What We Can Learn From Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin would put on a disguise and sneak into the movie theatre where his latest blockbuster was playing. He would find a place in the back of the house and watch for the reaction of the audience. He was already successful; he had made a fortune. By the time he walked into the cinema, the picture had already been released, so at that point of retrospect, there was, in fact, nothing more he could actually do. When asked why the master of imposture did such a thing, his simple response was; “Because I care.”

How many of us feel the same way? How many of us make a point of going back to our customers or clients in an anonymous way to find out what they really think?

For those of us who do not, is it because we simply don’t care? Is it because of time constraints? Or maybe, is it because we have become inflexible and unwilling to change what we have created? Do we consider the product we offer as standard and fair; some people like it, and some do not, and there is no pleasing everybody?

Some years ago I was having lunch with my family at a good restaurant in London; the sort with a celebrity chef’s name above the door. Everything was a little too rich for my then six-year-old daughter. Instead we asked for some plain chicken and they were happy to oblige. When it arrived, my little girl asked for ketchup. The unsophisticated request turned the maître d’s face from looks of bemusement to utter repulsion, but in fairness, he summoned and immediately dispatched a flunky to purchase a bottle before the meal went cold.

Did the anointing of Heinz’s best condiment dilute the chef’s reputation? Did he come flying out the kitchen, cleaver in hand, and expel my child, throwing her tomato-soused dish after her? Of course not! And because of that we returned; many and several times over. Incidentally, now my little girl is twenty-four and she has learned to live without the dreaded sauce, although she still enjoys it as a dip for cucumber. Bonkers but true.

SO – how often do we go the extra mile to satisfy our clients? Should we consider this as responding to customer’s needs, or do we see it as a dilution of our brand?

Next time we think about standardizing our offering, perhaps we should take some time to reconsider the “One Size Fits All” mentality. It may well be easy to buy an off-the-peg suit, especially if you are of average build. Indeed, it is far cheaper and instantly gratifying. Certainly, in our age of Amazon Prime, we simply don’t like waiting for much anymore. But the experience of a personal tailor creating your made to measure suit, with the fabric, the lining and the cut of your choice, and preferably made on Savile Row, is infinitely preferable and a much more satisfying long term experience, especially in the wearing. The fact is, following classic lines, but to have them adjusted just for you, cannot fail to make you feel special.

How ironic that in order to demonstrate the idea of aiming for bespoke we should remember the work ethic of a man dressed as a tramp; arguably the first screen actor who so beautifully defined the art of bittersweet comedy, and who demonstrated with tear-jerking empathy the human condition: the late and very great Charlie Chaplin.

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