Who are your customers?

What can a fish market in Seattle, Wash. teach us of great customer service? The answer is simply “lots.”
Let me first back up a step. It all starts with having a very clear vision of what you want your business to look like at some time in the future.
I say this because most people don’t understand this, but the owner of the Pike Place Fish in Seattle did.
I have been conducting strategic planning for many years and most people and organizations confuse a vision for a mission statement. A vision is very simple and clear, yet powerful and understandable.
A mission statement, on the other hand, answers three simple questions: what your purpose is, who you service, and how you service them.
The current owner of the fish market bought this smelly, cold, small market in the 1960s. His vision was simply to be “world famous.” Simple, clear, and powerful.
He shared this vision with his employees, and he made sure all of his employees understood this vision as they were hired and trained. The staff meets regularly to discuss “What is it each of us has to do to ensure this business—this Pike Place Fish—is ‘world famous?’”
To make a long story short, the number-one thing is customer service.
Today, the fish market is known around the world. People visit the Pike Place Fish to see the fish mongers yell and scream, throw fish and crab through the air, and most all, provide top-notch customer service to everyone.
Everyone meaning the person standing watching to the delivery boy dropping off a package to the individual actually purchasing a flying fish.
Why do I mention this? Because it is my experience that well over 50 percent of businesses today don’t understand who their customers are. Worse yet, if they do understand this, they don’t treat all customers the same.
It is very important to have a vision and know where you want to go. Let’s face it, if we don’t have a vision, then how will we know when we have arrived at the place we want to be. We won’t.
Having a vision, though, is one thing. Knowing how we are going to get there is another. Customer service is the cornerstone to success. Knowing that your customers are everyone and anyone is the mortar for the cornerstone.
I visited the Pike Place Fish back in April. I arrived early and stood back and watched for quite a time. At first, most people stood and watched the fish mongers work.
The fish mongers would engage in conversation with anyone who passed by closely. Some would say hello and keep going, but most would stop and chat it up. Very little action as far as sales.
I realized that most people watching were like me, a tourist.
After a while, the locals started to arrive. They knew what they wanted, they came for something specific. The action started. Fish flying, screaming and yelling started. The crowd started hollering and clapping.
What a show.
At this point, I just had to buy something. I walked close to the counter and the guy up top behind the counter asked me if I had been looked after—wow, I was just arriving. I said that I had hadn’t.
He yelled something and immediately a guy was there talking it up with me. He offered me samples of fresh salmon and immediately sold me on some.
The fish flew, the yelling continued. What service.
Being in the business of customer service and teaching it to others over the years, I asked this guy, “How do you do it? How do you provide great service day in and day out to everyone?”
He responded by saying, “First of all, it’s hard work that each of us has to work on daily, from the owner down to me.”
He continued by saying, “Secondly, everyone out there, everyone that comes up, comes in, everyone is a potential customer, therefore to us, is a customer.
“One of the guys had an experience a while back and sums it up in our new book,” he added.
I asked if he would share the story. He did.
“You know how we throw fish?” I responded with a nod. He continued, “Well, one day a young lady was standing off to the side wanting to buy some fish. No one saw her. A fish went flying and some of the fish slime landed on her.
“This set her off. She started stamping and yelling. One of the guys saw this and went over to apologize immediately. She was quite mad and said all we do here is put on a show and ignore the local crowd. This was upsetting.
“He explained to her that we would much rather have $20 or $30 every two weeks from you than a tourist who spends $300 once in a lifetime.”
I looked at the guy in a bit of shock.
He continued, “You see, the fun we have that the crowd likes so much is as much for us as it is for them. This is our way to make our workplace a great place to work.
“The customer that got slimed, she lives here, we have to rely on her everyday. The tourist season ends and we need the locals.
“Therefore, we have to ensure we are giving the same service to everyone all of the time.”
I said to him, “Everyone, who is everyone?”
He explained, “You, me, them [pointing to guys behind the counter], all those people [waving his arm toward the crowd] whether they are locals or tourists, the people that phone in, e-mail us, the guys bringing in deliveries—everyone, you know.”
I told him, “Thanks, I do now.”