Adam Ferrier has written a book with the catchy title of "Stop Listening to the Customer". The title itself is worth purchasing the book to remind ourselves that the mantra, "the customer is always right," is often wrong.
When we are running a business, whether B2B or B2C, it is easy to get caught up in two fallacies around customers.
The first fallacy is outlined in the opening paragraph, that the customer is always right. The polar opposite of this belief is the customer doesn't know what they what, and it is up to us, the professionals, to subtly sell to the customer what they don't realise they need.
Both opposites are potentially damaging to our businesses. The belief the customer is always right can leave us drained of energy as we attempt to meet the idiosyncrasies of each client. We spend inappropriate lengths of time trying to resolve client issues when we should be investing that energy and time into building our brands and what we are good at.
As business owners, we often fall into believing we have to like people to be successful. The reality is, of course, there are many successful business people and entrepreneurs who are not people persons.
If trying to deal with customers is not your strong suit, rather than trying to invest time and energy into this, it is probably wiser to employ a person who is people orientated. Allow them to deal with customers, so you can utilise your strength, energy and creativity in areas that are your strong suit.
The belief that customers don't know what they want and it is up to us to sell to them can lead to potential ethical grey areas where we attempt to manipulate clients or customers in the belief that we know what they need.
This second fallacy is the belief that any customer is a good customer. We know, at least intellectually not all customers are a good fit for our business; yet in the "heat of the moment" when we are trying to close a sale, it is easy to convince ourselves that it will be okay.
We ignore the voice of intuition trying to warn us not to proceed. We forget the last disastrous client interaction we had to deal with and tell ourselves it will be okay. Three months into the contract or the client engagement, we regret that we didn't listen to ourselves, and we swear that if we get through this situation, we will not fall for it again.
Of course, in the initial stages of setting up a business, we may have to take "difficult clients" for financial reasons. It is important in these situations that we do not delude ourselves or allow ourselves to be overcome with excitement at having a client; that we do not take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and our business from getting caught up in challenging transactions.
It isn't just the challenges we have around customers; we have to deal with our inner critic when running a business.
As business people, we do not spend much time thinking about or being conscious of our inner critic. That voice in our heads that keeps up a running monologue in our minds about how;
"We should have responded to that person yesterday," and "we should have made that phone call by now", and "that idea we had which we think could work out is probably a stupid idea after all."
The inner critic is the part of us that puts ourselves down. It is the internalised voices of our parents, teachers, and friends; the memories where we were criticised and made to feel small.
We don't take bold, inventive action because our inner critic tells us our ideas are worthless. In floundering our way through a sales conversation because our inner critic tells us we sound stupid and the person we are talking to isn't interested; they are just being polite.
Some of us are aware of our inner critic because their voice is so loud in our heads that we are aware of how it judges and condemns us. We wish we were more confident and extraverted, yet even those extroverts who we admire may be projecting a front that hides a critical, harsh, judgemental self.
To be more aware, we need to think about our thinking.
We don't think about our thinking. We believe our thoughts are true because we think them. In reality, many things we think about each day are not true. We wonder about what it would be like to win the lotto or imagine a different life to the one we currently live. These thoughts are not true; they are our imaginations.
Yet, when we listen to our inner critics, we believe these criticisms to be true. We have to start noticing when our inner critic is becoming strident and loud and, in noticing, begin to question.
Once you start noticing your inner critic and the times when they are most active, give them the name of a cartoon character or a fanciful, made-up name. Why?
Because you begin to take away their power by making your critic a cartoon character. Reducing the inner critic's power gives you space to take a more compassionate approach to yourself.
This is where we need the coach.
When we feel caught between the demands of customers and our harsh criticism of ourselves as business people, we need to activate our coach.
Sometimes we will have a business coach. A person skilled at assisting us to access our wisdom and what we believe to be the right thing to do.
An effective business coach will encourage us to question our inner critic rather than simply accept everything the critic says. The coach will question where we invest our energy and inquire whether we need to have stronger boundaries in dealing with customers. They can also assist and guide us through difficult customer interactions and keep us on track.
A business coach can be invaluable as a sounding board and help us work out what priorities we need to concentrate on.
The coach is compassionate and has our best interests at heart while holding us to high standards and accountability.
If we do not have a person who is our business coach, then we can learn to be that business coach for ourselves. By taking a less critical stance and being compassionate towards ourselves, we can create space where we can access our wisdom, hear our intuition and know how to navigate a healthy path between the demands of customers and our inner critic.