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Business culture Customer relationships Customer service Management Small Business

Protecting your business

Business owners protect their business by reducing risk, managing cash flow, getting appropriate legal advice and insuring their people and assets properly. Most businesses decide to check out motor trade insurance instant online quotes and look for the company that suits them. The thing is, you can do those all things properly and still leave your business open to damage that’s incredibly difficult, expensive and time consuming to repair. How? By providing out of context customer service.

Specifically, I’m referring to what tends to occur when you’re trying to recover from a mistake. The perfect time to show them you have their back… or to turn your back.

Which do you do?

Every once in a while, you make a mistake. Hopefully you learn from it. If it was caused by a systemic failure, you know by now to put a system (preferably automated) in place to prevent it from happening again and of course, integrate it into the rest of your systems. If it wasn’t caused by a systemic failure, then the problem might have been caused by a customer service flub, a product or service mistake, or a failure to deliver – regardless of the reason.

What happens next is where I see businesses repeatedly making a mistake: How they recover for the customer. That’s when context becomes critical.

Recovering FOR your client

When approached by a disappointed, angry, concerned, distraught customer, it seems that many businesses have trained their people such that their Customer Service Prime Directive is to protect the business at all costs.

Guess what. Recovering from your mistakes in a way that preserves the customer relationship IS protecting the business, but only if it’s done right. While protection of the business is essential in these circumstances – your legal paperwork and insurance should have already done that. The third leg of the stool is how the customer feels when the exchange is over.

Consider what happens if a flight attendant accidentally spills a cup of black tea in someone’s lap on a plane. The passenger’s linen skirt is stained (a bit embarrassing for now), but it could impact the skirt wearer’s day severely if they’re being met at the airport by an important new prospect. What if their next direct manager is meeting them at the airport for an interview? What if the flight arrives at midnight and the traveler simply has to grab their bag and drive home alone at midnight.

The subconscious loss of confidence in the client / employment situations could alter the airline client’s entire life. Maybe that’s good, maybe not. How the airline reacts FOR their customer can determine how that customer feels about them for the rest of their lives. People remember how they were treated – particularly in situations like this. The context the client provides (even if you have to extract it from them) is critical to the level of your response.

I’m reminded of a surprise Peter Shankman received in 2011 from Morton’s Steakhouse after he jokingly asked for a steak to be delivered to Newark airport. You might think that was an expensive response resulting only because Peter had a lot of Twitter followers at the time. I think they saw an opportunity to make a lifetime memory for a good customer, even if they knew that he’d blog/tweet about it. Five years later, where do you think he takes clients to dinner more often than not?

How you recover for the client in their current context is everything. If Peter was landing in Missoula (which has no Morton’s), then a clever tweeted response might have sufficed, though they could take if further if they had a connection to a solid steak house in MSO.

In Customer Service, context is everything

Sometime’s a “Sorry” and replacement / discount will suffice. Sometimes, the client’s context makes your $154 mistake a memory that could last for years. Imagine you had a romantic evening out of town planned with your significant other and when you arrived at the hotel, they didn’t have a room – even though you’d paid in advance. What if the town is booked solid because of a local event? There’s “no room at the inn”… ANY inn.

How you protect the business is everything at that point – keeping in mind that the wrong kind of business protection creates customer defection. If you’re going to create a lifetime memory, make sure it’s a good one.

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Business culture Employees Leadership Small Business

Culture defines who has your team’s back

How tight is your staff? What’s the culture of the team? Do they trust one another? Do they trust you? Do your employees know you have their back? Do they know their peers have their back?

Can everyone on your team depend on the processes, systems and people involved in your business? If you said yes, does every single person agree?

If you haven’t asked, don’t assume the answer is yes.

How well do they jell?

Ask your team about the qualities of the people they want to work with. Use their answers during your hiring process. You can’t allow even the smartest, best qualified prospect to join your team if they’ll create cultural conflict.

