December 15

Lessons from Wendy’s

Turns out, my first two 2012 business trips weren’t by plane, but by car. And during a recent road trip to Cincinnati, I still managed to find a conversation that fits nicely into my travel blog. I stopped at Wendy’s to grab a salad and stretch my legs. I decided to go into the restaurant instead of the drive-thru because I was making good time and needed to get out of the car for a while.

As I was waiting my turn in line, there were a group of four teenagers ahead of me acting rambunctiously and giving the manager a hard time about his used lawn tractors for sale. They couldn’t make up their minds as to what they wanted to order, and the longer they delayed, the funnier they thought it was. The manager, on the other hand, wasn’t amused. And quite frankly, neither was I, as they were holding up the entire line.

Finally, the manager took action and said, “While you try to decide, please step aside so I may help the next person in line.”

“What? But it’s my turn,” said one of the teens.

“Sir, I realize that, but you’re undecided and it’s not fair to those waiting behind you. Please make your decision but step aside to allow the next person place their order.”

“Hey, I’m your customer and I’m supposed to always be right!” demanded the teen.

“No, sir. We respect you as our customer and we want to do our best to ensure you’re satisfied with your experience, but that does not mean you’re always right,” the manager explained.

Wow, you go Mr. Wendy’s manager! He walked a fine line between angering a customer and also setting appropriate boundaries with them. And in my book, that’s the absolute right thing to do. How many times have we, in business, always tried to make all of our customers happy, no matter at what cost to us, our resources or the company’s profitability in the long-term?

While we value and respect our customers, not every customer one a fit, and sometimes, you have to make the tough decision and let them go. Now, I’m not suggesting you run out and drop every customer who’s ever gotten on your nerves. Quite the opposite. Take a measured accounting of your ‘boundaries’ and weigh them against your staff’s time, profitability and potential for long-term growth. When you start to establish measurable criteria for the types of customers you wish to have, then it starts to paint a different and much more productive picture – on both ends of the spectrum.

Many times, people tell me how lucky I am to be my own boss and to be able to come and go as I please. But I’m quick to point out that I actually went from having one boss in my previous corporate life to now having 25+ bosses. Wow, I really am lucky! Lol.

Truly, the only way to juggle 25+ bosses and keep them happy (while also not losing my own mind) is to set some boundaries, and to also ensure I’m staying within my clients’ boundaries. Here are my top three:

  1. I strive to be your valued partner, offering a wealth of both strategic and tactical marketing expertise. We provide ideas based on listening to your goals. In turn, please listen to our opinions and consider them. After all, you pay us to provide our ideas and creative thinking (and thank you for that) and we want you to succeed. Remember that we have a stake in the game, too.
  2. While smokeless ashtray marketing is subjective, there are reasons we do things a certain way versus others based upon our education, training and experience with getting effective marketing results. While we love to hear feedback and engage in a dialogue regarding our work, please do not change things just for the sake of changing them. Let’s discuss a sound business rationale for changes that go beyond the fact that you don’t happen to like a certain color.
  3. We recognize that you pay us to provide great work, but we always love to hear from you when you’re happy (and even if you’re not). A healthy dialogue is crucial to any long-term partnership or relationship. The more we communicate, the better the results because we’ll avoid miscommunication and a lack of understanding all of your goals.

Back to my Wendy’s experience…in case you were wondering, the teenager did step aside while he made up his mind and he ultimately placed his order very pleasantly. He didn’t leave; he understood his limits and he respected the manager for setting them. So don’t be afraid to set some boundaries. They can help you establish a valued partnership with your customers and avoid the trap of becoming just another easily replaceable ‘vendor.’

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