What is your secret sauce? Is it time to add a new ingredient?

OK, I'll admit it. I can still sing the lyrics to the McDonald's Big Mac commercial: two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. Ta da! Did I get that stuck in your head, too? For McDonald's - and the rest of the kings of fast service restaurants - the key to success is consistent, quality delivery. You get what you ordered, what you are familiar with, whether you order a Big Mac in Big Sky, Montana, or in the Big Apple. That's why, on any given day in the US, one-fifth of the population eats fast food. If your business is following a consistency model like McDonald's, now's the time for extreme quality control. No slips, no skimps and you'll keep your customers coming back for more.

But what if your business is based on unique products or specialized services? Maybe now is the perfect time to mix up that secret sauce. (Another way to say CHANGE is good.) If you're a clothing retailer and you've broadened into too many lines, cut back and refocus on your core strengths. Tap into your emotional intelligence and let go of the fear. You can do this.

If you're in a service industry - say homestaging or wardrobe consulting or running a yoga studio or financial services - it's imperative to treat each and every existing customer like she is the most important. Cut back on your advertising focused on new client attraction and spend those dollars keeping your existing customers as raving fans. What could you do for your existing customer today?
It's tough out there. It breaks my heart to see small businesses struggling, across the country. You can make it through this. Remember, hurdles are for jumping and being open to change - especially if you've lost sight of your primary business strengths or products - will make sure you're still standing when the brighter days arrive.

And, you'll be stronger than ever, as long as you remember your secret sauce!

Don’t waste your dollars on non-believers.

You’ve heard the old saying, “The customer is always right.” Just keep in mind who your audience is. Not everyone is going to love your product or service. Those people are not your target audience, so don’t waste your time and dollars trying to win them over. Get to know your brand believers and what they expect from you. How? Ask! Test. Use comment cards or online surveys. Find out what you can do better—in every aspect—and let them know when you’ve made an improvement.

Take Jeni Britton, president and founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, for example. Her goal is to “surprise and delight” her customers. And she does it through lavender and wild berries, coriander and raspberry, and Savannah buttermint ice cream flavors (to name a few). Not only are her flavors fun, but they’re also healthier than other ice creams. Jeni says she makes ice cream for her customers, not for everyone. To keep her customers coming back, she gives them plenty of ways to give feedback, including inviting them to her test kitchen.

We want to know how you have learned from your customers and built lifetime relationships with them. Share your thoughts!