It struck me that while the list was intended for application in your personal life, the list could also be applied to your business – with a tweak or two.
Rather than talking about 30 things to stop doing, I decided to discuss a shorter list of things to start doing. Yes, lists are old school – but the things on the list require pigheaded determination to keep folks tending to them. A reminder never hurts.
Start spending time with the right kind of people. â€“ This includes customers, mentors or other leaders of the right sort. What’s the right sort? The ones who spend their time trying to improve, grow and bring the rest of town and/or your industry with them. Don’t forget to start being the right kind of people.
Start tackling the things that challenge your business rather than waiting on them. â€“ Few business challenges get better over time. The rest tend to fester like an untreated wound.
Start being transparent. â€“ Not “politician transparent”, but really, truly transparent. Faux transparency is as useful as horse biscuits – yet that’s exactly what we get from most businesses. You’ll be amazed what can happen when you simply stop pretending, stop hiding, stop manufacturing spin and stop playing games. Think you aren’t doing that now? Think about it. Consider what a frank, win-win conversation with your staff, your suppliers and your customers could produce. Opportunity, for one – which will start with the next list item. Worried about the reaction? It’ll be no worse that the reaction if everyone figures out for themselves that the business they know isn’t the real business after all.
Start putting your customers’ needs front and center. â€“ As Zig Ziglar said, if you help enough others get what they want, you’ll get what you want. If someone moves your cheese and you whine about it – you’re focused on the wrong things.
Start being what you are rather than what you aren’t. â€“ Deliver the value you love to deliver and the right customers will love *that* business. I don’t mean the well-worn or often misguided/misinterpreted “do what you love and the money will come”. I mean do what your customers love to get from you. Not sure what that is? Ask them. They know what you rock at and they know why they value it more than anyone else’s. What do they see as the work you have the most enthusiasm and insight for – particularly that which no one else brings? Yes, I know you can do the other 37 things that everyone else in your market does. Remember that “focus on customer needs” thing?
Start making mistakes. â€“ No, I don’t mean start goofing up intentionally. Your customers need your business to stretch so you’re ready for the place they’re going. They either go with you, or without. If you aren’t messing up, you either aren’t doing anything or you aren’t doing anything interesting or new. Your best customers are the ones who will leave you behind if you’re on cruise control.
Start having higher standards. â€“ Seek out customers, employees, products and partners who force you to improve your processes, people, products and services. If you accept what you accept now, you may as well hit the complacency cruise control – which is all too easy when things are going well. This doesn’t mean not doing anything until you can do it perfectly. It means having a constant focus on improvement, including learning from the mistakes we just talk about.
Start accepting that you aren’t ready. â€“ Nobody is. Start anyway. They call it comfort zone, but it has another name – the place your company was before it woke up, before it doubled our sales, before it started working with better customers, before it raised its standards, before it discovered that new market, and so on. The way it used to be that you’d never go back to if you could help it.
All of these things are going to impact your culture, processes and much more. Some employees, customers, vendors and partners will not be ready for that. Plan how you’re going to deal with that and communicate well.
Dan Kennedy is known to say something to the effect of “If I wake up at 2 am thinking about you or your business, you’re in trouble.”
I can relate.
For me, the “are you worth it?” measuring stick is often drama-related.
Drama happens. It’s part of life. On the other hand, if you intentionally generate drama when it isn’t necessary (is it ever?), your effectiveness/ROI aren’t what they should be.
If a vendor introduces unnecessary drama into my life, that vendor is the next one I replace.
If a contractor or staffer introduces unnecessary drama into my life than they are worth, they are the next one I replace.
You may say you’re set in your ways, crotchety, fussy or whatever – regardless of your age. All of those are excuses for things you can change about your business persona.
Keep in mind that no one searches Monster.com looking for crotchety people who are a pain to work with.
Drama isn’t picky
It doesn’t matter whether you’re the leader, the newbie, an employee, a vendor, a contractor or a temp – if you’re creating this sort of environment around you, you will either drive people away from you or you’ll provoke them to “offer you an opportunity to seek work elsewhere”.
