Reflections on Reviews

This weekend I was using one of my Christmas presents and happened upon a piece of paper that came with it. The paper was a brief message from the seller of the product to the consumer/customer thanking them for purchasing the product, sharing about warranty information, and how to get help for issues. The paper also talked about something that all of us sellers deal with from time to time and that’s negative comments/feedback/reviews, and I thought the way they phrased it was interesting enough to talk about today. The relevant section reads: “If the product has any problems, please feel free to contact us. A negative comment won’t solve problems but communication will. A positive comment would be a great encouragement to us.”

First of all, I’m of the side of the business community that supports asking customers for reviews and feedback. I know some businesses feel like it’s pushy to ask customers to leave a review, but I don’t think it hurts to ask (especially if you do it nicely) and understand that the customer has the right to totally ignore your request or may not write one until they’ve used the product/service for some time.  It’s not a great practice to push for reviews repeatedly if a customer hasn’t published one, but if you’ve got an unobtrusive invitation as part of the footer of your newsletters or on your website, that’s OK.  

But back to the message from the seller, in some ways I do agree that a negative comment (review) won’t solve anything and that reaching out to a company gives both of you the opportunity to come to a better conclusion.   It may feel good to vent for a moment about a less-than-great sale, but it doesn’t help resolve the issue.  If you’ve tried to get help from the company and they’ve either been unresponsive or less than helpful, it’s certainly something you can include in the review you post, because the company clearly doesn’t care or has policies that other potential customers should know about.

That said, I think there is a place for mixed reviews, reviews that state both the challenges that the buyer experienced as well as the great things about the product/service and company, for instance how the company helped resolve what started as something not good/great. Mixed reviews are honest, and speak to the fact that the company has humans working there who work to make things right when they aren’t. They also help other potential customers know about limitations or preferences that they have experienced, which may affect the purchase decision that potential customer makes.

Stopping a potential customer from making a purchase isn’t a bad thing, it’s actually a really good thing if the product or service isn’t going to be right for them, therefore cutting down on returns and possible negative reviews in the future. Reviews also often provide those details that potential customers may have questions about that the company didn’t include in the product/service description, or are things that can’t be described like what it’s like to work with that person.  Yes, companies should give a customer all the information they need to know before purchasing an item or service, but if we’re honest, it happens less often than we’d like to admit.

We’ve been working in a virtual world for some time now, and it looks like even more people and companies are going to be diving in based on the challenges the virus has presented.  This makes it more important than ever to make sure that your company is presenting their best side to the world through the internet.  Reviews share the good, bad and ugly with the rest of the world, and they’re also one of the most important ways to convince someone to buy your product or service if they’re on the fence.  What are you learning from reviews customers have posted?

Doing Your Part

This weekend I was reading about the Pope and how dramatically different His world, and all faith worlds, are right now, since no one can gather in their religious spaces with all of the requirements of staying at home to stop the spread of the virus. One article I read raised the question that some people ask, and that’s where’s the church been lately? To be fair, unlike with other world-challenging situations, those of religious backgrounds can’t do a whole lot and aren’t able to minster in their typical ways. But I digress, that’s not really what we’re here to talk about today. Instead I want to talk about a variation on that question, and that’s what do we do in this situation? What is ‘our part’ (from the saying “do your part”)?

Is it staying at home? Is it cheering for medical professionals at a certain time with open windows? Is it moving the economy along? Is it giving people time to heal before the world resumes activities? Is it bringing groceries to neighbors? Is it taking a job where you can? Is it panicking? With the exception of the last idea there, I don’t believe there is one right answer. This is true for many aspects of our lives: there isn’t only one right way to success, there isn’t always a single right relationship to be in for your whole adult life, there isn’t a best nutritional plan to follow for everyone, there isn’t only one good way to raise or educate children, there isn’t one thing that makes everyone happy universally.

But it does speak to one of the most universal truths, and that’s that we’re all human and should be respected and treated as such. It means accepting that everyone won’t love you and what you’re passionate about. It means you won’t always see eye to eye with everyone on every topic. It means we’ll all work through this challenge/trauma differently.  It means we’ve each had different life experiences. But it also means that, especially when situations like these present (but not exclusive to them), it’s always good to interact with each other with compassion, love, a patient heart and mind, and a willingness to listen.