A few more questions to ask your team:

  • Is there anyone whose call you don’t want to answer? Ask them to think about why they wouldn’t answer.
  • Is there anyone whose call you will always take? Ask them to think about why they’d always answer.
  • Is there anyone on the team who makes you wonder “Why does management keep that person around?
  • Is there information about the business that you don’t have that’s preventing you from doing your job to the best of your ability?
  • If you’re responsible for local sales, do you know what parts of town yield the most profit?

Those last two questions are a clue about the information your team needs to become more effective. It’s not always about the obvious things.

Team members who are ready to grow into more responsibility will start asking (if not only wondering to themselves) if the work they’re being asked to do is turning a profit for the business. It’s critical to complete the circle of communications to your team about sales and profitability. When employees show concern about these things, feed that fire. It’s a sign that they’ve matured beyond taking home a check and are interested in growing their impact on profit.

These things contribute to your culture

While some businesses will hand wave away their culture as a meaningless foofoo thing, culture is what glues your team together. It defines how well they work together every day (or not) and that goes directly to how well they treat your clientele.

It’s essential that you use your culture as a filter for deciding who has the privilege of joining your team.

If you don’t, you’ll likely lose people who are very difficult to replace because they’ll see right through the “culture is important, employees are important” statements you might make.

To be a place where people want to work, these things matter.
To be a business people want to do business with, these things matter.

What doesn’t kill you…

I had an annual meeting conversation with a team this weekend. They’ve been to hell and back over the last year, business-wise. The ones who survived the worst part and stuck around have learned to depend on each other and expect great things of one another every day. They understand the importance of defending one another, covering for one another and expecting the best from everyone as the work together. They understand what’s important, what’s not and that they have to stick together and continue to work together or they will certainly die (employment-wise) separately.

While I won’t mention what business they’re in, I wouldn’t suggest taking them on. After listening to them and speaking with them, it’s clear they’d take punishment for one another. Best of all, they understand that the best culture in the world doesn’t mean much if profitable sales, consistent delivery and service don’t happen. It takes all of these things.

And that’s important because?

I mention this because a trial by fire will either destroy your team or bond it like few other experiences. The differences between teams that get destroyed and the ones that bond include your leadership as an owner, the team’s leadership (implicit and explicit), who makes up your team and what they’re made of. These things define your team’s culture because it defines who they are.

Which team do you lead? Do you know where the strengths and weaknesses are? Are you willing to investing in the proper hiring, training and communication to build your team into one that can take a punch?

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attitude Business culture Employees Leadership Motivation Small Business

Making employees feel safe

Gary Vaynerchuk make a safety comment in a video I was watching the other day that struck me to the core. It made perfect sense but I hadn’t really thought about it from quite the angle he came from.

While I’ve always tried to listen more than I speak (thanks Dad) as well as “praise in public, scold in private” and work within a number of Jim Rohn / Stephen Covey “seek first to understand” ways, I have found that there’s a line that you can cross when managing people that can stop the flow of accurate information from them to you – and perhaps from you to them.

The deadly part is that once you cross that line it’s really hard to erase the line or cross back over it into the nice little town of Truthville. That’s the place where Gary’s comment provided some clarity.

How do you make them feel?

What Gary said was “When you make them feel safe, they start telling the truth”.

He wasn’t accusing people who don’t feel safe of being liars. He’s saying that until they feel safe around you, within your business and its culture, you aren’t giving them the option to tell the truth. Up to that point, you’ve only given them the option to tell you what you want to hear, or perhaps the “safe” part of the truth.

When people don’t feel safe, it damages every conversation. It isn’t solely about the critical, strategic discussion you’re having this afternoon. It will affect every discussion, because they aren’t comfortable where the danger zone is.

As a result, they will often say nothing, as if they have no opinion, have nothing to add, and agree with whatever’s already been said. The reality is likely that they might have something quite valuable to share, controversial / challenging or otherwise, but they don’t feel safe sharing it. Unless you’re sensitive to what you’ve done, or more accurately, what you haven’t created for them – they might appear ambivalent, stupid, shy, unthinking, not insightful and many other things that you might see as negative.