Not being a drama queen (or king) doesn’t mean you don’t report/discuss problems or enter contentious discussions. It means that you don’t turn them into an episode of “Real Housewives of Orange County”.
If you manage the drama makers and fail to address the environment they’re creating, you could lose the best people on your team. Not only do they not want to deal with that stuff, because they are your best, they can easily find another opportunity. Think about how it would hurt to lose your key person in any one department *tomorrow*. Now think about what happens if you lose 2 or 3 of them – all because you wouldn’t take action
Real Customers of Orange County
Yes, there are customers who introduce as much drama as the “Real Housewives”.
Ultimately, you can either feed this beast, tame it or slay it.
If you feed it, you’ll repeatedly have to deal with their drama.
Every contact with this kind of customer which goes “untreated” has a cost.
Your staff doesn’t want to deal with them, so they avoid calling them back.
They get slower call backs than they expect, so this stirs them up even more.
They will have less legitimacy with your staff than a typical customer, because your staff tends to be more focused on the drama rather than what’s being said.
That last one is really dangerous. These customers can be more invested in their work than is typical, which is what drives their drama. If their concerns are discounted because of their emotional baggage, you could miss something quite critical.
If you tame the customer’s drama, you’ll get better customer relationships from it. If you keep at it, you can usually change their attitude.
I’ll always remember a classic conversation my support manager (Hi Julie!) had with a frequently cranky customer. He was a nice guy, but he’d get more excited about an issue the more he talked about it. As he worked himself into more and more of a frenzy, she stopped talking about the problem they were trying to solve. In a calm, quiet voice, she asked him if he was upset with her. He said no, realized what he was doing and they resumed the conversation without drama. Without the infection drama brought to the conversation, the situation was quickly resolved.
That customer became one of our advocates, and was someone who referred his peers to us as new customers. Yet he started out as one of the dramatic types. The kind you didn’t want to call back.
That leaves the beast you must slay. Like vendors, contractors and staff, you’ll eventually encounter a customer who must be fired. The cost of dealing with them is too high. You’ll know when it’s time. The benefit of not having them around will far exceed the revenue.
Bottom line: Be the professional who doesn’t make people’s lives more complicated, dramatic or contentious. Even better, be the one who defuses those situations.
So how does the public differentiate amateurs from professionals?
In some circles, money is the key. Amateurs don’t get paid, professionals do. Â For example, an amateur golfer typically isn’t eligible for prize money in tournaments. Once they decide to go pro, they can’t go back to being an amateur.
If not money, training
For others, amateur can imply (sometimes incorrectly) that someone is less skilled than a professional doing the same task, eg: a pro golfer is surely more consistent and better at their trade than an amateur. Likewise, an amateur welder is more likely to produce cold, poor quality and/or “messy” welds than a professional welder.
In other lines of work, being a professional requires a bit more effort than simply deciding you’d like to get paid. Many professionals require internships, experience, tests and/or certifications to prove their mettle. To become a journeyman (professional) welder, it’s likely that you would first learn as an apprentice with an experienced welder for a year or more.
Despite all of these literal and occasionally artificial steps/barriers that prove something (skills, access to funds, etc), I do not believe that the acts of being paid, taking training, passing tests or earning certifications prove that someone is a professional. Some of these things prove that the local, state and/or Federal government consider the person a professional, but we’re talking more about checking boxes (however legitimate they might be) vs. proving something over time.
To me, a professional is someone who consistently meets goals, avoids (if not eliminating) client surprises and demonstrates an ability to solve problems while encountering unanticipated events – all while dealing with amateurs.
Why the “while dealing with amateurs” part? Because most of us are amateurs in the professional’s field when we’re their client.
Due to circumstances within my control, I’ve been involved in a few real estate transactions over the last month or two.
One of these required reviewing some residential rental property.
During one of these visits, I found doors that didn’t close properly, a microwave and disposal that didn’t work, a missing master bath mirror, loose toilets and cobwebs everywhere – along with a raft of eight-legged houseguests.
