Winning In Business

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“I want to feel unwelcome and be treated like you don’t want me here.  I also want you to be really rigid and inflexible in handling any special requests or needs I might have, and if you could, please don’t listen to me or take time to let me tell you exactly what I need.  Finally, I don’t really need to know what to expect, how to work your product, or any of the options I might have.” Do you want to know who said this?  No. Customer. Ever.  Yet, so many companies treat customers as if they did.  Why?  Aren’t customers why companies exist?  Isn’t helping customers to be successful what companies do?

I believe so much poor service is due to a critical misunderstanding of why businesses exist.  I recently led a workshop where I asked people why their company existed.  Several of the attendees said it was to make money.  In fact, they went on to say that making money was only reason businesses existed at all.  Now, I hate to burst your bubble if you’re one of those folks, but that is NOT why businesses exist.  Money is only an outcome of why businesses exist, not the reason.

Businesses exist to – drumroll please – HELP PEOPLE; think hard about this and deeply embed it into your mind.  Businesses exist to help people successfully do things, that is what all businesses do, all of them.  If you need a screwdriver, you go to the hardware store where they help you get a screwdriver.  If you need legal help, you call a lawyer to help you.  If you need a widget for your factory, you call a widget company to help you.  Every business exists to help, to serve.  Every business is a service business, not a money-making business; money is a scorecard for how well you helped, period.  Help really well and you make more money, your score is high, do it poorly and you don’t make money, your score is low, that’s it.

So, if you’re still with me and not calling me a heretic, my question is this, why is it that so many companies act as if the quote at the start of this post is their mission statement?  Why is it that so many have lost track of the real mission of every business?  Take a look around your workplace, does your company serve or does it do something else?  Do you serve your customers even if those “customers” are fellow employees?  If you want business success, service must permeate every fiber of the business.  Think about it, imagine a professional sports team where the front office regularly talked about how bad the team was and rarely talked about winning, would that fly?  What would that do to the performance of the actual team? No! Go to the front office of a pro sports team and everything around the office, the signage, the watercooler talk, everything is about winning.  Winning is as much a part of the back office as it is the team on the field.

So, if winning is the goal of a sports team, what about the goal of business?  If the goal is customer success, as it really should be, then shouldn’t everything be geared towards that? Shouldn’t everything be geared towards serving well just like winning is for a sports team?

Look around your place of business, is it geared to winning (customer success) or is it about something else?  If you said something else, start making change.  Start serving those who need your service so that they might serve those they serve and so on until your customers see it too.  Do this and I guarantee the outcomes you want for your business.  Be the opposite of the opening of this post, be welcoming, be accommodating, listen and share information that people need, these are winning behaviors that will infect your business and, ultimately, your customers.

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The Power of Certainty

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I have a friend who recently had a major malfunction in his house.  His water heater stopped working dramatically in a way that could have resulted in fire but thankfully stopped short of that.  Anyway, it was still under warranty and he called the manufacturer to get a replacement.

Sounds simple, right? It all started that way.  He made the call and the agent went through everything and guaranteed the replacement and installation.  But this is where simple ended.  The agent said they would call back with a date for arrival and installation, but that call never came and days went by without hot water.  To say this predicament made my friend’s family unhappy would be putting it mildly.

Now more phone calling started as my friend tried to learn when the water heater would arrive.  No one in the company seemed to know who was doing what and there was a lot of “we’re looking into this” talk.  As frustration and anger began to reach its maximum, my friend got a call out of the blue from a freight company saying they had a water heater to deliver to his house.  Hurrah, you might say, but the problem now was that this required some logistics as my friend was away on business and his wife and kids were out as well.  Long story short, this whole black hole of uncertainty created a lot of angst and rearranging of people’s lives in order to facilitate a simple delivery.

Now, this story isn’t just a story of bad service; it’s a story that gives a great example of a basic human need.  We all, at a fundamental level, want to know what the future holds; we simply don’t like heading down dark alleys, whether real or imagined.  We all like to have some idea of what we can expect in situations, and when we don’t, it creates discomfort, a lot of discomfort in this case.  Imagine if the water heater company had their game together and on the initial call could give my friend an accurate delivery date and a really good idea of what to expect, he would probably still be a customer who promotes the company as providing good service instead of a vocal detractor telling his horror story to anyone who will listen.

To contrast this tale of woe, let me share an example of a company who seems to understand this principle and has figured it out an innovative solution.  The company is Caliber Collision, an auto repair place specializing in body work.  Earlier this year, my daughter had a fender bender when another driver didn’t brake quickly enough and hit my daughter from behind.  The damage was significant and we needed to get the bumper replaced as well as some other body work.  On the suggestion of our insurance company, we took it to Caliber and they told us they would need the car for three to four weeks.  So we got a rental and left the car.

Now, you might be thinking, Caliber didn’t provide much certainty here, not much more than the water heater company but this is where things get really different.  Knowing that it would take a few days or even a week to get all of the parts, I was expecting maybe a couple of weeks but was pretty surprised at the three to four week wait and had that inner voice wondering why and what was going on.  As if some magic happened and someone at Caliber heard my inner voice, a text message appeared on my phone alerting me that work had started on the car.  Days later, I got another one informing me how far along they were.  Then, a few days later, I got yet another message confirming the finish date. This little touch of keeping us in the loop was amazing and gave me and my daughter our needed calm in the storm of uncertainty.

