It’s London in the 1800s; the height of the industrial revolution, and every day through the coal blackened streets, a man walks. He cuts a striking figure, tall and gaunt. He wears a top hat and a long cloak, that were both once fine and costly, but now they appear to have seen better days, beneath a suit, that is now too showing its years.

But as he walks through the streets, he still has a certain aura that marks him a higher class than those that now make this area of London their home and work place. Other pedestrians move aside to let him pass. As he strides purposefully, his cloak billowing out behind him, the people he leaves in his wake wonder who he is and where he goes each day, but none approach to ask him, nor choose to follow to satisfy their curiosity.

Many assume him to be a factory owner walking from what was once considered to be one of the more upmarket neighbourhoods, before the age of industry started to encroach on it and make it more a mini town for the workers in those industries, close to their nearby workplaces in the expanding industrial sector of the city.

But no one sees where he comes from and no one sees where he goes, he makes that trip twice each day once in each direction but the start and end points are always in the shadows, invisible to the naked eye.

In lots of ways this mirrors the daily routines of our businesses, customers walk into and out of our field of vision, some stop and buy things, some browse a while, and some just walk straight past. In the quiet moments each day, you possibly sometimes consider those visitors as you would the elusive man, what are they doing? Where are they going? If they were paying customers, you might be wondering, how they are getting on with your product? Or what they were planning to do with it?

And this is the lesson, you never know your customer’s story, where they have come from or where they are going. Even with repeat or long-standing customers, you have only a short glance into the window of their lives and business that you are exposed to when they are giving you details about their purchase of your product. So what details do you need to help you (a) Keep in touch with them and (b) Get as good an idea of their needs in the shortest possible time.

Some customers could simply be looking for a solution to a tiny problem, they may buy your product or service, thinking it will help them, but they may never actually make use of it. Others may be planning for your products or services to be the lynchpin for their own business. But how will you know when all you get is that brief window?

It’s tempting to just treat online customers as disposable assets, after all you never actually meet them, and the thought is that the Internet is vast so there is always another customer. There are mechanisms that allow you to build an online rapport with your customers, blogs, forums, chat rooms, etc. that allow you to personalise and expand the relationship you have with that footfall.

If you can engage with them via these methods, you will often find out the destination they are working towards, and discover that you have more to offer them. And that’s a win-win. A better service for them and more repeat sales for you.

But in our story, no one ever engages with the man in the top hat, they only ever see him as he passes through the street. Who was he? What did he do? All unexplored mysteries that you as a business owner must make it your goal to find out and not let that visitor pass you by.


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