These things are not unusual. Agents find these things all the time, particularly in places that have been empty a while. The high-performing professionals do their best to make sure these things are fixed before they take a client to a property.
You may remember the story I tell about theÂ real estate checklistÂ an agent uses. The checklist demonstrates a level of professionalism / experience while making it clear that while things come up during a transactions, the agent has seen it all and will handle it.
In other words, there won’t be surprises they can’t handle. Customers really don’t like surprises.
Again, that Holiday Inn thing
Yes, I’m referring to that “the best surprise is no surprise” thing.
Professionals seldom get surprised by normal things like the property issues I noted above. If they are surprised, they take steps to encounter them in time to deal with them and eliminate problems before a client can see them.
During my visit, the agent was surprised by the number of easily-solvable problems that rental property had. That’s what provoked this discussion. Â This isn’t just a real estate thing – my experience simply makes a good example.
No matter what you do, the most noticeable difference between the amateurs and best professionals in your field is how the pro prepares for and eliminates surprises, unknowns and trouble in general. How they insulate their customers. It’s what people rave about when they recommend you, or grumble about every time they think about the experience they had.
Which of those two discussions do you want to be the subject of?
No matter what
No matter what you do, take a few minutes each week to mull over whatÂ “being a professional” means to you, both as a provider of products and services as well as a consumer/client.
Ask your clients what could have made their last experience with you just a little bit better? What would have made it less annoying?
Finally, what can you take from other experiences you have? Tweak and use them on your own business.
When you’re on the road, little things matter. In fact, they matter all the time. Every. Single. Day.
That extra comment or tip from the lady at check-in. The friendly suggestion from the dude who drives the shuttle. A restaurant recommendation from the parking/cab attendant that turns out to be amazing and a good bargain all in one.
When delivered consistently, they can grow well beyond the sum of each act.
Think about the little things your people do and how your business handles them.
They matter, but they’re almost impossible to put into place with a training program. More often than not, you get them when you hire.
Hire well. It’s the most important little thing you do.
The photos and video of the landing and all that led up to that event reminds me of the oft-quoted remark “Perfect is the enemy of done.”
Does it need to be “perfect”?
While shipping something and iterating its benefits, features and quality are perfectly acceptable strategies for many products and services, I think we shortchange ourselves if we don’t keep in mind that there’s a time and a place for “better than done”.
I was trained by engineering professors during my college days, so “perfect” means something well beyond “done” to me, often well beyond four decimal places.
Perfection is extremely difficult to achieve and even harder to prove , so let’s settle on a “Much better than where it is now” definition so we can keep the engineers happy.
Using that definition, perfect makes no sense for most work under most circumstances. For example, software programs are never “perfect” and while you can always sand a surface with a finer grit of sandpaper, does it matter if you take an 800-grit-smooth surface to where 10000 grit will smooth it?
Perhaps a better question is this: Is the cost and time investment worth going past “good enough/done” to reach for those “perfect” four, nine or 27 decimal places?
Going beyond a seemingly ridiculous number of decimal places is one reason why Curiosity made it to Mars and still rumbles across the Red Planet today – yet it’s unlikely that Curiosity is perfect.
BUT… it is extremely well-designed and resilient.
Design and Resilience
My point is this: while perfect is certainly the enemy of done for much of the work that you and I deliver, that doesn’t eliminate the need to put serious thought into the design and resilience of our best products and services – if not all of them.
It’s not unusual for us to design something based on immediate and short-term needs, never taking the time to consider what happens if it encounters situations and customers our short-term design never considered.
The information we don’t have is often as important as what we know and assume at design time.
When you send a product like Curiosity to Mars, you don’t get an opportunity to replace a part you didn’t think through as well as you should have. You can’t make a service call or throw a tarp over it while you rip it apart to figure out how to resolve today’s problem.
Instead, your design time process has to include what *could* happen and how your product would react and extract itself from an unexpected situation….long before you load it onto a rocket, pallet, download page or Fedex box.
