A few days ago, I was talking to one of my clients, a brilliant young man (I believe he’s in his late 30s) who runs a great little company out in California. Things are going very well for his firm. He has a lot of business booked and was really feeling pretty secure. So I decided to ask him one of my “secret weapon” questions: “In terms of the business, what keeps you up at night? What are the top two or three things that worry you?”
He answered that the first one was compensation; he was concerned as to whether or not his business had done an adequate job of building a fair and equitable compensation system for their top performers. He thought a little bit longer and said the second issue was hiring talent. Their firm was growing fast; he needed to hire talented people who had the ability to hit the ground running and start working with clients immediately.
After a little more deliberation he said, “Those are the only two things that keep me up at night.” I told him that those are both important, but that he had missed the absolute most important thing that should be keeping him—and every single business owner in the world—up at night.
The single most important thing to worry about is this: Are your customers totally enthralled with the products and services you are providing? Do they love your business? Are they crazy about what you sell them? Do they truly enjoy interacting with your employees? What do your customers honestly think about your firm right now?
This hit him like a ton of bricks. He was very apologetic, saying that he should have thought of that, and I assured him that very, very few people have ever answered that question the way I hoped they would. Most business people I know are so inwardly focused on their processes, their systems, their people and their issues, that they forget that the person who pays all the bills is the customer. Without happy, engaged, loyal and fanatic customers—eventually you will go out of business.
So to my mind, the most important thing for you to focus on is owning the voice of the customer (VOC), getting as close to your customers as possible and deeply understanding what their expectations are, what will make them very happy, what will make them angry, what would make them give you lots more of their business, what would make them take their business away from you.
The only way to do this is to ask them… in 100 different ways… and then listen, listen, listen, listen. They will tell you exactly what it takes to be successful; they are the only ones who can tell you what it takes to be successful—because they are the ones who decide whether or not to give you their business!
Yes, you need absolutely fantastic employees who are highly engaged, loyal and motivated—because that is the single most important driver of happy, loyal and engaged customers. And of course you need quality products and services delivered at a reasonable price, that is a given. However, it is completely possible to have great people, great products, superb service and fair prices—and go out of business—because you do not have enough customers.
My suggestion to you is that although you have lots of things to be concerned about in your business, and several of them that likely keep you up at night, if there is anything that should stay at the forefront of your mind as the single most important thing to think about, worry about, fret about, be totally and completely obsessive about, is: What are your customers saying and thinking about your business?
That, my friends, is the $64,000 question.
John Spence is the author of Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action. He is an award-wining professional speaker and corporate trainer, and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Business Thought Leaders in America and also as one of the most admired Small Business Experts in the nation.