The Recessionary Mindset for Businesses and Employees


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I am going to make a few points that will have most people nodding their heads in agreement. Yet, many businesses, business leaders and employees do not seem to grasp how these forces should be changing their behavior.

Point one, the recession reduces the amount of money most customers have to spend and as a consequence customers should be treated as more valuable.

Point two, employee job security is now, more than ever, directly linked to the businesses profitability.

Point three, customers have choices and are more likely to abandon businesses they once frequented if they have a negative customer experience or even one that is not perceived to be helpful.

Now to the notion of a recessionary mindset for businesses and employees. Here is a short story that should make the point clear.

Yesterday, northern California was particularly sunny and warm for January. For this reason I found myself heading for the nearest Goldsmith shop to purchase a few items before heading for my favorite course. I was not alone. At 9:45 am there were 14 of us waiting in front of the store. The sign said they opened at 10 am but we could see employees and possibly a manager inside drink coffee and engaged in lighthearted conversation. And, they could see us but choose to look away. Several additional employees arrived, unlocked the door and quickly locked it behind themselves. They didn’t say a word to us.

Here were 14 customers queued up, but the employees and manager continued to play by the rules—we open at 10 am. The fact that the employees were visible and obviously waiting for 10 am to open the door became a topic of conversation amongst the 14 potential customers. Someone said, “I wish Golf Mart were closer, they wouldn’t treat us like this.” A couple others agreed and others asked about the location of the nearest Golf Mart and asked about what made them special. They got an earful of positive word-of-mouth. Golfsmith might have sold a few balls once they finally opened but they lost, big time, with 14 customers. I am writing this blog to make a point but also out of frustration with the store. I am absolutely convinced that the other 13 people are also engaging in negative word-of-mouth to friends and family. And, next time, most of us will head to Golf Mart, not Golfsmith.

So what mindset should the employees and manager adopt—do the right thing for the customer. In this case, they could have opened a few minutes early. I am sure that if you asked the millions of unemployed if they would be willing to take a like minded action to keep their old job, they would have jumped at the chance.

In recessionary times, the employee mindset needs to shift from themselves and the time clock to doing what it takes to keep the business profitable and this means proactively seeking ways to serve customers. Similarly, business owners, leaders and managers need to adopt a mindset that looks for every way to serve up a better customer experience. Failure to do so will have people heading to their competitors to spend their increasingly scarce funds.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


  1. Hi John

    An interesting story that I am sure all of us have shared at one time or another. It does make you wonder if employees realise who is paying their salary at the end of the day. Having sad that, there are sometimes other reasons why shops can’t open earlier, such as zoning restrictions or union agreements. If that was the case, the shop should have informed waiting customers. Ultimately, customers will do their own mental accounting and choose to either stay and lump it, to stay and complain, or to go.

    One thing puzzles me though. You say in point one that customers have less money to spend and should be treated as more valuable. Surely, from a purely financial perspective, if they have less money to spend than their peers, they are by definition less valuable and should be treated as such. That doesn’t of course mean that you should treat them any worse than when they were more financially valuable.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

  2. Graham,

    Certainly laws or other factors might play a role. But, as you point out, the employees/manager could have taken friendlier approach. “Sorry you had to wait until we could open, it is such a beautiful day.” The point of the story was to alert employees and managers that they have a responsibility to seek ways to help customers, not rely on rules. The UAW, for example, imposes rules on the auto industry that prevents them from changing.

    Regarding customers having less money — this is a generalization. Some people who are on salaries have the same income but they still worry about their plummeting net worth and are likely to become more concerned about where and how they spend their income. If this is true for a company’s customer base, they need to see them as more valuable. If they choose not to buy or buy as much from that company, it will be harder to replace them from non-customers who have a similar mindset.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.


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