What if your product…
Finds itself being used by a customer 10 times bigger than your design-time’s “Ideal Customer”? Or 10 times smaller?
Is being used in an unfriendly environment? A high-security or low-security situation?
Lasts 10 years longer than you expected? Remember – the work or result it provides still reflects on your business.
Cost 250% more to replace once it’s installed – and that installation takes 253 days (the time it took for Curiosity to reach Mars).
When Curiosity lifts off, it was too late to turn a screw, change a part’s materials, or sand and polish it to an even-higher tolerance fit.
Think about your best stuff – no matter what you do. What would happen to it under the conditions described above? Would it be worth more if it handled those things without breaking a sweat?
How would you react when that extra bit of design effort pays off? What revenue will result? What will that first few seconds of success feel like?
PS: The sum of *all* NASA spending over the last 50 years is $800 billion. Lots of money. Yet that 50 years of exploration and discovery were cheaper than the government bailout of Wall Street, which cost $850 billion. A stunning comparison of ROI, even before thinking about the spin-off technologies from NASA’s work that have trickled down to business and industry, much less the things that impact our daily lives.
Listening to WalMart’s VP of Information Technology and their lead e-commerce exec talk on Fortune Brainstorm Tech this morning, they said “We don’t care whether or not you buy in the store, online, via mobile, etc.”
Where they went one step further: They gave local store managers credit for ALL sales that happen in their store’s ZIP code, not just the sales that occur within the store’s four walls.
Suddenly, WalMart.com isn’t the local store’s enemy. Now the store doesn’t care if they are being showroomed by WalMart.com customers. They only have to care about WalMart’s customer, vs. caring that someone is an in-store customer vs an online customer.
The story here isn’t just a WalMart thing or a strategy to fight showrooming. It’s much bigger than that.
The real lesson is that they eliminated something that absolutely would pit a store manager against the company’s online presence – which ultimately pits the store manager and their staff against their company’s CUSTOMERS. When would that ever be a good thing?
Note: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. See full disclosure at the bottom of this post.
Donald Trump has repeatedly been quoted as saying “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”
It’s easy to read his comment as cold words from a billionaire bent on grinding through another interchangeable cog in his machine, but I think it means something different altogether.
I think it means that his decisions aren’t driven by emotion.
If you’ve spent much time studying him, it’s easy to see that he works as if he believes that Business is Personal, as I do. Look into the standards his properties are held to and the way he evaluates work done for him. Everything has his name on it… how can he not take it personally? It reflects directly on him.
Think Beyond Trump
The relationship formed with your business by virtue of a customer’s purchase is taken quite seriously by them. If you talk with them about it, you’ll find it far more important than you expect. There’s a “reason why” that they choose and stay with you.
A car battery purchase on a Saturday afternoon in May seems like just another generic transaction until that customer’s car won’t start on a rural Montana road during a blinding snowstorm, hundreds of miles from help.
If that car’s failure to start strands your kids on a dark night or causes you to miss your daughter’s graduation, a battery gets personal in a hurry.
When it impacts a customer’s family, it’ll never be “just a battery”, no matter how rushed or ambivalent the purchase was during that warm May afternoon. Never forget that when helping a customer choose a product or service.
Accountability is Personal
The long-term accountability of a purchase can change your business, as can the tiniest effort of your staff.
That’s why it’s so critical that every member of your staff is carefully selected and trained, even if they are performing what you see as the most routine, entry-level work. Why critical? Because it’s often the work actually seen by your customer and it might be the last interaction that the customer experiences with your company’s staff â€“ and the last impression you make on them.
The housekeeper who prepares a customer’s room is often the most important staff member to their visit. If the customer finds hair or bugs in the shower, their opinion of your entire facility is damaged.
A fabulous week at your bed and breakfast can be destroyed, reputation-wise, by a few ants, a cockroach, an unexpected surprise in a guest’s salad or a snide comment from a staff member as they load luggage into the guest’s car.