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Hopefully, this contrasting story is proof enough of the power of providing certainty and giving customers a sense of what to expect.  Hopefully, you can see the difference it makes to provide customers with information so that they know what’s coming and allows them to plan their lives better.

If you have a call center or a customer service desk or have any touch with customers at all for that matter, begin providing timelines and status updates so that your customers are completely comfortable with their order, repair, or delivery.  Make it a goal that no customer ever walks away wondering what’s happening next or where their job stands.  Removing the fundamental discomfort of feeling uninformed could be a big difference maker to your business and result in more profit, more customers, and more success.

Learning from a Broken Clock

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We have several old clocks around our house – a collection of sorts – and most of them don’t work properly, my wife and I just like them.  Anyway, while walking through the house the other day, I passed by one of these non-working clocks and said something to my daughter that my dad used to say when he saw a broken clock or watch, “Do you know what I like about this clock?  It’s right twice a day.”  My daughter laughed at my dumb old joke, but moments later, a lesson suddenly occurred to me.  We can find the good in just about everything…and…anybody if we look for it.

Why does this seemingly obvious thing matter?  Well, how many times do you walk through your workplace and miss all of the great things your employees or co-workers do day after day?  How much could it change people’s spirit and engagement to have their contributions recognized more often?

Look, I’ve worked in many places and some I remember as having good environments and some having not so good environments.  However, most places in my recollection weren’t good or bad all of the time, they were good or bad in the moment depending on which manager or co-worker was around.  It’s just that the ones I remember as good were good most of the time and the bad ones were bad most of the time.

As I pondered this, I got to thinking about the differences in the two types of people creating these distinct environments, and the more I thought, the more it occurred to me that the biggest difference in the people was what they did upon first contact.  The people that created a good environment with their presence almost always started things with a positive word, a hearty “Good morning” followed by something nice to say about you or your work.  They made it clear that, at minimum, you, to use the clock metaphor, kept good time at least twice a day.  On the flipside however, the people who created a poor environment invariably had very little good to say, everything was business, business, business with no comment about anything you were doing right, in fact, there was almost no comment about anything human, everything was taken down to some sort of bottom line.  The more I considered this, I was reminded me of that old question, “Do you brighten a room by your arrival or your departure?”

So, given that, I have to ask.  Do you brighten your workplace or do you darken it?  Do you look for what your employees or co-workers do right or what they do wrong?  If you are in the latter camp, what do you need to do to make yourself more aware of all of the great things people do instead of first finding all of the things they do wrong or don’t do?  What good things can you think of that you could remark on to brighten your workplace?    I think you will find that much like my clocks, people may be in many ways broken but there is almost always some minimum amount of “correct time” in them.

Let’s make now the time to lead a change in your workplace, your home, and your world.  Today, no time to waste here; make a conscious effort to proactively look for one thing good with every person you interact with.  See if you can make a positive comment to them about that thing.  Keep doing this every day until it becomes a habit.  See how it changes your workplace, your home, your world…and you.

The Power of Small Words

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I often speak to people about changing the world but I usually don’t mean the big world, I mean the small world of those around us. We all have the power to positively change someone’s world and we can do it simply with words.

Whatever the interaction, whether with a friend, colleague, customer or as a customer ourselves, we can make a difference in someone’s world with every word. You see, the results of our interactions are never neutral; they always have a positive or negative effect.  With your words you make a difference, but what difference do you make, do you build people up or tear them down?

Ask yourself this, “Do my words help others? Do they communicate support and praise or do they point out the negative, the obstacles, or faults?”

Today, go out and try one of these statements to change someone’s world:

  • Thank you.
  • Great job!
  • I’m sorry.
  • How can I help?
  • I understand.
  • You’re the best.
  • Don’t give up.
  • I’m inspired by you.

With just a few simple words, you can help someone get on the road to success. Like a pebble in the ocean, you can start a positive ripple effect that can reach people far away.  Who knows, maybe you can change the big world and not by doing something big, just saying something small.

Are you listening?

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So many business people are looking for the magic bullet when it comes to customer service.  Well, there isn’t one as far as I’ve seen, but I have found something that I do believe helps in a significant way.

I believe the real trick for making service remarkable is getting people into a mindset where helping others is something they want to do instead of have to do, and this mentality change is critical to changing behavior. This is one reason why so much service performance falls short.  Businesses train their people to perform tasks that become scripted and fake not realizing that real success only comes when people’s thinking changes. This is the only way to get service to go beyond mere tasks (have to do) to something genuine (want to do).  But how do you do it?  How do you change people’s thinking?  How can you move people from a self-focused mentality to an others-first, service-focused mentality?

One way to start is by training people to listen.   You see, when you listen, truly listen, you have to be in others-first mode, it can’t be about you, it has to be about the other person. Simply put, listening well mandates others-focus.  Thus, if you can train your people to really listen to understand, you will be bringing out the natural, others-focused service mentality that is in them already.  Using this innate service-focused mentality as a foundation can serve as the stepping stone to a consistent desire to help others which translates to better service performance and happier customers.

Listening, it’s not a magic bullet, but it is a start in moving your service to the next level.