Sorry, You Just Missed Us

“Sorry; you just missed us.” That’s what she said. She, being the 16ish young girl working in the Sub shop. The time was 8:52 and the sign on the door said they closed at 9:00 but she followed her comment with a chirpy “we just closed”.

You just missed us. Are you kidding me? Something has been bothering me for years and I hadn’t been able to define exactly what it was but she clarified it for me in an instant with those few words. Sorry; you missed us! It came flying at me like a missile. The response that defined what has been bothering me sprang into my head instantly. “No young lady; you missed us!” You see we are the customers who have the money. When did the rules change? When did companies start doing the customers a favor by being there for them? The business beliefs I have always held is that it is the customer who is gracing the company by choosing to spend their money at that particular business.

Everyone who knows me is aware of my love for business. The free enterprise system is an amazing thing to me and I treasure it. I have spent my life learning how it works and trying to perfect my, and others, skills at playing the game of business. But this young lady in a second announced to me that the game I love so much has a completely new set of rules. I am now aware that many companies and more particularly their employees have been employing this new rule book for years. That’s what has been needling me. That’s the missing link I didn’t have. I have been applying the old rules and then been constantly disappointed by the world and its performance.

The more I think about this, the more sense it makes. This is much bigger than the labor shortage issues in the food service and retail sectors causing deteriorating service levels. These new rules have insidiously infiltrated all levels of business from the take out window to the board room. I recently experienced a very personal lesson in the new rules and I even missed that sign of the changing times. As many of you know I have been touched by venture capital. The new business model. I have been told succinctly that my methodologies are out of date. I put too high a value on people. You know, people; staff, suppliers, customers, families; people. Numbers are where it’s at. That’s the only thing that really matters; the bottom line.

The more I have thought about this the clearer the picture becomes. I think I understand the challenge. As businesses have grown, as we have developed from the corner store operated by the owner to the multi-location corporate world. The store merchant drew his (or her) entire livelihood from the money provided to him by his customers. If the customers stopped coming the store was out of business. In the corporate world there seems to be a disconnect. No one is accountable. People don’t feel the connection between themselves and the customer. If this customer stops coming the clerks pay check arrives anyway. Consumers are so numerous that no single one is important. There are always more.

Well you will have to excuse me but I’m not prepared to throw out my old rule book. I think customers still matter. People still matter. All of them. Numbers are important, they always have been. That’s how we keep score and one of the main reasons for being in business in the first place. Profit in our free enterprise system is a wonderful thing. But it is not by any means the only thing and when companies start believing that the bottom line is the be all and end all they are on a very slippery slope.

I have realized while writing this that there is probably a whole book in this subject or at least a good chapter but as many of you know that’s another story.

I’ll end with this final thought. I’m sorry young lady, you just missed us. We were just about to honor you with our business.