepared with top quality ingredients and warm, personalized service which reliably filled the dining room day after day. As a result, guests like my family began noticing changes. Service slowed. The food wasn’t always the same. The restaurant was no longer predictably busy. Then, when the recession arrived a few years later, the once highly successful restaurant closed its doors. It would be easy to blame the economy or the competition (which he did), but in my opinion, the son lost sight of what his parents had long understood … never forget what your customers want and always remember to focus all your attention on providing it to them.