To address the earlier question, there’s one thing all of us can do, and that’s share something encouraging or supportive or even funny with others in our realm of influence. Keep sending out newsletters and blogging in your (business/non-profit) community even if they’re of a little different topic than usual. Stay connected by sharing on social media and through text and phone calls and on online communities. Pass on knowledge you have that can help someone else through this challenge. And if you feel capable of doing something beyond that, then with appropriate investigation and planning, go ahead and do that.

The only way our communities will emerge from this intact is if we make the effort to stay connected and not shy away from the world or erect mental and emotional boundaries where there are currently physical ones.  How are you keeping your community strong?

Teaching Kids About Changes and Choice

We’re all making different choices than we’ve made before thanks to this virus, aren’t we? It used to be we had to decide things that we’ve had to decide for likely many years past, and now we’re making decisions about who gets what location to do their work or homework, what ideas we can come up with to keep those in our family who aren’t thrilled with the change of pace and changed/limited activities to keep from getting bored, and how to keep everyone fed and a roof over our heads while all this goes on.  It’s also not easy to explain all of this to them, especially since we don’t have many answers ourselves.

It’s healthy to both miss the past and anticipate the future. No, we don’t know what the future holds, nor could we have really anticipated our present. But that’s the way life works, and it’s up to us to navigate it to the best of our abilities. It’s also up to each of us to raise up the next generation to learn from the experiences we had and hope that we’ve equipped them to be able to tackle whatever comes their way.

I encourage you to use this time of change and transition and being in close quarters with family to not just take a break, but pass on the essential skills they’ll need whether they face something like this virus again or not.  Give your kids the experience and knowledge they need in the kitchen, either with your personal knowledge (or your partner’s) or through an online video course, to be able to cook healthy and nourishing foods as well as fun ones too.  Teach them how to research online (and in the library when it reopens) so they can build their knowledge from a variety of sources at any time so they have fewer limitations in their future.  Give them opportunities to practice making quick, educated and gut decisions, so that they’re prepared to make their own wise decisions in the future.  Encourage them to make good health practices and look after others.

We didn’t ask for this time of challenge and transition, but we’ve been given the choice on how we deal with it.  I hope you’re not panicking, but instead are using this time productively with your family.  What are you helping your kids learn and what are they teaching you?

Leading People

This month I read The Art of People by Dave Kerpen. The book talks about one of the biggest keys to success for anyone, and that’s interpersonal relationships. We’re not talking about (just) the super personal relationship types that you have with your closest family and friends, but about your ability to interact with others in ways that are respectful, positive and empowering for everyone.

One of the keys to your success this book shares, is believing in and working towards success for others. Part of this is making the effort to understand others, and believing that you honestly can if you make a genuine effort. Part of this is about protecting your people and firing reasonably quickly those who are damaging the culture of your business. Part of this is about making sure you’ve got the right people in the right places and doing the right things. Part of this is about promoting and sharing about others and the good work they’re doing. Part of this is about criticizing in private and with compassion. And finally, part of this is about connecting others so that success can be achieved, whether you’re involved or not.

Another key to success according to this book is making sure to ask people to make decisions. While you sometimes (rarely), get lucky, it’s almost always the case that you have to ask people to make decisions if you want them to work with you or promote for you or donate to your cause. People sometimes just do stuff for random reasons, but almost always you have to ask them for some type of decision, action or commitment, or you won’t likely get the result you’re looking for.

Finally, know your place as the leader. Do the work that has to be done by you like firing or casting vision or encouraging people or putting resources and finances in place for the business, and can’t be done by anyone else. Trust your people to do their jobs, and to come to you when they’ve got issues or concerns, and to be (almost) as committed to the business as you are (because they love it as much as you do or find it as important as you do). Be open to learning from others, experiencing new things, and letting go of things and people when they’re not a good fit for you anymore.

What lessons have you learned lately about being a leader, and how have you improved your people skills?

