Tag Archives: advice

Fast And Furious Means Fail

I bet we’ve all been there. An incoming email triggers a strong response and we let those strong emotions turn into something we regret sending later. It’s not a bug – it’s a feature, one we need to learn to turn off since inevitably we spend a lot more time cleaning up the mess then we would have spent had we just taken 10 minutes to calm down, reread the initial email, and respond with a clear head.

I’ve been on the receiving end of one of those. A client who owed me a lot of money reacted badly when I asked to be paid. Having waited nearly two years, I thought I was not over the foul line for asking. In fact, I offered to reduce the amount owed if they would begin paying immediately. Rather than engaging in a discussion about how we could resolve the issue, I received a nastygram unlike any other I’d received in business. My response wasn’t to respond. Instead, I did something I’d not done in 10 years of consulting: I turned the debt over to a collection agency.

That’s one personal example. I’m sure you have a couple, hopefully on the receiving end so you don’t have to clean up the mess. We can’t “react” to emails. The blessing of email is that it’s fast, with immediate delivery and often a quick response. That’s its curse as well, along with the fact that there is no nuance. My philosophy has always been that if there is a problem I’d rather try to resolve it over the phone so I can judge the tone of voice as well as to be sure that what I’m saying isn’t misinterpreted somehow. I realize it’s harder to get many people on the phone but the investment of time in doing so can often avoid a series of increasingly infuriating emails.

Don’t “react.” Don’t assume that someone hasn’t responded because they’re disrespecting you. They might just not be the bearer of good news and are struggling to find a way to say what needs to be said. Remember that everything you send is preserved and you have no clue who will end up reading what you write. Finally, call if you can or, even better, buy someone coffee and talk things over face to face. Old school? For sure, but maybe some of these old school ways are why some of us old folks have done well. Your thoughts?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Lose The Ego Or Lose The Customer

It bewilders me that some businesses can’t put their customers‘ needs ahead of their own. I’m going to tell you yet another horrific tale of business stupidity but first, a little data to support my point.

The folks at Marketing Sherpa did some research and they found the following:

When asked about the marketing of the company they were highly unsatisfied with, the top way unsatisfied customers described the company’s marketing was — not customer-first. This description was more frequent than complaining about privacy issues or intrusive, boring or irrelevant marketing. “The company does not put my needs and wants above its own business goals” was chosen by 35% of unsatisfied respondents.

With that as context, let me show you this in action. A friend of mine bought a car recently from a car dealership with which she had done business in the past. Her previous experience was good enough that she went back to them to buy from them again. This time, things were quite different.

The car died in her driveway after a few weeks of use. The battery died and the car wouldn’t jump-start. When she bought the car, she was told to bring the car to the dealership in the event of any issues and they’d take care of her. She did as she was told and had the car towed to the dealership. Despite the lip-service paid to a customer-centric focus, the service department said they’d charge her $165 for a new battery even though the car is still under warranty. If she wanted it fixed under warranty, it would have to be moved to a Ford dealer. Strike one.

The dealership said they’d arrange for the car to get to the Ford folks “as a courtesy.” That was Thursday. It’s now Monday morning and the car still hasn’t moved. Strike two. My friend has been calling and emailing to no avail. She is in the process of renting a car – the dealership didn’t mention a loaner. Strikes three and four.

I’m beginning my search for a new car – do you think this dealership is under consideration? Do you think my friend will tell her friends to rush over to purchase from these folks or will she caution them to avoid the dealership like a plague? The dealership had its main need addressed – they sold a car, in part by doing a great job in addressing the customer’s needs and wants at the time. They are unwilling or unable to focus on the customer beyond the sale nor can they put the customer’s needs above their own goals (servicing a car that’s under warranty takes time and reduces margin). This is a perfect example of what the research cited above shows since in my mind customer service (or lack thereof) is part of the marketing mix – a critically important part. Do you see the problem?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

The Right Fielder

There’s an old song by Peter, Paul, and Mary that contains a few lines that were 100% true when I was a kid:

‘Cause the fastest, the strongest, played shortstop and first
The last ones they picked were the worst
I never needed to ask, it was sealed,
I just took up my place in right field.

