The Golden Rule (as a refresher “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You”) may be great for religion but it doesn’t always work as a corporate strategy. Before you assume that I have become a barbarian, read a little further. The real Golden Rule of business is to treat people the way that THEYwant to be treated.
Last week, I relayed the story about how Nike swallowed its corporate eqo and achieved success in the skateboard market. You can see that post here: How Nike Finally Got Cool. The key to their ultimate success was dealing with customers the way that they wanted to be treated not sticking to the corporate playbook (even when the plays weren’t working).
Walmart is getting a very expensive education on the need to adapt to the customer. They have just announed that they are selling their 85 German stores to the Metro Group and taking a billion dollar loss. Their major failing? Assuming that Germans wanted to be treated just like Americans and that the strategies and skills that made them successful in the US and other markets would work in Germany. You can read more about their German fiasco here: NY Times article on Walmart
What’s striking is that none of the mistakes that Walmart made were based on stupidity, laziness, greed or any obvious failings. They failed because they placed too much faith in the strategies that had made them successful at home.
Here’s a quote from the New York Times article that I linked to above. “The company initially installed American managers, who made some well-intentioned cultural gaffes, like offering to bag groceries for customers (Germans prefer to bag their own groceries) or instructing clerks to smile (Germans, used to brusque service, were put off).”
Two of the themes that I stress are: the importance of listening to your customers; and the need to always check your assumptions. Even things that you assume are givens (such as service with a smile) should be tested. We are only successful when we really understand our customers and tailor our products and service to them.