Everything is Anything
I tell clients â€œAnything is everything and everything is anythingâ€, because they’re just that.
What I mean is that everything that happens while using your products, consuming your services or on site at your restaurant, motel, campground or store is as important as anything else you do. Likewise, any single thing done on behalf of your business is as important as everything else you do because in the customer’s mind, the last thing you did might be the only thing they remember.
Imagine that your restaurant has the best organic food raised on your own farm, prepared by the finest chefs in the land and accompanied by the best wine selection available. Your reputation for quality and impeccable service dominates Trip Advisor.
All of that is history if your visitor steps on a piece of hot, sticky gum as the doorman welcomes them through the front door of your restaurant.
So what is a typical business owner supposed to do? Stop being typical.
The typical business owner thinks they can’t control the gum, the snarky employee or the cockroaches.
The owners of amazing businesses can’t control them either, but they take steps to minimize and manage those things to the best of their ability:
They invest more time and energy into the hiring, selection and training of every member of their staff than the typical business owner.
They hire for attitude because it isn’t a trainable attribute.
They build processes into their business that are designed to avoid, prevent or quickly resolve the issues a typical business owner grows to accept.
How do they do all that? They decide to be something other than typical.
DISCLOSURE: I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business.
The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently.
Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.
I went downstairs for coffee that early because I had planned on taking a shower – and couldn’t. When I turned on the water, nothing.Â When I attempted to flush the toilet, nothing. The toilet tank still hadn’t filled from the prior use the night before.
I spoke with the night shift manager, who noted my room number and said the day manager would soon arrive and check into it. Two hours later, I asked the front desk for an update on my room’s water. The day manager explained that it was out of the hotel’s control because they were in a drought and the city had a broken water main the day before. As a result, water pressures were low everywhere – including at his home.
There was no mention of this during check-in and it didn’t hamper the hotel lawn sprinklers – which ran every morning during our stay.
What should have happened?
I suspect the manager and his front desk staff eventually grew weary of the avoidable task of repeating the explanation and apology.Â Their handling of it made management seem out of touch, helpless and little more than someone passing along the city’s water main news.
They should have taken control of the experience, even if the event itself is uncontrollable.
Most hotels of this size have a phone system that is capable of storing voice messages and probably capable of broadcasting messages to each room. If every room has a blinking “message waiting” light on the bedside room phone, many (if not most) guests would likely check the message since they wouldn’t be expecting one.
The manager mentioned seeing the water problem on “last night’s news”, and added that he’d experienced water trouble at home at 5am. Bottom line: They had the information they needed.
Armed with that knowledge, they could’ve used the hotel’s phone system to send a message to every room phone:
The city has warned us that water pressure will be very low from 5:00 AM to 9:00 AM due to high early morning demand. This will be worse in our above ground floors.
Rather than waking up to find that you have no shower or ability to flush, here’s what we recommend to make your stay more pleasant until water pressure improves:
First: Fill your bathroom trashcan with water before bedtime so you can use it to fill the toilet tank in the morning. Large families should fill both room trashcans. This willÂ help you avoid having an un-flushed room toilet.
Shower before bed or before 5:00 am.
We have limited shower capability in the first floor pool area. We will open that area 24 hours a day for your use.
Small but meaningful steps like these are critical to making the right impression with your guests and differentiating yourself from their next (or previous) hotel stay.
In hospitality, everything that impacts a guest’s stay is *everyone’s* job – particularly little things like elevator messes.
You might find these complaints picky until you view them this way: People notice this stuff when looking for a place to book 500 (or 50) people for an event that will host their customers. Elevator messes and “water crisis management” are a temperature gauge. They predict future behavior.
Imagine how 500 early-rising business customers would feel about the water situation when attending a company event. Now imagine 10% of them go jogging before their first meeting, return to their room drenched in sweat and looking forward to a shower. Except, they have no water.
The best surprise, as one hotel chain says… is no surprise.
Are you damaging the relationship with your customers when you respond to their requests for help?
If the staff receiving feedback reacts to bug reports and questions as if they’re a personal insult, you probably are.