How is this costly to your business?

The obvious problem is that your people tiptoe around and say only what they feel safe saying, instead of offering their most brilliant ideas and insightful opinions. Those things are rarely going to be middle of the road safe, so they are muted. This will change the appearance of that person and their attitude.

You might even think about getting rid of them because they aren’t intellectually contributing to important conversations at the company. Who wants an employee who doesn’t care one way or the other, or who doesn’t think about the big questions the business needs to discuss, or never has an opinion?

What could be happening is that you’ve not yet created an environment that allows them to feel safe sharing the most intelligent, valuable things on their mind. When your staff members intellectually shut down, or self-arrest before providing their most creative ideas and insights, you lose.

Eventually, you may lose them but in the meantime, you have a team of folks doing their work in an environment where they are afraid to take risks, speak their mind, share their insights (right or wrong) and take ownership of a situation. If someone doesn’t feel safe, they’ll never take ownership of something because claiming ownership means they agree to be responsible when management comes calling.

Happy, safe employees take ownership

I saw a Facebook post from an acquaintance the other day. He was getting home from work at 11:30pm on a Friday night – and all he could talk about on Facebook to his family and friends was how excited he was to work for the company he works for. While I suspect his management doesn’t want him doing that every night, I’ll bet they appreciate that he recognized something that needed to be done, done right then, and that he stuck to it till it was complete.

People take responsibility when they feel safe. Ownership matters to them. People crave it but they won’t take it if it doesn’t feel safe to do so.

Part of taking ownership is telling the unvarnished, unfiltered truth when important discussions come up. The more valuable your people are, the more valuable their insights and opinions will be.

Do your employees feel safe enough to share those things with you?

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Business culture Employees Management

Beware national distraction season

National distraction season is upon us. Are you ready?

No, I’m not talking about bowhunting season. Work is a distraction from bow season, not the other way around, right? Seriously though – I’m referring to election / political season and the drama it brings to the workplace.

Last time, we discussed in general terms some of the trouble that employee drama can create. If you recall, I encouraged you to shut it down whenever possible, as quickly as possible before it erupts into something you can’t handle. I included some common causes of drama, but I left a few of the major ones out – like politics.

First, your employees

A particularly destructive feature of even numbered calendar years is the drama that elections and their related issues / discussions can create. I say destructive because it can not only destroy productivity for the day, or perhaps the week. It can also radically change the relationships between members of your staff, including one of the most important ones – the relationship you have with your staff.

While you and/or your staff may find substantial enjoyment from discussing election politics with friends and relatives, doing so at work is all but a no-win scenario. This may seem like Captain Obvious talking, but you would be surprised how much of it goes on and how much rapport it can damage.

You might be thinking that you don’t want any of those lefties or righties working at your business. No doubt, if you can manage that somehow, that’s on you to figure out and “police” – while doing legally, of course. Until you’ve created a 100% politically safe environment, I suggest you get your team together and address the how and when these things should be discussed in the workplace, and do so in a manner that you and they can handle productively.

On the other hand, if everyone agrees (really?), it stands to reason that full on political discussion and posturing is fair game across the entire workplace. Full political agreement among your staff doesn’t mean there won’t be conflicts or morale issues, but it will likely minimize them. Even so, is this what you want consuming your staff’s mindset and conversation as they produce products and deliver services for your clients?

You may think this is a bit of an overreach on your part. Perhaps it is. That’s for you to decide, but I’d bear in mind that everyone working for you (and their families) depend on you to keep the place productive and profitable. Your community depends on your employees and their families as well. Allowing your workplace to become a toxic political war zone may not help your business meet those needs, much less helping your people meet yours.

And then, your clientele

Speaking of your clients – if these discussions are going on, it’s pretty likely that they are going to color the tone of discussions with your clientele, or that your clientele will overhear or even become involved in a staff discussion that they stumble into at your place.

