As it appeared in the daily nation of July 28th 2015
by Lucy Kiruthu
Assume you are in a new neighbourhood. You go into an unfamiliar hotel and notice that it is deserted. It is lunch time and you are the only guest and it seems there is not much activity, would you stay for lunch? Possibly not. I would not. Even if the hotel staff tried to beg you to stay you might not be comfortable. Like many customers we like to interact with familiar business or at least businesses frequented by other customers. To a business too, lack of customers can be frightening, it is possibly the scariest business occurrence. Without enough customers, business have difficulties making ends meets. It becomes unsustainable to run a business because customers bring in the much needed revenues to finance the operations.
Most businesses keep track of their customers. They know their most important customers. The founders never forget their loyal customers. They also remember their first customers with nostalgia and sometimes these memories are bitter-sweet. Memories of the much effort the founders put into getting the first customers never fade, they are precious. I have seen in a few companies a framed copy of the first payment received from the first customer hanging neatly on the wall in the common office areas. On my end, I still recall the first consultancy job. Getting new customers and holding on to existing ones becomes the only sure pathway to business growth. Conversely, getting new customers and letting go existing may result to stagnation while getting no customers to replace those leaving means decline.
Lack of customers is a phenomenon that can affect not only start-ups but also mature companies. For start-ups, lack of customers is said to be the main cause of their death not lack of capital as many assume. We live in the age of customer development which means those starting new businesses must first think about who their customers will be and the value they will provide to them. It was remarkable during the Global Entrepreneurship summit to see most conversations around start-ups focusing on customer development. For mature organizations, it means staying innovative and meeting the needs of customers to stay ahead. At maturity an organization can either get a new lease of life or start declining. Uchumi supermarkets is a case in point, currently within the mature phase the chain could be at a crossroad. About a week ago I walked into Uchumi Ngong Road to grab a particular brand of juice. Unfortunately the shelves were empty and I walked away possibly not to return soon. Lack of customer is Uchumi’s greatest risk, how it reinvents is critical.
At the core of the existence of every organization are the customers and the staff. Every smart business leader must be clear about the deliberate action they must take to make existing customers stay and bring others with them. It is the staff that make this happen. Customer and staff engagement is no longer an option. We may never lack staff but we may lack customers. If we have staff and lack customers it could be that we have the wrong team or the team is not doing the right things. Lack of customer is scary to a business!
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on email@example.com/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy