Reluctant Customers was first published on Women in Focus

Women in Focus is a recently launched website and initiative by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.  It is a place for women to be inspired, informed and connected with other women in business in Australia and around the world.  Angela Vithoulkas, CEO of VIVO Cafe Group, will be the Guru on the Business Beat section and will be providing weekly articles on all things small business.

How often do we have the opportunity as business owners to observe other businesses’ customers from the inside out? I would be willing to bet not often. I had the opportunity this weekend.

I was MC and facilitator for an expert Wedding Panel at an expo showcase day. Apart from my all consuming day job as a café owner, I also do a lot of speaking and presenting. This time was different because I spent time with the suppliers interviewing them, and observing their customer from their perspective. It was fascinating. 

Firstly, the suppliers rely on these showcase expo days to get new business and reach huge amounts of customers in a concentrated area. So the pressure is on to make the day and the expense work. Secondly, their customer is not your usual suspect. This customer often travels in a pack, will most likely not require your service or product for many months, you wont see any money for just as long and almost always they are a one off. I mean how many brides will go back to the supplier they used for their first marriage?

Customer mindset

So, let’s examine the customer. The Bride rarely attends alone. All female members of her family, her in-laws and the bridal pack descend together. They all seem to participate in the decision making process. You have to keep all of them happy. They love, love to talk. A lot. Mostly about maybes, could be’s and what if’s.

Then there is the groom. A good 90% chance he’s been dragged along kicking and screaming. He isn’t really interested in the colour theme or the centre pieces. He is worried about the cost though. This I discovered because they all had a similar expression on their face - a combination of fear and worry. I call it the dentist look - you know it’s going to be painful for you physically and financially. The groom stands dutifully to one side, nodding occasionally, trying so hard to look like he not only understands what’s going on but also realises there will be a test later and he better know the answers.

Differences

This type of customer to me is anathema. I am used to having to make a good first impression, but I also get time to cultivate a relationship. I will hopefully get repeat business, I can market to them and they will bring others who will also be a customer. I don’t understand a crowd involved in making a decision for one person. I think these suppliers in these industries are brave. For hours they stand and talk to hundreds of Brides, being enthusiastic about their pale pinks, chocolates, ivories etc. Having them try and bargain you down in price only to move on to the next supplier and try for an even better price.

Cost

These suppliers are all made up of small business owners. They are the business. They don’t usually have a lot of staff or support. The disadvantage for them is limited growth. Many of the booths or tables were manned by temps following a script since the owners were most likely actually at a wedding job. These temps were really not achieving anywhere near the same results as some of the others who were manned by the owner. This is a similarity in many small businesses. And no matter how good you are, there is the fear that if you spend too long with one potential customer you will loose the other standing behind.

Bubble of happiness

There was a lot of glow. The room was basically lit up from the brides and their posse. This is a happy occasion, a milestone in a person’s life. Bridezilla hasn’t surfaced as yet, the engagement ring is still new and in fact some haven’t even set the date yet! But this whole process of engaging with people who have only one thing in common seems to unite them all. Rarely have I seen a business have to relate so much to their customer. Sure, we all say we know our customer, but this customer shares everything….

Grateful for my customer

To walk a mile in another business owners shoes is very uncommon. The grass isn’t greener at all in any way. I know my people and I like my people. I appreciate that they come back day after day. And they are not nearly as challenging as I thought!


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