Entrepreneur Beginners Guide
“Don’t Patronize Customers”
Companies don’t get rich hurting their customers.
—John Stossel, consumer reporter
At a private business club I introduced a friend of mine to an important prospective client who could ‘bring him a lot of business. While introducing him, I emphasized his recent accomplishment of being featured in an issue of a national business magazine. Because of my warm introduction and endorsement, the prospect was especially excited about my friend’s business and how it could help her. I was sure that he had already won her business. Naturally, my friend asked for her contact information to follow up, but after taking it, he ruined his chances of closing the deal.
After he took her e-mail address and phone number, he said with a flat, uninterested tone, “I’ll have my assistant give you a call tomorrow.” 1 wanted to grab him by the shoulders, shake him a few times, and scold him for doing what he just did. T didn’t need to, though. His prospect retorted, “I want you to call me!” It was too late. In less than five seconds, he managed to jeopardize tens of thousands of dollars in new business and to tarnish what started off as a great first impression for his service-oriented company.
I often witness young entrepreneurs make this cardinal mistake: patronizing customers to appear professional. In doing so, they alienate their customers and cut off their own limbs. You know it as soon as it happens. Perhaps the most egregious example is when a founding CEO pushes you off to an assistant, like my friend did. The examples are virtually endless of the pompous CEO who does more harm than good.
Why do entrepreneurs and CEOs act this way? In many instances, they don’t know that they are wrong or that their actions are harmful. Other times, the action is quite deliberate. Young CEOs—and they’re not alone—patronize their customers for four main reasons.
- They think that CEOs are supposed to act this way. They have an ill-conceived notion of what a CEO is and how a CEO acts. Nowhere does it say in the definition of CEO that you must act as if you are not accessible or that you are above customers and the people who work for you.
- They lake a bit too far the common advice to delegate. CEOs indeed must be good at delegating. This skill reinforces clear roles within the company and helps to manage time. However, you must use common sense, too. It’s not as easy as methodically directing certain tasks to certain people regardless of the context. Especially when dealing with customers directly, delegating requires a certain level of finesse. For instance, my friend at least should have asked the prospect if it was alright to have his assistant call her. Ideally, if he were actually that busy or had strict policies on protocol, he would have called her the next day to establish trust and to explain his company’s order process from that point on.
- Their ego is too big for their own good. Just because you have a business and you are an entrepreneur doesn’t give you license to be condescending to anyone. In fact, it has nothing to do with business. In general, people dislike arrogant people. Arrogant CEOs, especially leaders of start-ups, need a consistent (lose of humility. Ironically, most of them are just a few irate clients away from failure.
- They want to give the impression that they lead a big business. Somehow young CEOs delude themselves into believing that clients respect bigger companies more or that their highly professional front can justify higher prices. To the contrary, my experience has been that this is not a favorable assumption for most entrepreneurs. No matter how large your company may be, if your brand is unfamiliar, you won’t necessarily benefit from the extra respect that a Fortune 500 company receives. Respect mostly comes from how you treat customers individually and the high quality of your work. You aren’t fooling anyone but yourself.
Like my friend, you may need an Undercover Boss reality check. Even if you are the CEO of your company, never make clients feel less than they are. There is no justification for it at all. Your job is to make your clients and your employees feel as if they are the most important people in the world.