Building a successful business all starts with the relationships you establish with your customers. In a sense it is a lot like building a wall. First you lay a solid foundation of trust, and then you build upon it layer after layer after layer, ever higher up toward the sky. Some companies however, keep knocking their walls down and have to rebuild them all over again.
I am astounded sometimes by the short sighted approach of some businesses to put short term profits ahead of long term growth. You may remember the 2009 – 2011 Toyota recall disaster where corners were cut on the quality of manufacturing in order to increase their bottom line. Instead, it ended up putting the safety of their customers at risk, cost the company billions of dollars in sales, fines, and compensation; and severely damaged the reputation of their brand in the process. It was a PR nightmare, and one that I hope other businesses considering the same practices take note of.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated incidence, and one that will most likely rear its ugly head from time to time. But luckily, not all businesses are so shortsighted.
I am reminded of a story about an ad executive named Jorge Heymann, whose agency had been approached by a new client that had recently built a modern seven-block riverfront shopping development on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The trouble was that the development was well off the beaten path and difficult to access, and as a result it needed a big advertising campaign to promote it. Heymann’s agency was given a clear objective: To create awareness and drive traffic to the complex. Budget: $4 million.
Now what most agencies would have done – and what the client was expecting – was to create a lavish multi-media advertising campaign. But what was unique about Heymann was that he understood exactly what he was being hired to do – to solve a problem – not to figure out a way to spend $4 million. He had gone out to inspect the site himself and found that given the inconvenient and remote location of the complex, an ad campaign wouldn’t be effective in driving the level of traffic needed.
So what did he do?
Instead of building an advertising campaign, Heymann proposed that the client instead use the budget to build a footbridge across the river making it more easily accessible to shoppers. As you might expect the client was stunned at this unexpected proposal, but nevertheless he saw the value in the bold idea and approved of it. The stunning footbridge was built and went on to become a Buenos Aires landmark, generating more publicity than any ad campaign ever could have and brought shoppers out by the thousands.
Heymann had displayed a keen understanding of his role in helping the client, he could have just taken the money, but knowing that his efforts wouldn’t really have been effective, what good would that have done him? Most likely the client would have been unhappy with the results and gone elsewhere. Instead, Heymann chose to build a long lasting relationship of trust with the client, a decision that cemented the reputation and fortunes of his agency for years to come.
As I have said before, people want to do business with people they trust. Ask yourself, how can I ensure my customers are still my customers in 10 years? Will my relationship with them lead to referrals and help build my business and its reputation?
The next time your business is faced with a short term gain at the expense of a customer, I strongly encourage you to put their needs ahead of your own. As the saying goes, it takes years to build a reputation and only seconds to destroy it.