Why You Should Be 'Thinking Like the Customer'

How you can improve your operation by "thinking like a customer" when visiting other businesses.

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Anyone that knows me, knows I’m very observant of aspects of business, both mine and others. My friends call me Nosey Nick, but I prefer to think I’m just curious. My entrepreneurial mind is always thinking business. Whenever I patronize another place of business  be it a hotel, restaurant, airline, or even a subcontractor we use -- my mind is busy analyzing how they do things and wondering if I can learn anything from what they are doing that will help our operation? I call this “thinking like the customer.”

But what can I really learn through my curiosity?

One of the things that we really push hard on our crews, is to look at our finished product and ask the question, is this a sellable job? That is thinking like the customer. If you were buying that paving job, would you be happy to write the check? When you step back and have a look at your work, and ask that question, it's then that you might notice little things -- things you may have been overlooked in normal operations  that might need a little more attention so you can exceed any expectations. The end game is quality and customer service, and to quote my friend, industry veteran Dennis Deibel, “Quality work, done to perfection.”

Often we all may get a little complacent in what we do and overlook some details. But to a customer those details may be a bigger concern – a concern that may not get you a perfect review or, worse yet, cause you to miss out on working on their next project.  

Some of my observations of other businesses may be things such as, cleanliness, service operations at a restaurant or hotel, or boarding practices of an airline. While a hotel room or that property’s policies may meet that specific brand’s standards, its ultimately how we as a customer view the experience.

If you are paying for a nicer property, and you check in and find it clean but with worn furniture or threadbare linen, your impression will be of a less-than-stellar experience. My point is, although the pavement project or striping job you do meets what you told the customer, is it sellable? Look at it from their eyes and determine for yourself if you would be happy paying for it if you were the customer. 

Fortunately, in our businesses we can make changes to please on the fly, which is much harder in a branded hotel or on an airline. And let's face it, we probably care much more than the hotels or airlines anyway! 

Over the years, what we have noticed when “looking and thinking like the customer” include simple things such as removing any overspray of sealer that may have gotten on the lawn, picking up trash (think crew water bottles), sweeping that extra bit of asphalt to clean up exceptionally well, picking up cones promptly at the end of the job when safe to do so, and disposing of caution tape properly. I’m blown away how often I see little things from my competitors, such as leaving their cones scattered all over a site for weeks or having caution tape blowing all over. That’s not even pointing out the quality control issues of over spraying grass, curbs, or buildings. So, I ask, is the job sellable? 

Thinking like a customer also goes beyond the jobsite. How do your clients or potential clients view your operation outside of the jobsite? Is the image you portray one that you are proud of and one that you would like to do business with if you were in the role of the buyer? Readers of this column know I am a huge advocate of clean, presentable trucks and equipment, uniformed employees etc. I realize that my company likely spends much more time polishing up equipment than other contractors, but I believe it sends the right message: we want to be someone others want to do business with. 

As you go about your day, be observant of those businesses that you patronize and see if there are things you can learn and implement in your own business -- even if they’re not directly related to pavement maintenance. That’s what I call thinking like the customer!