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Is it time to fire your customers?

Ever wonder what your customers are saying about you in the market? If their values closely align with yours, there’s nothing to worry about, and you’re sure to benefit from what they say. If their values are different, the impact of what they say is just one of the many reasons it could be time to fire them.

Consider this: If one of your company values is to provide exceptional quality, your price will probably reflect it. If your customers don’t value quality and care only about cost, in their minds you’re too high-priced for what you deliver. If another of your stated values is treating people with respect, but you allow customers to abuse your employees because you think you need the business, how can your customer service reps see you as anything but hypocritical? When your sales team is instructed to meet their quotas no matter what, but you say you value relationships, how well will they treat your customers?  As they talk about their experiences, you can be sure that the market is drinking it all in….

Consider the consequences

We’re just beginning to understand how interconnected everything is in this world. In business terms, that means that if you want to realize your full potential, your purpose, goals, strategies and values must be aligned. It means that your employees, partners and suppliers must share your company values. (Who can forget the public relations nightmares companies like GAP and Nike have had with their overseas sweatshop suppliers?)

Although we’re becoming aware of how important alignment is in all of these respects, few companies think about the benefits of shared values with their customers—or the consequences

of having different values. Few companies have the courage to fire their customers—over unaligned values or for any other reason, and they pay the price.

Defining your values is one of two key factors in delivering and sustaining performance and employee satisfaction, according to author Ken Blanchard. (The other is clarity of purpose.) Just saying or posting your values doesn’t make them real. Values are all about behavior, the behavior of everyone associated with your organization, including your customers.

Assess customers like they do you

The first step in ensuring alignment with new customers is to assess them in the same way they are assessing you. Listen to how they describe themselves. Go to the “about” and “careers” sections of their website to see what values are listed and what their culture is like in their eyes. Start a dialogue if possible, in person or by phone or e-mail. See if they seem to walk their talk. Ask about them in the marketplace; what’s their reputation? If you think you find alignment, welcome them into your fold. If you find yourself questioning their values, tell them you don’t think you’re the right company to serve their needs and walk away.

If you’re wondering whether your existing customers share your values, ask your customer service and sales representatives, and your receptionist and admins how they are treated by those customers and whether they see values alignment. And if a customer ever asks you to alter your product or service in a way that violates your values, don’t wait to walk away.

In terms of values, a bad customer shouldn’t be kept on any more than a bad employee. They both undermine your performance and sustainability. Values assessment may mean that you lose some immediate business, but hold on a short while and here’s what you gain:

  • Longer-term customer relationships built on understanding and respect
  • Increased innovation and product/service improvements from synergies and dialogue
  • Enhanced competitive position from greater stability

So why are we afraid to do the right thing?

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Kathleen Quinn Votaw

Kathleen Quinn Votaw serves on the Board of Directors for both the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) Denver and Colorado Companies to Watch. She is also founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a Denver-based professional services firm that helps high growth companies solve the people puzzle.TalenTrust offers strategies to attract, retain and engage talented people. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334.

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