Don Distel

Recently marketing company Miller Brooks raised an important question on its website: Who is more important to you: your current customer or your next one? Not long after reading that, I had two experiences in the same week that reinforced the answer.

Future or Present

One of our team members had noticed that a consultant was advertising his company’s services via Google AdWords using our company name, “GuildQuality,” as a keyword. Illegal? No. Slimy? Certainly. Potentially confusing to members and prospects who might think we have a relationship with this brand surfer? Absolutely.

So I dialed the owner of the business and was immediately plunged into his company’s voice mail: “Press 1 for sales, 2 for support ... .”

That prompt perfectly illustrated his company’s priorities and reinforced every preconceived notion I had about the owner. I left a message in his voice mail asking for a return call. I was not surprised that he never called me.

Parking Pique

My oldest child is now in first grade in a private school here in Atlanta. Prior to his admission, and during all our meetings with faculty and staff, we parked right next to the main building. After he became a student, I continued this practice whenever I drove him to school.

A few weeks ago, after pulling into my usual spot, a woman ran out to greet us. Clearly, she was on the lookout. “I’m sorry,” she said, “you’re not supposed to park here. This is for faculty, staff, and guests.” The words weren’t impolite, but the tone was.

“Really?” I said, “I’m sorry. I’ve been parking here for months. Is there a sign or something?” She pointed to an obvious sign that I’d never noticed before. I briefly suspected they’d put it up that morning, just for me.

“OK. So ... where should I park?” I asked. Aside from the dozen empty guest and staff parking spaces surrounding my car, I could see no other options. “You can park across the street,” she replied, “but you can’t park here.”

As I drove across the street with my son to find the mythical parking area toward which she had gestured (and which I never found), I thought about the tuition check that I (the customer) had just written, and about the checks that the guests (the prospects) had not yet written, and about the checks that the faculty and staff (the employees) were regularly cashing. And I wondered aloud why I was the one driving around in search of a place to park.

Both of these incidents annoyed me. But after a little reflection, I realized that I really should have been thanking these people for the reminder to examine my own priorities. What might I be doing that sends the wrong message to my team? What might our company be doing that inadvertently sends the wrong message to our members, partners, peers, or vendors? What, in fact, is the message we want to send, and how effectively do we send it?

You earn your reputation in all sorts of ways — from the way you care for your customers, to the way you market your business, to where you ask someone to park, to how you set up your voice-mail prompts.

Little things matter.

—Geoff Graham is president of GuildQuality,a member-based company focused on customer-satisfaction surveying, reporting, and benchmarking for the remodeling and building industries.