How To Always Lose To Your Competitor

I’m writing this at Starbucks, but I wish I was writing in the little coffee shop just across the street. However, I can’t because they lost me (and others) just a couple of hours ago. Let me explain.

This morning  the power in my neighborhood went out, and I got a report that it wouldn’t be restored until later in the afternoon.  This took away my internet and my ability to drive anywhere (car is in a garage that requires power, and thank you for the suggestions of a manual override but unfortunately it’s not an option in this case) which really leaves me stuck, as my job is to create and oversee online social media campaigns for Fortune 500 companies.  I live in a beautiful neighborhood, and one of the things that makes it beautiful is the lack of businesses.  I have two coffee shops that have wifi and good tea, practically across the street from each other, 2 miles away from my house.  I put on my backpack and started the hike.

One of the coffee shops is a locally owned and operated cafe, the other is Starbucks.  I try to support small businesses whenever possible, and though it was a bit more inconvenient, I trekked to the local cafe.

Once inside, I saw I wasn’t alone.  About a half dozen people were in there with their laptops, probably trying to escape the same outage that I was.  I ordered a croissant breakfast sandwich, a skinny latte and sat at a table to start my work.  Although I got online right away, about 30 seconds later I lost connectivity.  A few minutes later it came back, then went off.  I went through this cycle for about 20 minutes, hoping that I would be able to keep a connection long enough to download a report.  No such luck, and I noticed my fellow patrons were having the same problems.  Another gentleman and I went up to the counter at the same time and told the person there that the wifi was going up and down.  His reply? “Yeah, it does that sometimes.”  My counterpart asked if he would mind simply restarting the router, and his answer was, “I can’t right now, but somebody will probably get to it before too long.”  To paint the complete picture, he was making a coffee for himself for his pending break.

So what happened? No surprise, everybody packed up and walked across the street to Starbucks, myself included.  As I sit here typing this, most of those people are still here, and I’m guessing this group of nomads has spent close to $100 on food and drink so far.  $100 that would have gone to the local cafe if one person had cared about the what the customers needed at that moment. We told him, he just didn’t listen, or didn’t care. (By the way, if you want to know how this ties into social media, check out this recent post)

Perhaps your company can’t sell your goods or services as cheaply as the big corporation you compete against. No doubt you cannot spend the money on advertising they do.  It is likely you cannot buy the newest machines and the fanciest fixtures, even though it’s just a line item for the giant company across the street.

But there is something you can afford.  There is something you MUST afford.  You need to make sure that you and your employees, no matter if you are brick and mortar or digital, care about each and every one of your customers. People want to do business with you, they really do.  They want to give you their money. But when you don’t care, or at least put forth the appearance of not caring, there is always a corporate giant just a few steps or clicks away that will welcome them with open arms.

It will cost you nothing to do this, it will cost you everything if you don’t.

Flickr image licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy of drp
By Matt Singley

Personal: husband to Alison, father to four amazing kids. I used to live a fast but enjoyable life in Los Angeles, now I have chickens on acreage in Charlotte, North Carolina. Just a bit different. I'm an advocate for cycling as much as you can and eating as cleanly as you can afford. Professional: I'm the CEO of Singley + Mackie, a creative digital agency that serves well-known lifestyle and entertainment companies around the world. Clients include Microsoft, Samsung, Hulu, YP and others. If you want to find the more-professional me, go to