Magic Johnson Learned It’s Important to Understand What a Customer Wants

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, recognized as one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game, is also as successful, if not even more so, in business. On the basketball court he understood his competition and how to beat them. In business he understands his customers and how to bring them value. He is best known for taking typical suburban businesses and bringing them into urban America.

Recently I had the pleasure of sitting in on a question and answer session with this sports and business legend. One of the questions asked was about his biggest success and biggest failures were. Amazingly, these ventures succeeded and failed for the same reasons, the understanding – or lack of understanding – of what the customers wanted. And, no matter how nice you are, or how nice the merchandise, you can’t very well deliver an amazing customer experience if you don’t understand your customers.

Let’s start with the failure. Magic told us that it was associated with the Magic 32 retail store that sold Magic Johnson merchandise and other high-end sporting goods. While it started off strong, in the end, the store was a failure. After the “magic” wore off, sales slumped, and in just under a year the business folded. He couldn’t understand why, until someone told him, “You are trying to sell us the stuff you like. Not what we like.” In short, Magic didn’t understand what his customer wanted.

Magic quickly learned that the success of any business, as he would prove in future ventures, was about understanding the customer.

That’s what brings us to Magic’s proudest business success story, which was his Starbucks adventure. He grinned from ear to ear as he told this story. He recognized the popularity of Starbucks, and noticed they didn’t have locations in urban neighborhoods. He also understood the buying power of minorities, so, he made a phone call to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and told him, and I quote, “Howard, black people like to drink coffee, too.” That call turned into a 125 unit chain of urban Starbucks that was wildly successful. But, before success could be claimed, changes had to be made. In the neighborhoods these Starbucks coffee houses were going into, the customers weren’t used to some of the food items. He swapped out certain food items for ones that his customers wanted. He also changed the background music. And, there is the business lesson. In short, Magic understood what his customers wanted.

How well do you know your customers? What unpopular items or services, if any, are you trying to sell to your customers? What do your customers want that you currently aren’t selling? It’s all about understanding your customers, which is one of the key ingredients to delivering your highest level customer experience.