I grew up in a small village in a rural part of Southern Germany. There’s not much around – the place is pretty much made up of a lot of farms, a tiny bakery, a primary school, a kindergarten, a church, and a couple of hundred people.

About a year ago I was back there visiting my family. I went for a walk where we used to play out on the street pretending to be farmers or learning to ride our bikes, when I noticed a sign outside a little wooden house, saying “Broken shoes? Get them fixed here.”
It got me thinking – in our digital world we don’t often consider old school advertising to be a viable option. Simple, straightforward, practical. Having a basic sign outside the door is such an easy concept though, and one that worked.

I only vaguely remembered the shoe maker, so when I got home I asked my mum about him. The shoe maker is now 80 years old, still fixing shoes up to this day. Obviously he would have grown up without the internet, doing things the old way. Sharing his message through people, doing a great job at fixing shoes, and putting up a sign outside his house.

Sometimes it seems we complicate things – perhaps there are too many options to choose from. “Traction”, a Startup guide to getting customers, lists 19 different channels for getting traction, there are endless social media platforms available for us to choose from, and another 250k podcasts to listen to that all promise to help us in some way.
No wonder this creates decision fatigue, which easily leads to us not running our businesses in the most efficient way or underperforming at work.

The old shoe maker is used to getting returning customers because word of mouth has spread by now. Why did word of mouth spread in the first place? Because he does a great job at fixing shoes, is fully committed, and builds personal relationships with his customers. There’s no reason for why he would do it any differently, after all the village he lives in is so tiny that everyone knows everyone. There’s no way you would be able to keep a business running if you didn’t put in your best efforts.

In order to run a successful business you need returning, loyal, and paying customers. Without paying customers there’s no business. Sure, you could try to find new customers every time, but how much easier is it to retain the ones you’ve already got and make them tell all their friends about you over dinner?

So put in that time and effort to create personal relationships with your customers. Talk to them, get to know them better, recognise them if they keep sending in support tickets, and ask about their business and how they’re doing. And then listen to them. It sounds cliche, but it’s much harder to do in practice than most people think.

I talked to one of my teammates about this. His view on customer support pretty much sums it up: “I’ve seen so many cases of companies that are really good at getting back to customers when they give good feedback, but not so good anymore when the feedback is negative or downright critical. Also, don’t let them wait on an inquiry, keep them up to date. Show them that you care and are working on making things better. So in summary, excellent communication goes a LOOONG way.”

Remember to be personal and think “old school”, it might just get you further than you believe.

This is the first article in a series of posts on ‘What we can learn about customer happiness from random businesses’. Sign up to the newsletter for many more interesting lessons to come.

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What we can learn about customer happiness from an 80 year old shoe maker

by Helena Mueller time to read: 3 min
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