Cancelling Criticism

The world is going through an unprecedented time of confusion, challenge and change. We have yet to see how our lives change after the dust settles, and if I’m honest, I don’t want it to go 100% back to the way it was, because that means that we didn’t learn anything from all the people whose lives were lost as a result of this virus. My hope is that we’ll all get out of this situation wiser and better prepared for whatever the future holds for us, hopefully wise enough not to see a repeat of things as they’ve gone or worse.

We’re facing a lot of challenges on many levels right now, and along with challenges is the need to find the reason for the challenge or figure out what got us to this point. I think it’s important, not so that we can point blame, but so that we can do our best to avoid creating a similar situation in the future. Of course the likelihood is that there isn’t just one reason we’re in the situation we’re in, but several factors and things that have lead to this point on the health level. But beyond the health crisis, is the question of the response of people and businesses in a situation like this in the future and learning to work together better, both protecting each other and protecting all our finances, jobs and futures.

There has been a lot of reaction to this virus, instead of being able to respond with a pre-considered plan and immediate action to best support each other and the businesses in our areas and keep life as normal and productive as possible. That means all businesses and non-profits need an online presence and plan that could be put into immediate action should something like this present again to continue supporting both customers and employees in smart and safe manners as fully as possible. It means individuals and families need to do the best they can to get ahead, not on top of, their bills and finances. And it means each and every one of us needs to be on top of our health and wellness and taking necessary steps more consistently and proactively to protect ourselves and the rest of the people we share this world with.

I encourage you to shut off the criticism and instead start working on supporting and making proactive decisions to make our world better and stronger.

Reality Reflection: Victories and Change

We talk a lot about the topic of change when it comes to life and victories, and yet we’ve never faced a change quite like this in our lives. This challenge has created a lot of stress in our lives and created lots of changes, but has also opened up a lot of opportunities for us. I’m talking about the things that we’ve thought about doing for months if not years, and never made the time or been handed the time to get that stuff done. I don’t like many of the changes and challenges we’re facing right now any more than you do, but we’ve got a choice what we’re going to do with what’s been handed to us.

Like other times in our lives, I think it is important to take time to grieve and attempt to comprehend our changed world. It’s absolutely likely that we’ll return to what we used to know as normal sometime in the near future, but something of this scale cannot be quickly forgotten, nor the scars erased so quickly. If we don’t take time to process and plan for something of this nature in the future, all of the people who experienced great loss during this time (and that’s many people around the world) will have made those sacrifices in vain. All or most of all of us are suffering or sacrificing in one way or another at this time, most of us are disrupted in some way or another, and there’s no shame in admitting that you need time to rant about it or time to process the way your heart is breaking. So go ahead and take time if and when you need it to process not only the tragedy happening, but also the possible ways our world will change in the future.

Then choose how you’re going to move forward with your life. Choose to make the best decisions you can about your health and nutrition. Choose to invest in the relationships that mean the most to you. Do the best you can to invest and plan ahead for something challenging like this in the future. And do something each and every day to feel a sense of accomplishment, whether that’s cleaning out a closet, doing your taxes, exercise, cleaning up your garden, painting a room, cooking a meal, playing with your pet(s), doing homework with your kids, spending quality time with your significant other or reading a book.

There are no hard and fast answers at this time, so it’s up to each of us to do our best with where we’re at. Take advantage of any time you’ve been given and put it to good use. Don’t let a day go by that you tell someone you love them or are thankful for them. Never forget that each and every day of health and life is a gift. Do something positive each day, and choose to live your life.

A Time for Responsibility

As the world faces one of our biggest tests to date, one that hasn’t left a country untouched or unconcerned, I’ve been thinking about the success related topic that we’d talk about today, and the topic that I came up with for today is responsibility. The responsibility each of us has is multi-fold, if we’re honest we’ve all always had these responsibilities, we’ve just not acknowledged them or really put forward effort to attend to them. In the face of much of our normal lives coming to a stand still, this situation has forced us all to really think about how we live, the choices we make, and how we treat the world and the people we interact with.

This virus has shown us how we don’t give enough attention to health practices as simple as washing our hands, sneezing and coughing into elbows, and making sure our hands are clean before touching our faces. We also don’t all eat in ways that give us a healthier immune system, and aren’t as considerate as we should be of others who have compromised immune systems or are at greater risk for infections of any kind. Most of these are very simple practices, things that are more about awareness and being considerate of others than anything else.

