You’ve Got Mail, released in 1998 stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, their second film together since Sleepless in Seattle. The film centres around the owner of a children’s book store, Kathleen (Ryan) whose business is in jeopardy when Fox Books - a larger book store - opens up right around the corner. This film may just be a romantic comedy but looking closely we notice that it's saying something very important about business and the challenges they face when in fierce competition. Here are four lessons it can teach us:
Customer service is crucial
Kathleen’s store is all about making their service personal to each customer. They have a genuine interest in their customer’s needs. What You've Got Mail is telling us is that to be successful in a sale you need to adapt to your surroundings. Some customers come in and know exactly what they want. They don’t want to be asked questions and up-sold, they want what they want and then they want to leave. To give them that service is to have them leave as a happy customer. Other times customers want guidance, a discussion, a personal touch. Adapting to the customer, giving them to the best service and a service that suits them, is crucial.
Keep an eye on the competition
In the end, Kathleen’s store closes and Fox Books blossoms. Fox Books is brutal and buys out their competitors. Keeping an eye on the competition doesn’t always have to be ruthless, it can be fair and, nine times out of ten is an intelligent move. It’s also realistic. To not watch your competitors is to be blind in business.
Be in control of your finances
There are two scenes where Kathleen’s employee analyizes the finances. With those in mind they act accordingly. It’s the lack of money that makes them realise they need to close. Being in control of your finances is key to any business; it’s your understanding of what you're doing wrong and how to improve.
Publicity doesn’t always work
When Kathleen decides to fight back against Fox Books she does it publicly. She calls the press and gathers public opinion against Fox Books. The sad truth is that the plan doesn’t work. That’s not to say publicity doesn’t work entirely, it just doesn’t always work. How many leaflets do you have through the letterbox? And then you throw them immediately in the bin? How much money does that company loose in printing? Even e-mail, how many people have hit ‘spam’ to something promoting a product? Sometimes, publicity can work but other times, it just doesn’t do anything.
There you have it. Four lessons found in the romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail, a film that has been criticised for not being very original; but a film that evidently has a lot of important lessons to teach us about business. So even if the thought of watching a romantic comedy usually makes you roll your eyes; perhaps over Christmas take some time to watch You’ve Got Mail to improve your business skills. It’s cheaper than going back to University and getting an MBA.