Doing the right thing.....
I've recently turned away 3 separate people who were enquiring about Peak Mountaineering courses. In each case, after looking at their training requirements, I made alternative suggestions that meant other providers would be a better option. Is that a good or bad way to run a business?
Well, if the aim of our business is to prioritise quantity over quality it certainly isn't an efficient model. In that case a website where clients can read a course description and book online is more time efficient for both our company and the client. Even better if the booking process then triggers them receiving automated course joining instructions. From a company perspective that means it is possible to have no human interaction until the client turns up on the first morning of the course. Perfect that is, unless it becomes apparent at that initial meeting that the course isn't the right one for their needs.
Conversely, if the aim of our business is to prioritise quality, turning away clients occasionally might be necessary if we can’t offer what they need. Like any business, Peak Mountaineering wants to gain every customer we can. Customers mean financial survival. There is lots of competition in the outdoor industry so it would seem crazy to persuade people, after they have chosen to contact us rather than our competitors, to then send them back towards our competition! But, of course, we are only talking about those clients for whom we don't feel we can offer a suitable solution. For every other one we'll fight tenaciously to keep them with us.
Well, we’ve never offered online booking and we never will. When we went into business we knew the focus would always be on the quality. One client on the wrong course is a failure for us. It may make our booking process slightly more convoluted but it is the right thing to do. To some extent our philosophy mimics that of one of our favourite apparel manufacturers, Patagonia. Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia founder) explained in his excellent book 'Let my people go surfing' that there have been several pivotal points in his business history. Several points at which he had to decide whether to follow his philosophy of minimising environmental impact or whether to follow a safer business path. One of these was when he was deciding whether to change to using organic cotton for their t-shirts. Chouinard could see the massive environmental destruction cotton production caused but he was also aware that changing to organic fabric would mean they had to increase the price they sold their t-shirts for and require changes to their supplier chain. Chouinard is an avid defender of the environment and decided to make the change anyway.
So we’ll keep turning people away and, if we do it to you, we hope you'll understand our reasons. Of course, maybe what goes around also comes around. One of the people I turned away has already been back in touch and we are arranging a stag event for him later in the summer. That job alone will balance the total income loss from turning the 3 clients away. The reason he came back, it transpires, was because he was so impressed with the advice we'd given previously. And what of Choiunard's decision to change to organic cotton for Patagonia's t-shirts? The result was a significant increase in business and massive publicity for both his business and his environmental aims :)
Posted by Paul