On the blog last week I shared some initial thoughts about how businesses have been communicating in response to this outbreak, and unfortunately I’ve been disappointed by many of the responses I’ve been seeing from many businesses and business owners since then. I’ve seen very few businesses or leaders really stepping up in creative ways to support their community and employees. Too few businesses are stepping up to do what they can to keep the economics moving and alive while much of the world deals with financial uncertainty. In part this is because some businesses (and non profits including many faith-based organizations) have resisted creating an online presence or having one that can be as strong and supportive as people need it to be right now. Yes, many businesses have said their employees are working from home, but there are far more businesses who have employees who can’t work from home due to the nature of the business and therefore are out of work. It would be these businesses that are the issue, because there are some very obvious and helpful ways that would get the employees working at least a little, keep the economy moving, keep businesses alive, and be helpful to the community at large. With as much economic concern as there is, why aren’t they stepping up?

We are in the early days of seeing how all this progresses, and the one area where I’ve really seen some good is with regard to how friendly and considerate many people are being. They’re reaching out to neighbors and making sure they’ve got supplies, they’re posting healthy/positive distractions online, they’re touching base more frequently with family and friends, and using all this technology we have at our fingertips to their advantage to stay connected and be a true community. It’s my hope that we stay tuned in to this sense of community and as we move forward into whatever the future holds for us, we remember how important it is to be conscious of and following through on our responsibilities.

Questions and Answers

The events that have been developing over the past few months with regards to the coronavirus and the questions I’ve been hearing from kids that I work with, are frustrating because there aren’t good answers to give for a lot of the questions that are out there.  We’re in a very unique and unprecedented time in our world history, and there’s no manual to indicate how best to proceed, other than trying to do the most sensible things.

These unanswered questions got me thinking about other questions that are hard to answer, and no, I’m not talking about the ‘where do babies come from?’ question although that one can be hard to answer, but about things like clouds or blue sky or why certain animals/fish look as they do or why one person likes broccoli and another doesn’t.  

It’s hard to tell a kid that there isn’t a good answer or you don’t know (and Google can’t give you a suitable or age-appropriate answer).  They like to get answers, even the simple ones that help alleviate at least some of their curiosity.  They also know all about Google and the internet and think that adults probably know everything, so it’s hard for them to understand when you can’t give them an answer.  

But if we’re honest about it, even as adults we like answers too.  We like to know why things start and spiral as they sometimes do, and why things go so very wrong sometimes.  I think our curiosity gets buried under the worry and the responsibility, which is why we just keep pushing through beyond our questions, while the kids keep asking questions (they don’t have the responsibility we do).

It’s not possible to get answers to all of our questions, but I think we can do a better job of doing just a little research and getting at least some answers to our questions and the questions of our kids.  The next time a question comes up, before brushing it off I encourage you to think about whether finding an answer would make you smarter or give you a sense of peace, and if so go ahead and do a quick search for some answers.  It’s healthy and important to ask questions, so don’t discourage yourself or your kids from asking them, even though there aren’t answers to every question.

Responding to Crisis in Business

If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that over the past 3-4 months a health crisis has been developing around the world. It’s a concern on many levels, and for business owners that operate hovering closer to the red line than they would really like to, it’s especially stressful. With all of this in mind, today I thought we’d talk a bit about both good business practices and about reacting to a crisis or issue.

One of the things that this has taught all of us is not that it’s wrong to be social or be together, but that we’ve really been lazy about some of our health practices. For a local business, yes, the appearance that you present to your customers is important: no, they don’t want to see dried food or dust bunnies everywhere. But it’s also important to do your best to encourage other types of health practices like encouraging sick workers to stay home, wash hands more frequently, and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces and not just wiping them down with a rag that may not really be that clean. It’s not just about not being the business that got everyone sick, it’s about truly caring for your customers and team members. For team members, if they know that you want them to bring their best self to work, that you care about their well being, and that not only will their job will be there for them when they get well but that you offer considerate paid sick leave, they’re more likely to take care of themselves and others.

