Over the Christmas holidays I got to thinking what we could learn from Scrooge about running a business. No, I have no idea why either, let’s just put it down to it being Christmas an’ all.

So what are we talking about here? Think for one moment of what might cause an economically fatal first impression. Suppose you had a business called Scrooge and Son. Now the thing is that even if you were using it ironically, the baggage that comes with that name will never be overcome regardless of how well you ran your business.

The big issue with this is that the name ‘Scrooge’ creates an expectation of meanness of spirit and cheapness. Now for anyone who has seen or read the Christmas Carol, you will no doubt recall that the story actually turns out with Scrooge seeing the error of his ways.

But the nice ending isn’t what we associate with the name ‘Scrooge’ otherwise it would be an expression of hope not an insult. Why is that? Reinforcement. The whole of the Christmas Carol being a morality play relies on the reader understanding that Scrooge is not a nice person and this is reinforced by the way he initially reacts to the Ghosts.

OK so you probably get now that Scrooge doesn’t provide a good ethical business model, although in the real world outside of a Dickens novel, it can work if profit is the be all and end all of what you want to achieve in business. And you have a captive clientele that have nowhere else to go regardless of how you treat them. If you were awarding Scrooge any points at all, at least he is consistent!

What possible relevance does this have to your business right now? Probably more than you think. Let’s break it down.

  1. Because of the way he acts in the pursuit of his business, Scrooge gets a reputation. So will you.
  2. Because he does not consider revising his business model but just continues the way he always has, that reputation is reinforced. So will yours.
  3. Even though he changes his ways and the way he acts, it’s his original reputation that is most easily recalled by his trademark. So will yours.

Whilst it is true to say that reading a book or watching a movie can be akin to a snapshot of part of someone’s life, that is all your customers or clients get. A snapshot of your business. They do not have full knowledge of how you got there and, unless you make them into a repeat customer, will not know how you do after your transaction. The customer will think that how you act (or react) to them is how you always treat customers.

More importantly, they will not know why you do what you do precisely because they have not been part of your history. We tend to forget this all too easily. No-one will see things exactly as we do because they aren’t us and haven’t experienced the same things which have formed how we see things. Something we think makes the most logical sense may seem at best weird and at worst game ending to our clientele.

What could Scrooge have done differently to ensure that his trademark would be remembered positively? Well I suppose he could have got a better copywriter than Dickens to make sure a more positive spin was applied to his story for a start!

But seriously, what can you do to make sure your customer experience is positive and beneficial to both parties?

  1. Review how and what you are communicating on an annual basis, attempting to be as objective as possible.
  2. Involve an outside agency who has no axe to grind in the review process.
  3. If you are a sole trader or the sole arbiter of your business’s direction, then look for a mentor or peer group you can relate to.
  4. Make sure that you do not just look to someone who will always agree with you or defer to your judgement, but remember it is your business so it is your final decision.
  5. Take notice of what your clientele is saying about you, invite feedback. Negative comments may not be valid but try and see how they might have come to that conclusion and make changes if necessary.
  6. Always reply to any public criticism with good grace.
  7. If you do not have an understanding of current technology seek out someone who does. Technology does not deal with every communication issue but can automate many things and make your communication more effective.

You may feel like shouting ‘humbug!’ at your customers or clients at times, but remember, it’s best not to say it out loud.