Fussy or forgiving


Which camp do your customers sit in? The one with the highest of expectations or the one where they cut you some slack?

Of course, all business owners should be aiming for a quality of product or excellence in service that meets the expectations of even the pickiest of customers.

But fulfilling sometimes lofty ideals can demand greater investment in time and costs, so the price you charge or the profit you make can get higher and lower respectively.

Goodness me – the more I think about this, the more I wonder why any of us go into business in the first place!

A recent road-trip to Wellington highlighted this issue to me.  We stayed in two different hotels over our long weekend. One was part of a large global chain and the other a small family-run establishment, with the per night price for both pretty much the same.

The chain hotel was a little tired and dated, needed a lick of paint in places and its facilities were basic.

Irrespective of its location, architecture and interior design, the experience made me feel a bit ‘meh’ – I had expected more.

A slightly scruffy receptionist was trying to be welcoming as her equally scruffy colleague returned from his break and stood behind her finishing his banana. Maybe it was that poor first impression, but I found myself feeling uncharacteristically fussy, almost willing myself to find faults.

So, after that experience, I started to worry when we pulled up to our second port of call the next evening, greeted by a horribly designed, outdated sign and dozens of mismatched plant pots. Maybe I’ve worked with graphic designers for too long but poor signage instantly says to me “we don’t care”.

This hotel was older and, architecturally, not as flash as our previous digs, but the friendly face on reception and the extra touches of care and attention meant that I was happy to forgive a bit of dated décor. 

Maybe it was the cute family cat that swung it but something in those first few minutes made me switch from fussy to forgiving and enjoy my stay.

I expect the chain hotel has training and guidelines for its staff on how they want its brand to be reflected, aiming to avoid the sense of disappointment that I had. And I suspect the family hotel’s approach is less documented but that showing you care and going the extra mile is just the way they do things.

Was it unfair of me to expect that at the chain? When does going the extra mile become the norm?

In competitive environments we all have to think creatively to find something to give us the edge. We all want to find that bit of fairy dust magic that keeps our customers happy.

Hair salon one offers you a cup of tea. Salon number two gives you a biscuit too. Doesn’t mean you’ll get a better haircut, does it.

But, if you went to technically the best hairdresser in town but they simply sat you in the chair, had a quick chat, did the cut and sent you on your way, would you go back?

Understanding your customers and getting to know what they will be most fussy about is an important part of defining your brand story. Being clear about what matters to them, and what fits with the overall philosophies of your business, will help you prioritise both your offer and how you market it.

Bargain brands are called ‘no frills’ for this very reason, I suspect. By showing us a basic product or service, they are keeping our expectations in check. But come at us with a high-end brand approach and big promises, we’ll expect you to live up to them.

Responsiveness is something I’ve recently become much clearer on myself.  I’m so used to an environment where the expectation was of pretty much an immediate response. But I’ve finally come to realise that it’s communication about when the response will be that’s important. Instead of leaping to offer the promise of “I’ll come back to you by the end of the week”, I’m now training myself, at long last, to have a proper conversation about timing. 

In my world, I’m fortunate that most clients aren’t concerned about how high I can jump for them, they just want me to be able to jump when it matters. Whether it is responsiveness, communication, quality of product or service, price or even values and beliefs, the key is to understand the sore points for your particular audience. Getting that right could not only turn them from fussy to forgiving, but to be advocates for your brand forever.


About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz