Monday, December 6, 2010

Marketing Lessons... From My Mother in Law

My mother in law is battling the last stages of Alzheimer's Disease.  What was once a vibrant, sharp, funny and social woman has gone and in her place is her meek alter ego.  It's heartbreaking to see her battle the confusion, it's heartbreaking that she doesn't recognize her own son and even more heartbreaking to see my father in law (her childhood sweetheart) watch the love of his life disappear before his eyes.

Ferdos Nedamani, first from right

I'm no scientist so I can't begin to explain the disease to you.  I'm no caregiver so I can't begin to explain the best ways to care for and interact with an Alzheimer's patient.  I'm just a person who met her in the middle of her battle and has watched her steady decline since then.

They say that if you've met one Alzheimer's patient then you've met one Alzheimer's patient.  No two people are the same.  What I can tell you is that at this late stage, every interaction, for her, is totally brand new...  Every step of hers leaving a room is the close of one scene and her return sometimes less than one minute later is the start of another.  It's true of her quick catnaps, if I am to step outside briefly, if someone changes the channel on the TV, if the next song plays on the radio and so on.

And so, the onus falls on others to make the best of every new scene (sometimes hundreds of them) that unfolds each day that is spent with her.  In each scene, I only have one shot to make things right with her.  I only have one shot to make her smile.  I only have one shot to give her comfort.  If I fail, the consequences are huge: confusion, maybe some anxiety, distress, withdrawal and a lingering sensation that can last longer than a scene or two that she was hurt by someone.

For me, it means that those around her have to have really good sets of eyes and ears.  And really good filters to check what is said and how it is said to her.  You have to be "on" at all times.  You bear the responsibility to make sure all is okay with her.  It's not easy and I am sure I've made loads of mistakes in my interactions with her.

What little time I've spent with her has made me consider where it is and how it is we could be doing right by our customers.  I'm not suggesting that our customers are like those suffering from Alzheimer's.  I'm suggesting that we take every interaction we have with them as wholly new and independent with the chance to delight as opposed to sequential and "good enough" level of service.  I'm suggesting we have to fight complacency.

It's easy to be complacent.  It's easy to take your eye off the ball if you live with a certain comfort or belief that your customers will come back no matter how you treat them.  But we've numerous before/after pictures of businesses who've suffered from that approach.  Sears' fall from grace immediately springs to mind, for example.

Do you remember my IntelligentsiaButterball and Domino's posts?  Each time, they've demonstrated success because of the big and little things they do to establish relationships with their customers no matter if it's the first or fiftieth transaction.  And with each interaction, is a delicately choreographed ballet that's been rehearsed many times over all with the goal of making the customer as happy and satisfied as possible every single time.  There is no next time; there is only this point in time.

People won't do business with you anymore by virtue of your sheer existence.  Competition, sophisticated differentiation, celebrity endorsements and all sorts of social media have changed the landscape permanently.  There's got to be a little something extra you bring to the table each and every time you have the chance to do so.

So I ask you, where is it that we could be doing better?  And, please, don't say it's too expensive.  I've never heard that treating customers well and thoughtfully through words or gestures, for example, was cost prohibitive.  I just don't buy it.  And neither will our customers.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

No comments:

Post a Comment