“Everything but toilet paper and bananas”: How being a friendly competitor improves customer service

Your Business Network and Your Customer

What do you do when a customer comes to you for a service you can’t help them with?


In the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, in which the real Santa Claus ends up working as a Macy’s department store Santa, Kris Kringle initially gets himself into trouble with his unsuspecting employer for recommending that a customer go to a competitor to find exactly the present her son wants for Christmas. The woman, delighted, promises to be a frequent Macy’s customer because of the stellar service she’d received—even though serving her meant actually directing her somewhere else. Her character’s counterpart in the 1994 remake announces she’s so impressed that she’ll be returning to Kris Kringle’s store for “everything but toilet paper and bananas.”


Photo by Vanessa Loring from Pexels

It’s a heart-warming holiday movie. But should that philosophy apply in real-life business? If you send current or potential customers to one of your competitors, don’t you risk losing them for good?


Paul Kumler, cofounder and president of KTM Solutions, argues that solving your customer’s problem is the most valuable thing you can do. Most people will remember you positively if you help them with their problem, even if you hit (or possibly caused) some bumps along the way.


But to have other businesses in mind who might be able to help your customers with you, you have to have a network of other business—competitors, customers, vendors, maybe some combination of the three. Ultimately, these B2B relationships remind us that no person (or company) is an island, and we all do better in the long run when we help each other and each other’s customers find toilet paper, bananas, and everything in between. Read more about the importance of relationships for business below.


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