What small business can learn from Jerry Seinfeld

February 11, 2011

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. The views expressed are his own. —

I have some very strong beliefs about what I feel it takes to run a highly successful business. For example, I am completely convinced that whoever “owns the voice of the customer” and uses that information to build an organizational culture of “Extreme Customer Focus” will own the marketplace.

Unfortunately far too few businesses really understand their customers at a deep level, which severely inhibits their ability to deliver consistently superior service and win an unfair advantage in customer loyalty. And who doesn’t want an unfair advantage?

But rather than give you a bunch of theory and vague ideas, let me bring my point home with several real-life examples. As you read through the following list I want you to ask yourself three important questions:

  1. What can I do with this?
  2. How can I make this work for my business?
  3. What can I do right away?

11 examples of “Extreme Customer Focus”

  1. The family restaurant that has bathrooms cleaner than yours at home, with fresh flowers, free diapers, handi-wipes, lotion and mints.
  2. The doctor’s office with a juice, coffee and fresh fruit while you wait (or better yet, that get’s you in on time, every time).
  3. The lawn care or landscaping company that leaves a nicely arranged bouquet of fresh flowers from your yard every time they trim your plants.
  4. The women’s clothing store that has large fitting rooms, with a comfortable chair, plenty of hooks for your garments, a shelf for glasses and purse and no limit to the number of items you can bring in to try on (and big, soft, cushy reclining chairs… and a TV… so that husbands actually tell their wives to shop a little longer while they rest and watch the game.)
  5. The upper-end restaurant that gives you a hand-written thank you card with your check.
  6. The drycleaner that simply sews on any missing buttons they find.
  7. The downtown business that offers to “feed the meter” while you shop.
  8. The restaurant that offers you a free dessert for taking 5 minutes to fill out an in-depth survey.
  9. The bank that hosts a dinner for their top 30 clients to have an open discussion about how they can serve them better.
  10. The marketing and advertising firm that offers to do pro-bono work for their top client’s favorite charity.
  11. Any store that empowers their frontline people to find a way to say “Yes.”

The list goes on and on with a million different ways to delight, surprise and entertain your customers. Sadly though, I see very few companies that understand how important (and easy) it is to stand out in a crowded world of me-too products and average service.

So how do you develop a talent for finding ways to improve your customer focus and service? I have two suggestions. The first is to ask your customer what they want. Ask them often and in various ways, but never stop asking and listening to what the people who pay your rent are telling you is important to them. The second suggestion is to become an expert at looking for customer service ideas that you can steal and use.

Jerry Seinfeld did this with his comedy. Someone once asked him how he came up with so much fantastic material and he replied, “It is simple. From the moment I get up in the morning until I fall asleep at night, I look at everything I do and situation I encounter and ask myself the same question: what is funny about this?”

So from now on, whenever you encounter either very good service or very bad service just ask the three questions: What can I do with this? How can I make this work for my business? What can I do right away? You’ll be amazed with the answers you find.

Photo credit: Actor and comedian Jerry Seinfeld comments on the induction of the “puffy shirt” into the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, in Washington November 18, 2004. REUTERS/Shaun Heasley

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