The Silver Lining in the Recession Cloud: a Shift Toward the Customer

Can you feel it? It’s all around us.

No, I’m not talking about the doom and gloom of the stock market or the latest bank collapse. I’m talking about a the subtle changes where you shop, eat, bank, style your hair and service your car. Despite the dark sky of economic woes, there’s a silver lining – a shift toward the customer.

* Chain restaurant staff are more welcoming.
* Safeway has a sale sign on every item (recognizing that people need to perceive a deal before they’ll buy)
* The local Toyota dealership is offering free Cappuccino’s on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and now leaves you with a bounce-back coupon.
* Staples offered 50% off any copy paper (although tied to their rewards program – not very customer focused)

Last night, while I was at the local Target, the floor manager announced (loud enough for customers to hear) that any employee that helped a customer find a “high ticket” item resulting in the largest sale would get a $5.00 Target gift card.

Think back to not too long ago. Didn’t you feel complacency just prior to the storm clouds moving in? I’m guessing Lehman Brothers, Fannie and Freddie all were perched on their porches in rocking chairs before the tornado came. The energy was about to drift to the buyer.

New found energy?

Genuine customer focus?

Desperation?

Here’s the question that pulls at me – what if this customer focus du jour carries beyond the current storm clouds? What if this recent shift back toward customer satisfaction propagates valuable lessons that translate into better service once the sunny days are here again?

Perhaps this is a divine shake up — requiring us to “love your brother as yourself” in order to get back on track.

Those who are truly customer-focused will soak up what works and what doesn’t through these trials. Those that are thinking about these activities as a tactic to wait out the storm will probably revert back to their old ways.

In the short term, buyers benefit. In the long-term both buyers and seller can.