Do you take on any customer you can find or are you selective?

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I visited a new fast chicken and sit-down restaurant where the staff gave friendly and swift customer service. This service was so excellent that when the manager and co-owner came around to ask us were we happy with our meal, I asked him could he explain just one thing to me.

My question was: how come your staff are so helpful and friendly compared to the national chain of chicken restaurants that previously had a similar operation on the same premises?

Without hesitation he told me that it was because of the manager. He said that you find in the large chain restaurant operations that the manager or franchise owner is not usually around in the store, running day-to-day operations, and so the level of customer service declines. The thing is, he said, that the manager can talk to staff during the day, motivate them and help and guide them to provide higher levels of customer service.

The absence of managers in the big franchised chain outlets explains why staff often have an attitude that they are doing you a favour to serve you. This mindset grows to such an extent that staff ignore you, keep you waiting, the food is not up to scratch and you leave with a bad experience.

Let’s face it, the reason why we dine in restaurants is often because we want entertainment. We feel excited about eating out, eating different foods to those we make every day at home and want to relax and enjoy ourselves.

As soon as this manager and co-owner left our table, he went over to another one and asked the customers where they had heard of the new store. He had a long conversation with them to find out what they thought of the food and what could be done to improve things.

In a small retail business, you are often attracting customers off the street or from impersonal adverts and other promotional methods to get them to your store. If you are lucky, you get a clientele who is appreciate of what you have to offer but if you are unfortunate you may get customers who try take advantage of your goodwill.

The freebie seekers may come into your store to see what they can get for nothing. How many times have you seen customers who eat half the food on their plate and then send it back because they find something wrong and want a new plate of food? If you run a small business where advice is critical in the implementation or operation of the product, potential freebie seekers may ask you for a lot of advice but not buy anything in your store.

In a service business, you may not rely on customers off the street but perhaps from online sources. You may also get freebie seekers — and those who are out to take advantage of you. A simple example: a potential customer tries out your service and then comes up with a host of reasons why they don’t want to pay you.

When you’ve been in business for a while, you can quickly spot the freebie seekers and deliberate troublemakers. A small business owner wanted marketing advice. From her email it was easy to detect that this know-it-all freebie seeker troll would be nothing but trouble. A quick and short email to say that we were too busy to deal with her issues resulted in outrage about our professionalism and so on. The usual stuff from these trolls. It’s unpleasant but she wasn’t able to chisel one cent for nothing.

In service and consulting work it’s important to qualify so-called potential customers. One way is to insist on an upfront 50% down payment before you give one minute of your time. It really comes down to your own personal and business values in deciding on dealing with people that you want as your customers. If you are so desperate that your take on the drive-bys without checking them out, then the risk is yours.

I think most people respect the difference between intellectual property and intellectual capital. Intellectual property is something that you’ve worked hard to acquire with much experience and at great cost, while intellectual capital is the knowledge that you have acquired and are happy to share freely so that it benefits others and helps them to save time and money and short-circuit their learning curve.

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