My brother in law told me a great story at the weekend. Two girls visit one of Dublin’s swankier postcodes for a shopping trip. They take a late lunch in a trendy cafe/bar and whilst being served in walk Bono and a friend. The girls are big U2 fans and are very excited by Bono’s presence however both feel that bothering him whilst he is deep in conversation and enjoying something to eat would be unfair. Bono’s friend then goes outside for a smoke and is promptly joined by one of the girls. A conversation begins and the girl explains that she is a huge U2 fan and that they didn’t want to bother Bono but if it was possible could the guy ask Bono for his autograph for her? The guy says he’ll see what he can do, finishes his cigarette and goes back inside. 10 minutes later Bono and friend leave, the waitress comes over to the girls and hands them a piece of paper bearing Bono’s signature, she then explains that their meals and drinks have been paid for. The girls are taken aback, \”Bono paid for our lunches?\” they exclaim, \”no\”, says the waitress, \”Bruce Springsteen did, that’s who was with him, he told me to tell you that no one has ever approached him and asked him for someone else’s autograph before and he thought it was very funny!\”
Now my brother-in-law swears it’s true but even if it’s apocryphal it still illustrates something that has been bothering me. I’ve had several meetings recently where the subject of slashed marketing budgets has been discussed. Needless to say the marketing departments and the finance departments aren’t always on the same page on this subject and I understand that times are difficult for everyone but really has there ever been a more important time to speak to your customers? Certainly in the UK, and I imagine this stands in most markets, the cost of media has fallen, dramatically in some cases. In real terms talking to your customers hasn’t been this affordable in nearly 20 years. Add to this the fact your competition have probably cut back a bit too and the timing couldn’t be any better. Not only can you have an increased share-of-voice you can have it for less than last year. The dangers of not doing this are obvious. Falling sales for a start but also the very real possibility that your competition decides to take advantage of the market; what you think your saving just now will actually be costing you a lot more in a couple of years time. The biggest danger though is that by not communicating with your customers you are losing their input too. We are all of us customer led, we respond to customer demands, we innovate on the back of that and build our businesses accordingly. If we spend less time talking to customers we will create fewer opportunities to listen to them and a business that doesn’t listen to its customers is not long for this life.
One way or another we all work for our customers so our customers are the ultimate boss and a failure to recognise the boss is never a shrewd move in any walk of life.

John