Taken For Granted

This photo wasn’t taken in Chernobyl or in some abandoned ghost town.

It’s in downtown Detroit, a few blocks from shining skyscrapers.

Every mayor and business owner in the US should look at photos like the one above and imagine what this place once was.

The meltdown of the US economy has many looks.

Is industry/business/culture in your area taken for granted? Have you thought about the risks your business, your local economy faces?

Here at home

In my area, the collapse of real estate cascaded into the construction trades and to those who supply the tradesmen with raw materials like lumber.

Those troubles spread to truckers, accountants and others. The interconnections were no longer subtle as the economic virus spread.

Regardless of cause, one market’s problem cascaded through numerous business sectors.

It’s easy to look back now and ask why construction and real estate folks didn’t work toward additional revenue streams in businesses that were a bit more state of the economy proof.

It’s also easy to ask the truckers, accountants and others from all walks of life if their customers were too concentrated in one line of work, leaving them too open to a single market’s collapse.

The Hard Question

The question you should be asking yourself is “What did you learn from that and what are you doing to prevent a reoccurrence?”

We talked last week about some inexpensive little things that can damage a reputation and cause the loss of a customer.

In comments I got from that story, folks asked if I spoke to the owner or the manager. My visit was not irrelevant to me, but what I did that night is irrelevant in the big picture because it ignores the way most people deal with bad customer experiences.

Unless the problem is dangerous, blatant or just over the top terrible, most people will pay their bill without saying a word.

They’ll just leave.

Starting a conflict with a business’ manager while their family is there isn’t on their agenda. It’s easier to just leave.

And never return.

Whether they come back or not, they’ll relay their experience to others. Studies have repeatedly shown that people will tell three to five others when they have a great experience and ten or more when they have a poor one.

Even if those numbers are off by a factor of two, how many customers can you afford to lose this week?

Guaranteed

There’s a small town in Pennsylvania that has been fighting for its life. It’s an old steel mill town called Braddock.

There’s no good reason for that town to be fighting for its life – except that it depended too much on a single business. The steel business.

There’s nothing wrong with the steel business or any other distressed industry until business owners, government officials and employees take the status quo for granted.

“No one” ever thought that the steel business would change.

Prior to Henry Ford, “no one” thought the car business would ever change. Robotics fixed that.

After robotics, surely the car business wouldn’t change AGAIN. But it did.

Programmers felt the same way, multiple times. The end of the (widespread) mainframe era, the dot com boom (and bust) years of the internet, the expansion of open source, the rise of India, and the iPhone. Change.

Then China and other countries started taking jobs from India, and so on.

Change is guaranteed.

What could change in your market and weaken – or destroy – your ability to retain your current market position?

And what are you doing to protect yourself if that happens?

Think back 10, 20 or 30 years…or even as recently as the boom times of 2006.

As GM goes

People once said “As GM goes, so goes the United States.”

Every business owner, every mayor, every county commissioner who takes the current situation for granted – no matter how good or bad – risks making a mistake that creates their own version of Detroit.

Look at these photos of Detroit. Beautiful, yet haunting.

Take nothing for granted.

Not a tax break. Not a government contract. Not a sweet 10 year deal. Not the supply of electricity, water, lumber, or programmers. Not a single customer.

And certainly not the next interaction you have with a customer.