As a public relations professional, I’m always thinking about relationships. That’s my stock in trade. But for most of the world, it’s money that does the talking. You gotta have that do-re-mi.
Of course, smart businesses build relationships and make money. I was reminded of this the other day, when I attempted to return something to The Bicycle X-Change, a store in Wichita, Kansas. I had purchased a cable for a vintage three-speed English bicycle that I’m restoring. It turned out my existing cable was OK, so I returned to the store to claim my $8.49. I had with me the cable in its unopened package and my receipt.
The kid behind the counter told me he could not give me a refund, only store credit. I protested, so he got another employee to tell the same story. He pointed out that the receipt says “no cash refunds.”
I told him that I understood that the business made that choice, but that it was unacceptable to me, and that I could also make a choice. I walked out of the store.
So who cares? What’s one little customer?
Maybe nothing. But I do own six bicycles, one of which always seems to need some sort of attention. I am a former president of a bicycling club. I have organized 100k bicycle touring events. In college I worked in a bicycle shop. I once built a recumbent bicycle from scratch. When my friends are thinking about buying a bicycle, they ask me what to buy, and I go along with them to the store. In a very local way, I am a bicycle opinion leader.
I gotta think that somewhere there’s a bicycle shop that wants me to go home happy.
Here’s another way to think about my failed attempt to get my $8.49 back. The shop wins. They get to keep my $8.49. And every month, they’ll turn around and spend crazy money on marketing to try to get people to walk into the shop. Yellow pages. Newspaper ads. I’ve even seen television ads for this modest shop.
And they could’ve had me for free.
This is the lesson of the world-is-flat-social-media environment in which we live. In the old days, businesses sent a stream of messages to their customers, who listened. Today, many of the messages about a business come from its customers, who tweet their experiences. Blog about them. Write reviews on social media sites and message boards. Search engines organize this stream of information and make it easy to find for other customers. Research validates this concept: these messages are more credible than traditional ads. An entire industry has sprung up to manage these new online relationships. Social media marketers and public relations professionals help businesses understand this interactive environment and optimize their performance so the messages work for them, not against them.
I’ve started riding my bicycle to work, and am saving up for an Electra Amsterdam Royal 8. Know any good dealers near Wichita, Kansas?