April 13, 2022–I finally became that guy–the stranger telling a youngster how to run his business.

It all started when I tried to buy a ticket to see a show. Even though I knew there was a matinee scheduled, when I went online to get a ticket the day of the event, it had disappeared from the web site.

I assumed it had sold out. The same thing happened the next weekend. So I thought I would call. But the web site said it was outside of Office Hours, which, I figured, would always be true since shows are held in evenings and on weekends.

I took the risk and drove 60 miles to see if I could get in.

I did. There were plenty of seats.

After the performance, I stopped by the office to share my experience. I assumed they would welcome my feedback.

The youngster who had the misfortune to make eye contact was super nice. But I could tell he would rather be hand-washing the actors’ undergarments than listening to a nosy know-it-all tell him how to run his business.

After emphasizing I was sharing my experience not to complain, but to help them capture more ticket sales, I described the disappearing links, confusing instructions, and error pages.

He politely listened, then quickly explained that they closed online ticket sales several hours before each show in order to avoid double booking.

A reasonable precaution, I replied, although I wish that fact had been clearly stated on the web site. But he was already gone, gathering up laundry I assume.

At least he had the manners to hear me out. Earlier I had called another staff member about broken links I found while going through the process. That person actually argued with me. Rather than asking me questions, they denied my experience. I felt like the kid who told his mom he was hungry, and she said, no, you’re not.

But I have been on the other side of the “old man telling someone how to run their business.” As director of a large adult education program, I grew accustomed to random citizens dropping in to educate me on marketing.

One surprisingly common example was adults complaining they didn’t know about our classes.

I would get defensive. Gosh, I said, we only announce it in three newspapers, two radio stations, a weekly half-hour TV show, our web site, social media, eblasts, and in 70,000 catalogs mailed to every address within 50 miles.

“I don’t read newspapers or listen to local radio,” they would say. “And I don’t do social media.”

“So I guess you would like me to track you down and personally hand you an engraved invitation to attend a class?” I would think but not say out loud. Mostly.

And yet… and yet… the cool marketing person inside would whisper that you better listen to this lost customer. Which stone is unturned? Were we reaching non-English speakers? How were we drawing in people who didn’t own any media subscriptions or internet service? How were we marketing computer training to people who didn’t know how to turn on a computer?

As a result of these impossible questions, we continually tweaked our process, adding banners to classes held in public places, putting up a changeable sign in front of our building, placing flyers in laundromats and medical offices.

This illustrates the biggest mistake every CEO makes: We fail to go through the process that we expect our customers to follow. I knew from our discussion that the theater guy had never tried to buy a ticket using his own system.

I learned this brutally when, due to funding cuts, the school took away all my staff. Suddenly, I was the one answering phones, opening mail, and taking registrations. All the processes suddenly became clear. After 20 years running the program, I never truly understood our registration process until I sat in the secretary’s chair.

We think we understand our business until we actually experience it.