One of the biggest questions when it comes to a crisis, failure or major issue of any kind, not just the health type, is about communication. On Monday I got the first communication from a company regarding the health crisis. The company? My credit card company, with a very thoughtful and open email about their awareness and willingness to work with customers through this time. I have to say I was impressed. I was also impressed by the communication and response from my health plan, and a couple of the other emails I’ve gotten have been surprisingly personal, supportive and caring. That said, the not great communications far outweigh the good. Quite frankly some of them are at least a week overdue (grocery and big box stores with decisions to limit products etc.), others are unnecessary word-for-word repetition of what’s been shared through official channels, and one was laughably bad and it kind of felt like they said “we’re aware of the issue, wash your hands and good luck.” Not a response that inspires any type of confidence.

What made the difference in the communication between those that were helpful and made me think more positively about a company and those that were pointless? The things to focus on are repetition, details, emotion and time. Let’s start with time. While you never want to be the one to start a panic or anger customers, if something is known throughout your company (or the news) or you’ve got multiple issue reports about the same thing on a daily basis for three or more days, it’s time to make plans and make a statement. With something as serious as this virus, I would have expected a statement and action from some companies at the very latest at the end of February, not almost two weeks into March. The more serious an issue or the bigger the potential impact, the sooner you as a company have to make plans, prepare for demand (including both sides of increasing supply and limits on purchases), and/or prepare for increased customer service demands. You don’t necessarily have to send out/post a statement initially, but being proactive is essential for weathering the storm the best you can.

When it comes to the statement you choose to make, that’s where the repetition, details and emotion come in. Do your best to limit repetition, there’s no need to regurgitate what your customers already know at length. Instead, take the time to craft a thoughtful response letting people know how you’re going to work with them through the situation and action steps you’re taking or have already taken. Empathize with your customers in your communication, letting them know that you’re human too, but at the same time you are a leader and are filling the necessary leadership role on taking action. You may not be able to provide concrete details on when things will be resolved, but if people are hearing and hopefully seeing a change to go along with your statement, hopefully you’ll be able to minimize the damage that’s done to customer’s trust in you.

No business ever wants to face a crisis, but the reality is that things do fail or nature happens and we’re left holding the bag. It’s one reason why it’s so important to consistently build relationships with your customers (something I offer support on in my Customer Connection package), support your team well, have appropriately diversified offerings, and be responsive when problems do pop up. What are your tips for crisis response as a business?

Courageous Choices

Today the Jewish community is celebrating the holiday of Purim. It’s the celebration of the life of Esther, who became queen of Persia many years ago and pleaded with her husband the king to save her people (the Jews) from a persecution plan by an evil man, and in successfully saving the Jewish people and herself, she became one of the biggest women heroes/figures in that time of history. It’s a story that those of the Christian faith are familiar with as well, there’s a whole book in the Bible dedicated to it. As I was writing my spiritual newsletter about the story of Purim this week, and thinking about International Women’s Day on Sunday, today I thought we’d talk about what this story teaches us about success and being our best self.

One of the biggest parts of who Esther was and why she did what she did was that it had to do with something she passionately believed in. If her faith wasn’t so important to her, she may not have put her life on the line. What do you believe in? What’s most important to you in life? Does your life reflect that? Are you investing in and protecting those things like Esther did?

As much as Esther had a deep belief in her faith, it’s important to consider whether she would have spoken to the king or not simply because of how many people’s lives were on the line. If there are hundreds if not thousands of lives on the line, and you’ve got the ability to speak up and make a difference, you should! Staying silent is how we end up with people falsely imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, genocides of whole people groups, and hate between groups/races/cultures that builds and lasts for decades if not hundreds of years.

Standing up for what’s right or wrong like Esther did takes courage and strength of character. Sometimes it takes more courage than other times, but if we all chose to live lives that are even a little more conscious, considerate and courageous, we’d be able to get the world to a healthy and happier place a lot sooner. Being courageous about something or someone that is important to you gives you incredible confidence and gives you power that you can’t tap into through any way except by being your best version of yourself.

So what about you? Are you stepping up for what’s important to you? Are you taking time to truly listen to all the people in your lives, and give them the respect they deserve as fellow humans? Some things are as bizarre as they sound, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true, which is why it’s important to do even a little research if something could be as serious as it’s being presented.  Are you living a courageous life?