Be the Dance, Not the Dancer

"Put the customer first" is another of the pieces of advice doing the rounds at the moment.

I'm not sure if one blog post inspires all the others, or if something in the wider world of eCommerce triggers everyone to write about the same thing.

Either way, this post urges you to think carefully before you make your customers the sole driving force behind your pricing and marketing activities.

Reciprocal eCommerce

Here's the thing - ask your customer what they would want in an ideal world, and you're not going to get a particularly profitable reply.

Low prices, special offers, free delivery, next-day (or even same-day) delivery, indefinite warranties against loss, theft or damage - the list is endless.

In particular, most of your customers are probably not senior figures in retail organisations of their own (or service providers, if that better suits your business model).

Your role as a businessman or businesswoman is to listen to their desires, and then to incorporate the realistic requests into your business in a way that does not adversely affect your bottom line.

In essence, you must be a parent, not a grandparent, to your customers - don't indulge their every whim, but decide what is best for them and for you.

Only give them ice cream when you can afford to.

Never Cut the Cord

With all of that in mind, commerce - and particularly eCommerce, where your customer is reading a non-human website written in advance - becomes about communication, not hard sales.

You will often see advice urging you to make your 'calls to action' appeal to your customers on an emotional level, in order to drive a response - this is good advice.

But you don't need to stop there. Your website can incorporate emotional or inspirational text throughout, without sounding over-the-top or squishy1.

The key is to remember that your site isn't you, nor is it your customer. Centre it too much on yourself or on them, and you risk putting the commercial relationship off-balance.

Instead, imagine your site as a cord, connecting you and your customer.

You might like to think of it as the string between two yoghurt pots, if it makes things easier. The string is not your mouth, nor is it your customer's ear, nor is it either of the pots; still, it is the essential component that carries the message from one to the other.

Leading the Dance

Readers of Nietzsche may recognise some of the imagery I've been using in this post.

The philosopher urged humanity to become more than just an intelligent animal with the notion of a soul.

"Man is not the dancer but the dance or the cord itself. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an End."
It's a little crass to turn that into sales advice, but I'm going to do it anyway.

Here goes:

  • stop putting anyone first
  • balance your own needs with those of your customer
  • don't think of your business as an entity
  • instead, see it as the cord between you and your customer
This approach should naturally balance the interests of you and your customer, making for a much more harmonious approach to business in all regards.

In particular, you can throw out old adages like "the customer is always right". Because frankly, they're not.

And, whether you choose to follow this advice or not, remember there's no guarantee that any blogger, advisor or 'expert' will ever know what's right for you when there's a human element involved.

Ultimately, it has to be your call.