Paul Butler | Retaining Customers

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

I’m a believer that organizations are really just a group of people with a leadership ribbon wrapped around them, holding them together. The ties might be stronger within some organizations than others based on factors such as pay, benefits, bonus plans, flexible work-from-home policies and the like, but people do have so much choice on whether to stay or to go. 

I saw this for myself this past week: My barber quit. I switched gyms and my mechanic tells me he’s moving out of state. Each of these were based on an individual’s free choice to tear the ribbon.  

It was great to find a barber who cut my hair just how I like it done. The other aspect of my barber that I very much appreciated was the fact that he read me well — he could tell when I wanted to chat and the times I wanted to chill in his chair. So why did he leave? I know that, sadly, he had gone through a divorce and that he wanted a change of scenery. I turned up one day and he hadn’t. As Jim Morrison of The Doors sang, “People are strange.”  

I am hopeful that the barbershop will still deliver on its promise due to the leadership and quality of processes wrapped around the customer experience. I will miss my barber but I remain confident in his replacement.  

I loved my gym. Notice that’s past tense. There were two factors that caused me to make the move — one was to do with process and the other to do with people. In 2022 when there’s an APP for everything it’s fully expected that a gym member should be able to book classes online. Not only did my gym not have an APP, but they also didn’t have a functioning website where you could actually see classes coming up. Their lack of efficient processes let them down time and time again. 

In the past, I’d overlooked the inefficient processes because their people were so warm, genuine and friendly. I knew each receptionist and every one of the fitness trainers out on the floor. COVID-19 shook up many things and my gym was not immune — the reception staff suffered 100% labor turnover and of the fitness staff, only one person has remained at their station.  

Sadly now, the reception staff seem much more interested in their phones than actually receiving their guests. Little to no eye contact; no welcoming smile, just an arm lift of the scanner to record the guest entrance and then back to the wonderful world of whatever they’re looking at on the soul-crushing device in their hand. So, poor processes were strike one, which I was willing to put up with due to their previously great people who were clearly trained and led well. Now the latter has gone, I’m out of there, too. When we have so many choices as the consumer, I’d rather take my business to another box building where they have modern processes and fully engaged people who actually want to be doing what they’re doing. 

One of the greatest reliefs in life is to find a mechanic you can trust and so this week I was gutted when he told me he’s moving out of state as he received an offer he couldn’t refuse — one that was a big win for him and his young family. My mechanic’s name is Kevin. I’ve only dealt with Kevin in the shop and don’t know the owner or any of the other mechanics. So, the jury’s out on this one — I’ll stick with the shop because Kevin represented his colleagues and the ownership so well.   

In summary, I’m confident the barber shop will have another great barber for me as I trust in their leadership, their brand and their cool processes. I changed gyms because the processes and the (new) people didn’t deliver. I’m going to stick with my mechanic because one person made all the difference to me. 

It does indeed seem that customer retention comes down to efficient processes, delivered by effective people — both of which are loosely held together with a ribbon wrapped around them and if you look really closely, what’s written on the ribbon is the L-word: “leadership” or the O-word, “ownership.”  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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