Snarky remarks, veiled insults and/or disdain have no place in the feedback loop, yet they happen far too often.
Here are a few ways you might be sabotaging your business when handling customer feedback and how to improve each of them:
“You’re the first one to report this.”
Even if I’m a beta tester, it’s an irrelevant piece of information unless the word “Thanks” is at either end of the sentence.
The implication is that if you’re the first to report it, it must not be a legitimate problem.
Better: Investigate the why and the what, rather than prosecute the who. Even if you tell your customer they’re the first to report the problem, at least one thing is necessary: Thank them. A lot depends on your attitude when sharing that fact. Even more depends on what happens next.
The alternative is that they give up on reporting things because your company takes an attitude with them. If they don’t report things they’ve encountered, what opportunity cost does that have? What does it say about your relationship with them?
“It works fine on my machine.” aka “WOMM”
This one makes me think “Well, I’ll be right over, so be sure to have my favorite coffee ready. Oh, and make me a sandwich because I’ll likely be at your desk for a while.”
Seriously, telling the customer it works on your machine is fine, but only it’s said without the “You’re an idiot user” attitude. It’s not a bad thing to let them know that the problem is not well-known. Treating as if they’re an idiot is.
Better: It’s OK to let the customer know it works for you, but do so in context – while letting them know that this probably means there’s a simple solution.
“You’re using it wrong.”
While this could be another parallel to WOMM and a statement that the product’s usability isn’t what it should be – it’s really focused on blaming the customer. Keep in mind that if your UI, UX, error management and such are bad enough that the user could do something that would provoke such a remark – you should be focused on something other than blaming them.
Better: Try “You’re doing something we didn’t consider during our design and testing. Can you tell me more about what you want to happen?” If the customer is doing something the system isn’t designed to support – this isn’t the time for criminal prosecution. It’s time for advocacy for both your development team and the customer. They may be about to describe a new market for a slightly altered version of your software – if you’re willing to listen for it.
“Why would you want to do THAT?”
This response to a request for new or altered functionality is usually spoken in a tone that gives you the impression that the vendor thinks you’re an idiot. You’ve set the wrong tone for a conversation that could have revealed a new market, a new segment of your existing market or more.
Better: This response needs to parallel “You’re doing it wrong”, as it can indicate UI and UX issues. However, this reaction is most often connected with opportunity. Market opportunities are lost when the user is about to describe something that would benefit them, but before they can, they’re insulted with “…THAT?“.
Benefits sell products. More benefits sell more products and help retain customers. Listen…you might actually hear something.
“It works fine on Windows XP”
This one is a close parallel to “It works fine on my machine”, but it also tends to send the message that your vendor, their support people or their developers are worst case stuck in 2001 when XP was released and best case in 2008 when Windows XP SP3 was released.
Supporting XP is OK if your market demands it for whatever reason. Ignoring the fact that there have been three releases of Windows since that time – sorry, can’t apologize for you there. Is this the kind of message you want to send to new customers? To prospects (yes, your comments will get out).
Better: If you haven’t completed tested on the OS release that your customer is using, try “We’re still testing on that version. Can you describe how it acts for you? I’d like to report this to our (install / development / testing / QA / management) team(s), so it would help to have as much information as possible.” Of course, if you can come up with a workaround until your OS support is more complete, do so.
As OS vendor development cycles shrink and they move to smaller and more frequent iterations, these situations are going to increase…unless you dedicate yourself to being ready for them. It’s simply a part of leading your market. Last week’s Build conference made it clear that Microsoft is serious about decreasing the time lag between OS releases. You can treat this change in speed as the enemy or as a competitive advantage.
The bottom line
It only takes one snarky comment to become an adversary at a time when the customer is asking for help.
They didn’t contact you to have a more negative experience than they’re already having – they asked for help. Customers are hard enough to keep without your staff running them off with remarks that tend to come off mean or snarky.
React with courtesy, intelligence and understanding even when things aren’t going well. Customers notice and remember.