Love Your Customers

September 14th, 2011 by Steve Pavlina

Let me share a possibly unorthodox angle on customer service.

One reason my business has been successful is that I enjoy running it. A big part of that enjoyment is that I genuinely like the people my business attracts as long-term customers. I include many of them among my friends and hang out with them socially often. My business partly serves as a feeder for making new friends.

The same is also true for the other business partners I work with. I like these people and enjoy them personally at least as much as I like networking with them professionally.

Since I like the people I serve, my motivation is higher, and I naturally work harder without having to force it.

If someone doesn’t have enough compatibility with me to potentially become a friend, I’d rather not have them as a customer of my business.

Many business owners will sanitize their public personas in an attempt to avoid alienating anyone. While following the rule “Thou shalt not take a stand” may indeed be a way to attract more customers, I wouldn’t want to run such a business. I know people who’ve done this, especially in the personal development field, and by and large they tend to have a great deal of stress in their lives. They reach a place where their businesses run them, and life is all about satisfying obligations. The joy fades. Going to work is a burden.

I’m not willing to go that route. If I did that, I’d end up disliking my business and the people it attracts, and my motivation would plummet. This approach wouldn’t feel good to me at all.

So I do the opposite. I intentionally share things that are likely to repel people who wouldn’t make good friends for me. I’d prefer not to have such people as customers either.

People so often tell me I’m crazy to post certain things that they believe will alienate people. I think it would be crazier not to do that. I share what I’m into. Why on earth would I want to run a business that requires me to suppress my interests? And to what end? Temporarily making more money at the cost of unhappiness, demotivation, a lot more stress? No thank you!

I think many small business owners underestimate just how important it is to love your customers, but I don’t recommend trying to force yourself to love people you wouldn’t even like hanging out with socially. I think it’s much more intelligent to design your business around serving people you already like. And then take steps to make sure that you don’t have too many incompatible people getting through.

I also enjoyed running my computer games business because my customers for that business were people I liked having as friends too — i.e. fellow gamers. I published games I enjoyed, and so my customers and I had some common interests. But the compatibility with my current business is much greater. I rarely met any of my games business’ customers face to face, but with my current business this is a regular occurrence. For instance, I like hosting meet-ups when I travel because I get to meet many interesting people that way.

I’m really looking forward to CGW this weekend, and the main reason is the people. I get to spend the weekend hanging out with people who are strongly interested in improving their lives, including many friends I already know and new friends I’m sure to make.

What kinds of people do you really like? Can you think of a business that would attract these people as your core customer base? You could start by asking some of them what their biggest problems and challenges are.

Even if you’re not a business owner, do you love the people you get to work with each day? Do you like your business’ customers and your co-workers? Do you go out of your way to hang out with them socially, just for fun? If not, that’s a hint and a half that you’re in the wrong place.

You don’t need to be so anal that you require 100% compatibility with everyone, and that isn’t realistic anyway, but downplaying your personality, interests, and desires in a vain attempt to get everyone to like you is not a path to happiness.

Running a business where you actually like the people you serve is very motivating. A day’s work feels like helping out your friends and doing nice things for people you care about.

Be unabashedly yourself. Many people won’t like that. Don’t chase after them. You may want to shoo them away instead. If they can’t accept you as you are, they aren’t a good match for you — personally or professionally.

There’s no need to check your soul at the door when you go to the office. If you can’t be yourself at work, you haven’t found — or created — the right workplace yet.

I’ve proven to myself that it’s possible to run a successful business this way. My web traffic keeps going up, hitting a new all-time high of 10.7 million page views last month. When I announced the new workshops, they sold enough tickets to cover all the costs within the first week, and some are still months away.

This October 1st will be my blog’s 7-year anniversary. Only a tiny percentage of blogs last that long. I doubt I’d still be happy doing this, however, if I held back in order to avoid alienating anyone.

One thing I’ve learned is that although not everyone will like you for being you, more people will respect you. And some of them, as ironic as it may seem, will actually refer new business to you even if they don’t like you that much. They may be disappointed that they don’t have much compatibility with you personality-wise, but there’s a good chance they’ll be able to tap into some appreciation for you at the level of character. While people may not like some of my personal interests, I think many of them still appreciate my honesty and openness. They may not like my playfulness or sense of humor, but they can still appreciate my willingness to push boundaries and stretch myself.

I’m not really trying to push people away or to alienate people — not directly. I’m simply making sure that I continue to enjoy my work and that it remains a labor of love. I hope you can understand and appreciate that. There are plenty of other people in this field, and if you find that my style or my message is a turnoff for you, I invite and encourage you to go elsewhere. It really is pointless to complain to me about such things though because despite the protests, I’m going to continue doing what I love, and I absolutely refuse to sanitize my public image. If you attempt to complain to me about that, don’t be so surprised when I treat you as a fool for doing so.



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