The kid whose fielding skills were weakest ended up playing right. The thinking was that most batters, if they got it out of the infield, would have to pull the ball and nearly everyone seemed to hit right-handed. Ergo, the right fielder would not have a chance either to make a play or to make an error.

Right fielder position on a baseball diamond

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does this have to do with business? I suspect that some of us look at our teams and mentally assign one or more of our team members to right field. Rather than demanding that every player meets the high standards needed to play any position, we stick them in a place where we hope nothing important get hits their way. Needless to say, this precipitates an entire series of problems.

First, the rest of the team knows who the weaklings are and can’t understand why they’re still on the team. After all, when the team wins a championship, everyone gets a ring, including the player who was more of a liability than an asset. That breeds resentment.

Second, the weak players are often held to a different standard. There is a lack of accountability since they aren’t as skilled. That’s a huge mistake as well. A team has one set of standards, not different standards for each person. If your business unit is to function as a team, it must be one and not just a collection of individuals.

There are going to be balls hit to right field, wherever right field might lie on your particular field of play. As managers, our job is to be sure that there are no weak spots anywhere and that each member of the team is on the same page, communicating clearly and backing one another up. That’s how we win, right?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting

Clear Headed

I’ve been MIA from this space for a few days (hopefully you’ve noticed). I caught some kind of a bug and it pretty much laid me out for a few days. Body aches, a little congestion, and a foggy brain. I had zero energy and just wanted to sleep. More importantly, I couldn’t really focus my thinking on anything.

This may come as a shock to you but I do put a fair amount of what I hope is clear-headed thought into the screed. While I might have been able to force myself to spend a lot of extra time to write something, I thought it a better course of (in)action just to give it a rest. I’m a big believer in doing nothing when one’s head is foggy and let me explain why.

“Foggy” to me just doesn’t mean the state I’ve been in over the last few days. Foggy is when things are unclear at all. It may be because you’re distracted or it may be because the information you need to make a decision is incomplete, unclear, or inadequate. Jason Day, for example, withdrew from a golf tournament a couple of weeks ago because he was distracted by the fact that his mom was having surgery (she’s fine) and he couldn’t focus. Rather than making bad decisions on the course, he made a great one and left it.

Each of us needs to think along the same lines. Sure, sometimes fuzzy logic is called for because we can’t get enough information. In and of itself, that’s a clear-headed decision you make. Oftentimes, however, anything from a cold to a hangover to a family matter to office politics can reduce or eliminate your ability to focus. Those are the times when we need more time because I don’t concur that a bad decision is always better than no decision.

What do you think?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Consulting, What's Going On

How Do You Know?

There is an old joke about the greatest inventions of all time. The last one mentioned is the thermos, which can keep soup hot on a cold day and water cold on a hot day. When asked why that makes it the greatest invention of all time, the respondent asks “how does it know?”

You probably face that question all the time in your business. How do you know? More specifically, how can you be sure that you’re in touch with what your customers really want? Maybe you think as Steve Jobs did: customers don’t know what they want until you show them. Here’s the unfortunate truth: you’re not Steve. He may have had a wonderfully intuitive gift for understanding what it was that customers wanted (although there are several examples of him being wrong several times along the way) but you probably don’t.

We can’t spend our time in business finding solutions for problems that don’t exist nor can we build products for which there is no demand. You might not have heard of any companies that do that. The reason is that they’re out of business.

We need to listen to our customers and to the market. We don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so. Analytics are a form of listening and the data doesn’t lie. There are numerous free survey tools available. If you have social media presences (and what business doesn’t?), you are getting feedback on a regular basis, as you are if you have commenting turned on for your blog posts. Maybe you have listings on any number of review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor. Do you review those for insights into what it is your customers are thinking?