If you’re willing to lose clients over this, make it clear to your team. For those of you who aren’t interested (much less willing) to lose clients over a political discussion, that should also be made clear to your entire team. As I mentioned earlier, if you are willing to say “I don’t want any lefties/righties as clients”, that’s on you to figure out and do so legally.

If that’s not a place you want to go, then you need to make sure your team understands that their publicly accessible comments in the workplace need to stay within the bounds you set. This is no different than you laying down the law about profanity, etc. It may create a bit more frustration and perhaps will make way less common sense than “Don’t use profanity on the sales floor, on the phone, on the radio or in emails” but that’s your choice to make.

Bottom line, I would encourage you to have your team find more productive things to discuss at the workplace, like the in-state college football rivalry of choice:)

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Business culture Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Small Business Strategy

What’s holding you back?

I suspect you’ve heard of the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule.

In its simplest form, it states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the efforts made. Further studies on the principle have shown that it often extends to far more than efforts made, and frequently describes the results produced by a team or a group of people.

If you look closer, you’ll find that the root of the 80/20 split of results is often based solely on differences in things members of the group do and do not do. If you review the habits, techniques, tactics and strategies regularly used by the 20% who get 80% of the results vs. the habits, techniques, tactics and strategies regularly used by the 80% who get 20% of the results, you should find some causative differences. I suspect some of them will be obvious, while others will require further study to determine why those behaviors contribute to a major difference in outcomes.

Some have postulated that of the 20% who are most successful, there is a 5% that leaves the remaining 15% behind, despite the success of the 15% group. I think you might find yet another set of behavioral differences between the 5% and the 15%. This doesn’t mean any of these behaviors are bad, though they certainly could be.

That the 80% is behaving differently from the 20% (and especially the 5%) doesn’t mean that they are unsuccessful. In my experience, their level of success tends to be closely related to their mindset and their belief in what they can accomplish.

Choices matter

If you’re part of that 80% and don’t want to be, you have some decisions to make. You have to decide that you won’t remain in the 80%. You have to decide to learn from those who are achieving the things you want to achieve. This may seem obvious, but I can tell you that this is a most difficult choice to make and a decision that many people think they make, but infrequently stick to. It’s too easy to keep doing things the way you’re doing them. It’s easier to not have to explain what you do and why, particularly since most of the people you interact with will seem to need a justification for why you do things differently. You’ll hear it from your staff, your contractors, your vendors, your family, your clients and your prospects.

Clinging to the behavior of a group you don’t want to be in is what keeps you in that group. More often than not, it’s central to what’s holding you back.

In any group of similar people, the behaviors of that group are substantially different. Whether you’re in a room of professional pool players, professional skeet shooters or “self-made” billionaire business people, history has proven that 20% of the people in that room are making the majority of the advances and having the majority of the successes – DESPITE the fact that everyone in the room is a member of that group. Perhaps more telling is that 5% of the people in that room are far ahead of the remaining 15% in that 20% group – even though they’re peers.

Why? Because the 5% is doing something different. That 5% will likely be the first to leave the group behind, because they’re already pulling away.

Markets are groups too

Your market is no different. No matter where you are in your market, I’ll bet you can identify who the leaders are, who’s in the middle and who is near the bottom.

When you see someone in your market do something that works, do you see if it works for you? When you do something that works, does anyone else in your market try it?

When you see something in another market that you appreciate, do you try it – even if you have to put a twist on it to make it work for you? Do others in your market do this?

Can you easily identify things that competitors in your market are doing that are holding them back? If you shine that light back on your own business, are you doing any of them?

If you aren’t a leader in your market, can you identify things that the leaders in your market are doing that you aren’t doing? If so, what’s holding you back from implementing them?

Improvement is a choice. Your place in your market is a point in time, it isn’t a foregone conclusion.

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attitude Business culture Customer relationships Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Positioning Small Business

Do you value your clientele?

Business demonstrate what they value through their behavior.

Some businesses value what they do, those they work with and most of all, those they serve. They work hard for every lead. Every client. Every order. Every payment.

They work to improve their craft every day. They learn from the best of their peers, while extracting and fine tuning strategies and tactics observed in other industries.

They “over-communicate”. As a result, their clients have no doubt what’s going on during a sales process, an order, a refund, much less construction, manufacturing, delivery, repairs and ongoing maintenance.

When there’s a problem or miscommunication, they pick up the phone, they email or otherwise communicate all the necessary details, then work as a partner with their clients to create a win-win resolution.

When they market, good businesses do their best to create want, evoke need and make an irresistible offer without being slimy. The ones who value their clients most also talk about the importance of the everyday things they do for their clients that other businesses might also do, but never bother to mention (Example: Northern Quest’s housekeeping and security team commercials).

Let’s talk about that for a moment… These businesses set standards for these seemingly mundane details and train their employees so they can attain them every day. Rather than tell us about the food or entertainment, why do they remind us of tasks performed by staff who are all but invisible to some of their guests?

The everyday things that these staffers do may not be what makes you decide to make an initial reservation (or purchase) or choose their resort over another. Even after a visit, you may not remember these details weeks or months later, if you notice them at all. What they might do is make you notice the next time, draw attention to that aspect of your experience with them and/or provoke you to think more about them on your next visit to another facility. These mundane things are often the tipping point between going back to resort A or choosing their down-the-street neighbor, resort B. They’re the kind of things done by businesses who value return clientele.

These business will do any number of things to monitor and improve the things they’ve know will cause their clients to return.

They will systematically call their clients and ask for 20-30 minutes a couple of times a year (at least) to discuss not only how their performance has been, but what the current and upcoming expectations of the client are and what else they could do for that client in the future.

When confronted with a reality check about their service, rather than come back with a confrontational reaction, they ask how they could improve that situation – and others.

These businesses don’t show that they value their clients by thinking that they’re done improving. Instead, they are constantly looking for ways to improve – even if they can’t immediately implement the change.

These businesses don’t focus on the worst of their clientele. In some cases, they fire the worst, in others, they implement programs that raise the worst to a better place. They see it as an investment to help their clientele become better individual clients, whether their clientele consists of consumers, businesses or both.

These businesses invest in education internally and demonstrate the importance of delivering educational value to their market, which not only improves the market, but establishes their position as a leader in that market and builds their credibility.

These businesses don’t have a moral ambiguity about selling. They know that they have an obligation to their business, their employees, their employee families and their communities to make the effort to see that every possible prospect who can benefit from their solutions does so. They understand that this obligation to sell to the best of their ability isn’t just about them, but that it connects to the well-being of their clients’ businesses, their clients’ employees and their families and ultimately, to the communities where those families live. They understand that this obligation does not mean that everyone with a heartbeat is their prospect, so they carefully qualify who does and doesn’t get the opportunity to benefit from their products and solutions.

Do you value your clientele?

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Business culture Business model energy Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Positioning Productivity Small Business The Slight Edge

Focused on the holiday, now or the future?

It’s that time of year when business owners are pulled in many directions. The end of the calendar year has a way of doing that.

Some of us are focused on the year we’ve had, some on this month’s performance (which could make or break the year), and some on the future.

While all of those things are important, it’s a good time to remind you of the difference between “working on vs. working in the business” and how important ON vs IN is to getting your business out of what feels like survival mode.

Working IN the business

Almost all of us do this to some extent. What exactly does it mean?

Working IN the business is about taking care of today’s production and quite often, dealing with the crisis of the day – whatever that might be. It’s about making sure clients are happy, products and services are getting delivered – and in some cases, taking part in that creation/delivery.

In short – this is you, the owner/manager, working as an employee of the business. There are times when this is essential and in the smallest of businesses – the solo business owner – it’s how you generate revenue. The thing you need to be cognizant of is making sure working IN time doesn’t become a substantial majority of your work time month-in, month-out, even if you’re the only one there.

If you’re an employee reading this, I hope your employer’s owner and manager(s) spend more time working ON, than IN, but this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, everyone has to knuckle down and get work out the door.

If you’re an employee who thinks they’re doing this – see what you and your peers can do to take even one thing off their plate without being asked. Every little bit helps. If you’re worried about overstepping your bounds, ask.

If nothing else, asking the question should send the message that you have the best interests of the business on your mind.

Working ON the business

Working ON is what allows the business to worry less about what’s happening next month, much less next week or tomorrow.

Why worry less? Because you’re doing enough working ON to be pretty confident that things are booked for that day, week and/or month.

How does a business worry? When you wonder how you’ll make payroll next month, you worry – and it’s reflected in your comments and actions. When employees notice things that tell them money is tight (or really tight), they worry – and it’s reflected in their comments and actions.

These comments and actions reflect on your business. They send a message to your client, your banker, your family (and your staff’s families) and others.

Working ON includes planning and executing, but it’s also very much about communications. Making sure everyone understands what will happen next month and the month after, how those impact the rest of the year’s plans is critical to getting everyone on board.

Are you simply too buried in working IN to work ON this month? If so, take a minute to make an appointment with yourself in your calendar later this month or early next month. Spend that appointment time planning your year so that this time next year, you’re spending more time working ON more so than working IN.

Some examples would be worthwhile, eh?

Since I talk about this fairly often, some examples of “working ON” would be useful.

Spend time on asking yourself these things:

  • What can be systemized?
  • What should never be systemized?
  • What can you do to take the risk of purchase off of your client by providing them with a meaningful, no “but clause” guarantee that they’ll trust?
  • Who are our best clients, how do we keep them, sell more to them, and find more like them?
  • Who are our worst clients and how do we get rid of them? You know who the painful ones are.  Either fix what’s wrong or get rid of them. They can poison your business.
  • How can we avoid having letting the market and your customers beat down what we do into a commodity?
  • What upsells and follow up offers can we make at the time of purchase that make sense based on what the buyer bought. Remember, the hottest buyer in the world is one in front of you. Did you satisfy ALL of their needs and wants?

 

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Business culture Customer service Employee Training Leadership Management Setting Expectations Small Business The Slight Edge

The magic triangle of small business

Take a look at any reality show business turnaround and the story is always the same: Quality, customer service, management.

It’s the magic triangle of small business, much less the formulaic basis of most business turnaround reality shows.

What’s a bit stunning is that people actually wait around for the reality show hero and their crew to show up before they take action to clean up the mess they’ve made – and even then, it’s orchestrated by the show. Sure, there’s some money and some not-so-good publicity involved, but most of the time, they’d be ahead financially and publicity-wise if they simply took care of business without waiting for the show people to arrive.

Think about what these people would do if they showed up at your business tomorrow.

They’d taste your food or try your product or service. They’d see how clean the place is. They’d monitor your service. They’d look at your books. They’d ride around with your delivery rigs.

Yes, these are the same things you should be doing in one way or another.

Management

Sometimes other things find their way into the success equation of a good small business, but they’re almost always rooted in the magic triangle. Some of these things are a part of management.

For example:

  • Cleanliness… is management.
  • Hiring…. is management.
  • Knowing your numbers…is management.
  • Knowing who your clientele is, and isn’t…is both management and marketing.
  • Focusing your marketing and client care on exactly the right people…is management.
  • Being focused on the quality of what you produce and sell is management, as is how you deliver it.

Quality

Think about the things you’ve seen in other businesses that made you angry, disappointed or made you wonder “Who’s running this place?” Consider the service you’ve complained about.

Is any of that happening at your business? How do you know? Have you called the last several customers you lost? Are you even aware who they are?

What about the last few new customers? Do you know who they are?

If you don’t know the last few you lost or the last few you got, it’s tough to check in with them and ask how things went. If you can’t do that, you’re probably guessing or assuming how things are going.

Is there a TV truck out front yet?

The phone

Think about the last time you were served well over the phone. Or about the last time you had a terrible phone experience with a business. Remember how you felt? Remember the “I’ll never use this business again” thought process – or something like it.

Now, with that thought cemented in your mind – are you sure that your business isn’t having those same kinds of issues with customer calls? Are you positive?

Have you called your business lately as a customer? Have you talked to anyone who has? If the answer to both questions is no, how do you know that your clients are being properly cared for by phone?

Try calling your accounting department and asking a question about an old invoice. Once the conversation is done, ask them to send you a copy of the invoice.  Do they refuse? Does the copy ever show up? These are the kinds of things that set customers off on a daily basis.

Call your sales and service departments as well. How does that go? Try being a “good customer” as well as a “bad” one. How does the experience change? Are they following your training? Speaking of, are they being trained?

Onboarding

What’s your new customer “onboarding” process like? Is it consistent? Does it set expectations for how things will go after that? Do you train them how to do business with you?

What’s your process like? Think about the process that other businesses have put you through, or used to welcome you into their “family”.

Which do you prefer? Yours, or theirs? If you prefer the ones you’ve experienced elsewhere, is there a reason why you haven’t adopted parts of their process and made them your own?

Pay attention to the magic triangle and everything that it touches. Don’t wait for the TV truck to pull up – it may not arrive soon enough.

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Business culture E-myth Employees Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Management Small Business Software business strategic planning The Slight Edge

Ask great questions

I’m always looking for better questions to ask.

Good questions educate me about a situation or a mindset someone is in and help me understand where they’re coming from.

Great questions can open the mind of the person you ask the question of. They tend to create discussions that create slight momentum shifts toward changes previously considered “impossible”,  “too costly” or in conflict with existing thoughts, processes and mindsets that are considered sacrosanct.

Asking great questions without belittling or embarrassing the person being asked is an essential skill whether you’re a journalist, salesperson, manager or business owner. Journalists who ask a mix of good and great questions not only get good answers from the podium, but also provoke the listener or viewer to think hard about their position and what formed it.

I suspect you can think of a few questions of that nature related to the social and political issues of the day. What I would encourage is considering what good and great questions you should be asking your staff, your clients and yourself.

Here are some of the useful questions I’ve collected over the years:

  • Why? (often asked repeatedly)
  • Why not?
  • So? (Be careful, this can come off as a bit rude)
  • What if our belief / prediction / estimate is wrong?
  • If we suspend our tightly held opinions for a moment, what else becomes possible?
  • How can I help?
  • What can I eliminate, add, accelerate, decelerate, start or stop that will help?
  • Help me understand.
  • What’s the biggest risk in doing this?
  • What’s the biggest risk in not doing this? This often works better than the prior question because most of us easily identify “Why we can’t / shouldn’t do this” items.
  • If this fails, what is plan B?
  • Why does that matter? This tends to provoke different responses than “Why?” by digging a little deeper into the Why.
  • What does this accomplish?
  • If this works, what’s the next step?
  • If this fails, is that OK?
  • How does this add value to the things we find important?
  • Can you give me a bit more detail on how you got there? Good for digging deeper on an idea or analysis.
  • How will this impact our clients’ ability to deliver what their clients need and want?
  • If this is wildly successful, are we as a company structured to handle that kind of success?
  • Is this designed to handle 10 times the input, output or clients we currently expect if we provide the necessary infrastructure to support that growth?
  • And that’s important because? (often repeated)
  • What challenges must be overcome to pull this off?
  • Can we talk about how we’ll deal with those challenges?
  • How does this impact our key performance indicators? Examples: cost per lead / new client / sale / deployment, support load, lead time, etc.
  • What opportunities does this provide to our partners?
  • Help me understand how this strengthens our core business.
  • Is this in conflict with our values?
  • How does this support our values?
  • How did the pilot program go?
  • What did our clients say about it?
  • What about this is really important to you, your crew and our clients?
  • What data will be used to monitor this project / activity? How will it be measured? Do we know what the decision points are for that data? How were those points determined?
  • Do you have what you need to do this?
  • How can we communicate this effectively to clients and internally?
  • How does this drive our “one number”? Your number might be webinar views / month, the number of after hours service calls, free trials / month, or average days between purchases. A car lot might see a visit to the lot with a spouse as a leading indicator.
  • What are your biggest barriers to success? What’s the plan to deal with them?
  • Who isn’t “on board” with this? Why?
  • If we remove our egos / need to be “right” from this discussion, what changes?
  • What are the weaknesses in this plan? Do you need help with them?
  • Who are your strongest leaders and how are you developing them to handle more responsibility?
  • What are you doing to attract new talent?
  • What expectations does this set?  How will we manage them?
  • What are you doing to identify and develop both new and existing leaders on your staff?

