Listen to Your Customers

Dec. 1, 2014
Making significant business changes without considering customer impact can lead to trouble

Social Media, the all-encompassing catch phrase for anything and everything digital, electronic and online, appears to have forever altered interpersonal relationships of all kinds. As a phenomenon it is inescapable and generally overwhelming, especially if your birthday predates the millennium.

It has introduced new concepts into our everyday existence like “tweeting” and “IMing” and it has caused us to redefine ancient words and concepts, including “like” and “friend.” 

The power of social media is undeniable. It is word-of-mouth on steroids: both glorious and terrifying at the same time and it has impacted virtually every aspect of our lives.

Recently, I wrote about my lifelong breakfast habit and some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years just by showing up, watching and listening.

You wouldn’t think of my breakfasts, or anyone else’s for that matter, as an introduction to the power of the Internet, but one recent breakfast lesson was all about the power of social media. 

California recently raised its minimum wage to $9 an hour. Bus staff and dishwashers are generally minimum-wage employees, and that bump had the owner of my little breakfast place worrying that the increase in salary expense would ultimately find its way onto the menu. 

To avoid that, he decided to open at 7 a.m. rather than 6:30 a.m. during the week. The problem was he failed to let his customers know. He failed to give them adequate warning. But, more than that, he failed to find out if that very minor shift in hours of operation—at least minor to him—would work for the regulars who had opened the restaurant for the preceding decade.

He assumed it wasn’t a big deal, because it wasn’t a big deal to him. He assumed it would work because he wanted it to; in his mind, it had to. And, he assumed it wouldn’t be a problem, because he was already up to his neck in problems and couldn’t deal with the thought of another one. 

So instead of hanging out with the folks who showed up just as the doors opened every Monday through Friday to find out what they thought about his proposed shift in hours, he just had people show up at the same time they had always arrived for breakfast only to find themselves locked out. 

There are a hundred reasons that half-hour could make all the difference in the world when choosing a place to eat a meal, especially breakfast. Mine is about as simple as it gets. We open the shop at 7:30 a.m. I like to open up. 

Their sign used to say 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Sunday. But, restaurants are funny. There’s a lot of prep that has to happen before the doors open. Someone has to turn the grill on and get it hot, get the bacon going and get the fries and hash browns ready. Most important, someone has to get the coffee going. So, there’s always someone there, inside, a half hour to an hour before the lights are turned on and the door is unlocked.

Under the restaurant’s previous hours, the fact that some of us showed up before 6:30 a.m. didn’t seem to matter to most of the servers scurrying around putting out place settings or counting change, preparing for the day that was about to unfold. So, they would let us come in and sit down knowing the only thing we could count on was the first pot of coffee as soon as it was done brewing, even if that was a few moments before 6:30 a.m. That’s one of the reasons I made this place my first choice. 

But, if they open at 7 a.m., they can’t take my order and have breakfast on the table in time for me to eat and then get to the shop in time. It just doesn’t work.

Apparently, it didn’t work for a host of other regulars either. Nevertheless, the owner was committed to his new schedule, at least until one of those regulars started talking about their disappointment and frustration, and others joined in. The difference was where the conversation took place. You see, they weren’t talking to the owner or even to each other in person. The conversation started on Twitter and then made its way to Facebook. Instead of one individual talking to another, this conversation started with one individual talking to the universe.

The progression was insane. Two became 20, and 20 became 400. Instead of one breakfast place changing its hours of operation, the discussion took a left turn and swirled around the lack of concern and/or consideration most business owners have for their clients.

In the end, they returned to the old schedule in less than a week and with any luck the damage was manageable. But, realistically, you can never know just how many regulars showed up, found the place closed, saw the sign indicating the new hours and decided this place no longer worked for them.  

Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at Contact him at [email protected].

About the Author

Mitch Schneider

Mitch Schneider is a  fourth-generation auto repair professional and the former owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, seminar facilitator, blogger, and author of the acclaimed novel Misfire

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