Make stuff people want. Fall in love with your customers and their needs and not with today’s version of what it is you’re offering. Move quickly to get closer to your customers’ ideal product. Ask them about things and listen to the answers. That’s how you know. OK?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

The Stain On Your Back

I’m going to be a little self-serving today, but it’s based on a comment someone made to me the other day. You’ll probably be able to figure out what the comment was as you read on.

Imagine that on your way to an appointment a drop of something – coffee from someone’s cup, condensation from an air conditioner – spills onto your shirt. You’d see it and deal with it immediately if it was on the front of your shirt. If it spills onto the back, you’d probably not even notice it until some kind-hearted soul mentions it. That, dear readers, is why you need people like me.

When I grew up in the business world, I had a lot of people coaching me. My immediate boss and his boss were always ready to encourage me (and not always in the nicest of tones) and help me to grow. They let me know where the less-visible (to me) stains were. That situation is less common today in a world where there are a million corporations of one as opposed to a large company. Today’s smaller companies have much less institutional memory from which they can draw as well as less personal experience on the part of the founders and employees.

Part of what I do is to coach. I’ve run into some potential clients who tell me that they don’t need coaching, just more hands to do the work. While the latter half of that statement is assuredly true, they also need someone to point out the stains on their backs. Most consultants I know don’t have a political agenda. We’re not after your job nor are we burdened with your past or present. We are charged with helping you and your business to grow. No, you can’t do the latter without doing the former. A business is only as good as the people managing it. My peers and I are there to look at your situation and to help you reach your goals.

I’ve been doing “business” for almost 40 years (yikes!). In that time I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve seen a lot of others do the same. I’ve seen great managers and horrible managers. Part of what clients pay me for is an insurance policy of sorts. My experience ensures them that they won’t have to make the same mistakes I did. They get the benefit of the learning without the pain of the experience. What I and my peers bring is why football teams have coaches up high in the stadium – to get a broader perspective.

Most professional golfers have swing coaches. All sports teams do too. The coaches aren’t caught up in the second to second physical involvement that sport requires. They can see and protect your back. I can do that too, by seeing the parts of you and your business that you can’t or won’t see and by letting you know what’s going on in those blind spots. Call me?

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Filed under Reality checks, Consulting

Adding Umami To The Business

This Foodie Friday we’re going to talk about basic flavors. If you’ve done any cooking, you know that there are five basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and something called “umami,” which is often mentioned as “savoriness.” It’s a Japanese word that means “delicious taste. It’s actually built on three types of amino acids:

japanese soy sauce, it contains more salt than...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some examples of the amino acids associated with umami are glutamates in kombu or soy sauce; iosinates found in fermented fish, shellfish and meats; and guanylates, which are present in mushrooms like shiitake.These different types of amino acids can be combined to increase the umami taste in your dishes.

Got it? As with all the flavors, the trick is to use umami to balance out and enhance the other flavors present in a dish. If you add soy sauce (umami), for example, you’d want to reduce the salt (salty). If you’re using fish sauce (an umami bomb often found in Asian food) you’d add acid to balance it out (citrus juice, for example.). Got it?

Let’s think about umami in business terms. You have the basic building “flavors” of solving a customer’s problem, the enterprise’s financial goals, customer service, producing the product or service, and supporting your team. What distinguishes great businesses from good businesses is the umami added to the mix of those building blocks. Just as adding a rind of parmesan cheese into a soup or stock boosts umami, teaching everyone in an organization to be customer-centric while pursuing clear goals boosts the coherence and performance of the team. It’s possible to offer decent customer service via email but the umami of a caring human to deal with customer issues makes a lot of difference.

A long time ago, someone told me to add red wine vinegar to the clarified butter into which I was dipping a lobster. I know now that the sour and pungent vinegar was balancing the fat of the butter and took the lobster to another level. Balancing all the elements of either a dish or your business and making sure that balance includes something that boosts umami is the key, both in the kitchen and in the boardroom. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints