Question: Who is the Customer?

Bean does not like to consider this question.

Here is a quick business-related post here that may help you in your woodworking (or nematode lingerie) business. 

In any transaction there are only three roles: the seller, the customer and the product. As one of the owners of Lost Art Press, I might occupy any of those roles at different times. And if I don’t understand my role in the transaction, I can make a fatal error. For example:

Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.

When I post on Instagram or Twitter, I am the product. This is a sometimes-startling realization for people. But if you aren’t the seller (Instagram) or the buyer (advertisers) then you are the product. (Cue the theme to “Soylent Green.”)

When we sell books to you, Lost Art Press is the seller, you are the buyer and the product is the ideas of a third person – the author.

However, when we are negotiating with an author about whether to publish their book, the roles change. Lost Art Press is the customer, the author is the seller and the product is the unpublished manuscript (aka the author’s ideas).

During the last 32 years of working in publishing, I have watched a lot of smart people completely forget how this works. One frequent problem at Popular Woodworking magazine occurred when an author would propose a story for us to publish. If we declined, the author might berate us, call us names, throw a fit (sometimes online) and generally be an ass.

You can get away with that sort of behavior when you are the customer (such as when you are a subscriber to the magazine, and we cocked up your subscription). That’s because in our service-oriented culture, the customer is always right (even when they’re not). 

But a seller belittling a potential customer is not cool. And that abuse can be fatal for the seller’s business.

At the magazine, authors who abused us were sometimes confused when we stopped returning their calls or considering their proposals.

Whenever I step into a weird financial situation (publishing rights purchased through an agent from a foreign publisher? Ugh), I draw a little triangle on a sheet of paper. I label the points: “Me,” “Other Dude” and “Thingy.” Then I draw arrows that show who the money goes to. At the beginning of the arrow is the customer. At the end of the arrow is the seller.

Then I know how to behave.

How does this blog entry help a small woodworking business? It is a reminder about how to deal with institutions. It’s easy to treat companies like they are always the seller and you are the customer. But that’s not always the case.

Draw the triangle. Draw the arrows. (Or get used to the indifference.)

— Christopher Schwarz


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