As the old cliché goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But increasingly there’s an alternative ending for that saying: you never get a second chance to make a bad impression.
There’s many a morning that I find myself in York ridiculously early and – like everyone else these days – I’m soon carrying a cup of coffee. Also like everyone else, I’m a creature of habit – so I always go to the same place for my coffee. It’s near the car park and the latte’s not bad. Not great, you understand, but not bad.
And there’s the rub, as that well known management consultant Hamlet would put it. If you sell coffee, you are not short of competition. Move 50 yards to your right or left on any high street, or walk across the road, and there’s an alternative. In fact, any reasonably intelligent visitor from outer space who landed in our nation’s capital could only come to one logical conclusion: the entire economy of the UK is based on lattes, cappuccinos and whatever a double mocha grande is…
Back to the other morning. There I am in York buying my coffee; handing over my £2.10 – clearly I’ve lived in Yorkshire long enough now because there’s part of me that still can’t come to terms with paying more than two quid for a cup of coffee.
So it has to be good.
And it wasn’t.
I’m prepared to accept 6/10 at 7:30 in the morning. I’m not prepared to accept 3/10, which is what this particular latte was. And I could tell as they were making it: they simply didn’t pay attention.
Two days later I deserted. I was back in York, I bought another coffee. But I’d gone 50 yards up the road. I wasn’t prepared to risk another three.
I felt slightly bad about this seemingly trivial decision. But then I talked to a couple of friends and they said much the same. And it struck me that there was an important business lesson in the story.
I think we’re becoming an increasingly impatient society. I’m not saying that’s a good thing: but I am saying it’s a fact. Whatever we want, we want it now. Whatever we want to know, Google tells us.
And we’re becoming less tolerant of things that disappoint us. Even when we’re only spending a couple of quid, it has to be right. Exactly right.
The lesson for your business is clear: it doesn’t matter whether what you sell or the service you provide costs £2 or £2,000, it has to be right. And it has to be exactly right every time. You have to deliver what your customer or client expects and you have to deliver it remorselessly – because there’s always an alternative.
That’s why I’m such a passionate advocate of doing what only you do best. If you do that thing at which you are truly excellent then a) you’ll always be at the top of your game and b) your business will fun and profitable. And as my old ‘mentor’ Bob Townsend put it, ‘if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing here?’
Decent cup of coffee in hand I’ll be back next week on Valentine’s Day. I repeat, Valentine’s Day. So maybe next time I’m in York I should be focusing on something other than the quality of my coffee…