When it comes to politics in the United States, all the money is on the left and the right. But when it comes to business, it may pay to embrace the middle.
The Toxic Political Climate
The absolutist nature of American politics has led to hyper-partisan fighting, an inability of Congress to pass meaningful legislation, and most unfortunately, an unwillingness for regular citizens to actually talk with one another about important issues.
Speaking of Congress, its approval rating — roughly equivalent to a customer satisfaction score in business — sits at a woeful 20%. It’s not hard to see why. The politicians that were elected to represent the people aren’t actually listening to the people. Just as customer feedback is critical in business, it sure might help Congress to pay attention to the feedback of its constituents.
For example, a recent study from Pew Research Center found that “relatively few Americans on either side of the debate take an absolutist view on the legality of abortion – either supporting or opposing it at all times, regardless of circumstances.” But that absolutism is exactly what’s playing out in Washington.
If politicians took the time to listen to their constituents, they might be able to “embrace the middle”.
What Businesses Can Do
While there may be no fix for U.S. politics in sight, companies can learn something about the current state of affairs — at least if they want customer satisfaction ratings higher than 20%.
One fact is abundantly clear: Your customers are not one homogeneous group. They are not all on one side or the other side; most of them are somewhere in the middle.
No matter what business you’re in, your customers are of differing age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, dietary preference, sports fandom, and yes, political affiliation.
In other words, your customer base is the very definition of “in the middle”.
So how do companies develop products and services with all of these differences in mind? A good starting point is to listen to your customers.
They’ll tell you what they need and if you’re providing it.
They’ll tell you how they use your product or service, even if it’s not the intended use.
And they’ll tell you how your product makes them feel.
Inclusive vs. Exclusive
There is not anything wrong with exclusive products. After all, a Yankees baseball cap isn’t going to appeal to Mets fans. And products that are marketed to and specifically designed for different groups — such as Christian families, senior retirees, or urban youth — are often successful because the exclusivity itself is a selling point.
Sometimes products are unintentionally exclusive, but after companies listened to customers, they decided to become more inclusive of multiple types of people.
Band-Aid, for example, launched its OurTone line last year to appeal to customers with darker skin who felt they weren’t represented in the existing line of products. Similarly, Google launched a Super Bowl advertisement earlier this year noting that the Pixel 6 phone now properly captures different skin tones.
Some companies have begun making inclusivity a selling point.
Starbucks partnered with an app developer to create an accessible experience for blind and low-vision customers. And a restaurant in New York City is intentionally designed so customers in wheelchairs can easily enjoy a meal.
Inviting more customers to your business leads to growth.
That NYC restaurant, called Contento, caused New York Times food critic Pete Wells to note in his review: “Night after night, I see restaurants that are theoretically wheelchair accessible. What I rarely see are wheelchairs.” He added that “word has gotten around” about Contento being inclusive, drawing in more customers who might not otherwise frequent restaurants.
After the federal mask mandate for air travel was lifted, American Airlines added to its pre-flight announcements the request to “please respect the decisions of your fellow passengers” who decide to wear or not wear a mask during the flight.
If American only allowed passengers who either wanted to wear a mask or didn’t want to wear a mask, that wouldn’t be good for business. So they’ve designed the experience for both.
Your Company’s Customer Experience
As you think about your own company’s customer experience, think about all of the different kinds of customers you have. Think about how different groups might use your products and services differently. Build your products and services to include as many people as possible unless exclusivity is a selling point, because most businesses want more customers instead of fewer.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with your customers or not politically; what matters is that they are loyal to your business and tell others about you. Embrace the middle.