​​​Serving the Waffle House Customer

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A couple of my friends have very different attitudes about the Waffle House. You say you don't know what a Waffle Houseis? Well, then you haven't been paying attention as you traveled the highways and byways of America.

Imagine a small squattage of concrete for which it appears no good use could ever to be made. Next imagine that, seemingly overnight, a small pillbox of a building emerges as if little hard-hatted elves sprung from the earth with no other directive but the creation of a rectangular block of brick and glass — elves who then crawled back into their hidey-holes awaiting the next magical night when buildings we aren't sure we want or need appear where they are least expected. Paint that new building yellow. Put up a ginormous sign which can be seen by truckers across state lines. Staff it with local characters who often call you "Honey" and "Sweetie" and seem to have roots in the community that go back to the first settlers — the kind of people often called, in the most flattering of ways, "the salt of the earth." Finally, serve breakfast, with a particular emphasis on (this should not be surprising) waffles.

Now you have a general idea what a Waffle House is.

One of my two friends is an absolute raving fan of the Waffle House. If you met him, this might surprise you. A good cook in his own right, he is the kind of person you turn to for suggestions on where to "dine" (with all the ramification that word can have.) I dare say that anyone who knows him is amazed to find that he not only frequents the Waffle House, but seems to almost crave the experience. The other friend will not be caught dead in one. She has no use for them, has had bad experiences within them, and would rather be caught rummaging through the trash bin of the nearest fast food restaurant than be seen in a Waffle House. (Mayhaps I exaggerate, but you get the idea.)

I have spent more than a couple of years listening to them argue their points, with one continually trying to drag the other into such establishments. (Okay, I admit. I would egg them on any chance I got. It would usually start with my saying "Hey! I know! Let's go to the Waffle House for lunch." Hilarity would ensue.)

These are people that, in quite a few instances, have coinciding tastes. However, when it comes to the Waffle House, they are diametrically opposed.

One customer wants one thing. The other customer wants something entirely different.

What are you selling to your customers? What kind of audits are you giving them? Do you understand that different customers want different kinds of audit work? Do you assume you know what they want? Do you just assume that they would never want a Waffle House?

I recently worked with an audit department who had a long history of doing compliance and regulatory work. Over the last year or so they began taking on more operational audits. That is a good thing. They are having very good success in that approach. Another good thing. But it is important to recognize why they are successful; they recognized they had different customers with different tastes. Their old customers wanted compliance work; their new customers were looking for operational work.

This audit department was not trying to force a certain approach on their customers. They didn't tell the new customers, "No, we only do compliance work." They didn't tell the old customers "We don't do compliance work anymore; you're going to have to accept operational audits." They didn't force anyone to go to the Waffle House.

Your customers want different things. And you need to have different products for different situations. To provide full and complete assurance for your customers, one day you will be doing compliance audits, the next day will be financial audits, the next day will be regulatory audits, the next day will be operational audits, and the next day may be the gourmet selection of the audit world — the strategic audit.

You have to be able to handle any of those approaches. That means you need training and business knowledge and an understanding of the customer. But most of all, you need to understand that providing full assurance for the organization is about providing multiple types of services. Some days it is the Waffle House; some days it is Sizzler; some days it is Applebee's, some days it is Ruth's Chris; some days it is Chino Bandido (come to Phoenix, I'll show you what that one means); and some days it may just be home cooking. Each customer has a different need and each day brings a different challenge. And we have to be prepared to provide all of the above.

And let me add one small postscript. My one friend is never going to be a fan of Waffle House. The other friend actually got her to visit one a few years ago and it did not go well. I don't know if they happened to show up the one day the cleaners decided to not show up, or if they found the restaurant going for the "worst store in the chain" record, or if they walked in on annual "Grease Day." Let's just say that both agreed it was a far from charming experience.

You always have to be on your game. If you get the chance to show a customer a new way of doing things, make darn sure you do it well, or they may never visit your Waffle House again. 

​(And, if anyone cares, I am actually a fan of the Waffle House. Cheap, good food from friendly people. Sometimes, that is all you're looking for.)

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