What good and great questions do you ask?

Categories
Business culture Customer relationships Customer service Employee Training Employees Leadership service Setting Expectations Small Business

Earning return business, part two

Last time, I shared a story about how Best Buy avoided losing my family’s phone business (and perhaps all our business) by bending the rules a little on an insurance claim that had gotten in the weeds thanks to a combination of errors on our part and theirs.

This week, car rentals. We recently drove 1300+ miles to see my mom and rented a car for the trip. Most of the adventure occurred during the rental car pickup, of course.

Deliver what you promise, unless you can’t

I reserved a small, high-mileage car for the trip. My evil plan was to rent a car whose difference in gas mileage would more or less cover the rental, while giving us a chance to check out the car.

While talking on the phone to the local guy at the  rental place, I was assured that they have one in stock. Naturally, when I got there a few hours later, they didn’t have the car I reserved. This isn’t uncommon when reservations are made online and far in advance at an airport, but when you call the local outlet and ask the “Do you have what I reserved?” question – you expect to get it. Turned out, they had so few cars that they ended up making me wait 45 minutes while they tried to clean up their “mule” (shuttle car).

The car I got was a lower mileage car than we wanted, though not terribly low, and it wasn’t the one we wanted to evaluate for purchase, so it ended up being a less productive rental than we’d hoped.

They were wise enough to end the pickup experience on a positive note by defusing the frustration of a 45 minute wait by waiving the fuel charges and saying “Bring it back as empty as you can.”  If you’re calculating the cost of defusing situations like this in your business, keep in mind that the fuel charge savings of at most $30 isn’t what defuses the situation. Owning up to the inconvenience, apologizing and making an effort to ease the annoyance is where the situation is turned around.

Owning up is part of earning return business

With some clients, owning up, apologizing and putting $30 on the table won’t be enough. That’s why it’s critical to train your staff and give them the authority (and boundaries) to resolve situations like this without forcing the client to hear them restate policy, wait for permission to escalate the issue, wait for a response from corporate, etc. Making your clientele wait another 45 minutes and getting them on the phone with the corporate call center will make things worse, not better. That’s why last week’s BB situation worked – there was no waiting.

Waiving the fuel charge meant more than not worrying about the fuel – it meant not making an extra stop before returning the car. Little things…

Little lies are still lies

On the negative side, there was a token apology for not having the reserved car we’d talked about, and of course, no action on that. However, I understand that things happen and you can’t give someone a car you don’t have (the car didn’t come back on time from the prior renter).

In your business, this is where you take the opportunity to make things better, not worse. For example, they could have retrieved the same make/model car from the airport (30 miles away), or suggested that I go there and pick up that car to save time and then comp the airport parking of my car. They didn’t offer either.

When I asked why they operate differently from the airport, such as charging us for a day when they are closed, I got the excuse that local rental locations “work differently” than the airport location because “we’re a different company”. Of course both use the same reservation systems, corporate branding and pricing.  But they’re different.

Train the excuses out of your staff

Not long ago I heard someone say “Excuses are a lie wrapped in a reason.”

In your internal training, you’ve got to repeatedly reinforce that things like this are unacceptable discussion points.  They aren’t malicious, but they become part of your story because you’ve told them 100 or 1000 times. Each one is a paper cut on your culture and your reputation, and eventually – those cuts bleed.