OPINION: Ringing tills should not drown out concerns for the customer

I recently met up with an old friend, Simon, a sales director. We had dinner near my flat and then I walked him to the nearest tube station, London Bridge.

Literally next door to the station is The London Dungeon. The Dungeon is remarkable not because of its assortment of grotesque waxworks in various states of dismemberment, but because of the queue that often stretches up the road from the entrance for more than 100 metres.

When Simon caught sight of this long line of customers he became excited.

So much so that as we were saying our farewells, he gestured to it and said: "That, my friend, is great marketing. You should write one of your daft columns about the London Dungeon." His comment really hit home, because for the past two years I have continually encountered that queue and thought one thing: that Dungeon really needs someone to sort that out; it's got a problem with its marketing.

As a salesperson, Simon thinks marketing is all about a long line of customers waiting to pay and a turnstile continually turning: ker-ching, ker-ching, ker-ching.

As a marketer, I see that same long line of people, but my eye wanders to the people at the back of the line. I notice that some of these customers, faced with a wait of an hour or more, decide not to bother and walk away.

My eye also wanders to the other people in the line. I worry about this hour-long wait to get in, because with every passing minute, these customers' expectations are rising. A customer and their family, who have waited in the rain for an hour during a three-day break to London, will be expecting a lot more than one able to walk into the Dungeon immediately without any queue. As a marketer I worry about these expectations and whether they will be met.

My eyes also wander to the people coming out of the Dungeon. I wonder if they are satisfied. I wonder if their expectations were met. I wonder if they will come back again. I wonder what they will tell their friends and colleagues. But Simon just keeps his eye firmly fixed on the turnstile: ker-ching. As long as it's turning, all is well with the world.

And of course he is right. Ultimately, The London Dungeon, or any other successful business, needs sales. As marketers we must pay attention to sales data. But sales are not, by any means, the only source of insight we must rely upon.

As marketers we must look prior to the sale, to questions regarding consumer behaviour: who is the customer? What do they want? Who else would they consider buying from? We must also look past the moment of the transaction and to the question of relationship marketing: was the customer satisfied?

In what ways could we improve this? Would they recommend us to others?

It is a classic challenge for any business to avoid focusing solely on sales. While they are the ultimate measure of success, they are not the exclusive source of customer insight. As marketers, rather than salespersons, our job is to continually refocus the organisation's gaze away from turnstiles and toward their ultimate origin: people.

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