Perfection or Problems

No one is perfect, and no business is perfect.  There are businesses and people that look perfect on the outside but the inside doesn’t reflect that, and of course there are those that look like a mess outside and are a mess inside as well.  Sometimes people/businesses know they need help and are willing to ask for the help, but other times they’re seemingly clueless about anything possibly being wrong (which can be very frustrating to customers and potential customers).   I certainly experience both in the course of my work, those that think they know everything and can’t possibly have any room for improvement, and those who admit they need help.  There are people all along that spectrum as well, it’s not a black and white thing.

So let’s start at the beginning.  As I said there are no perfect businesses.   Every single business (and business owner) has at least one thing they could change or improve.  Some of those things are subjective to some customers or potential customers (like changing a spice blend in a recipe or using a specific social site), while others are broader and really impact the whole business and customer base or potential customer base (like not having a website or having rude employees). When it’s something that affects only a portion of your customers/employees you have to decide if it’s really worth it to make that change or if there’s perhaps another way you could incorporate their feedback.  For something that’s broad spectrum it’s something that usually is a whole lot less optional and really should be addressed if you want the best for your business and customers.

We’ve touched on a few of the things that tend to be wrong or frustrate customers (or employees), but here’s a more specific list: lack of detailed and specific information that is easily accessible, poor management/leadership, unexpected and unexplained wait time, poor packaging, poor product or service, lack of communication, poor pricing, inconsideration, unhelpful/uneducated employees/salespeople, and rudeness.  Most of these have very clear connections to two things: people and communication.  As much as we’re an instant society today that has high expectations for many things including businesses we buy from, there is also a willingness to wait for the good stuff or for what we really want as long as we’ve been told what the wait will be and have been dealt with in a polite and respectful manner.

Maybe you’re one of those businesses who has some more subjective things to check out, if so that’s great and they could be profitable opportunities for you.  But if you’re facing a very broad issue it’s time to take action and make changes to repair the issue.  The longer you let it hang the bigger the chance is that you’ll lose great customers and have more difficulty getting new ones.

Thankful for Relationships

I’m super excited to be looking ahead to Thanksgiving and wanted to take time today to talk about being thankful in our relationships. Relationships are full of challenges, sometimes heartbreaks, and often opportunities for joy.  They’re not for the faint of heart and take work if you really want them to be successful.  But there are also plenty of reasons to give thanks for them.  Relationships mean that we’re not alone in the world, they mean that we’ve got someone there to support us, they challenge us and help us grow, they give us a helping hand in raising kids and in fulfilling our dreams.

One of the things my partner says to me is “thank you for loving me.”  It sounds like a very simple phrase but it’s got so much power and says many things.  First, it’s an affirmation of our connection, he recognizes that I love him and am invested in our relationship.  Second it’s him admitting that he’s not perfect and may be difficult to love sometimes.  Now, if you’ve been reading along for a while you know that I don’t see a point in being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t ‘click’ with you, so even on his most challenging day he’s still someone I want to be with.  So the value in him admitting that he’s not perfect is in part him wanting reassurance that I do love him regardless or in spite of his faults, and a promise to do better because he’s as committed to us as I am.

It kills me when I see so many hurting, hurtful and broken relationships because some of them could be healthy relationships if some steps were taken sooner, while others I’m amazed that they’re still hanging in there for some unknown reason when they could very possibly be happy with someone else.  Being that this is the holiday season now I’m going to say that the glass is half full today and encourage you to take time this holiday season to rip off a few band-aids and really talk with your partner about how you can make your relationship healthier and more fulfilling.  Stop looking elsewhere, stop with the threats, stop faking it, stop lying to yourself and start talking about the problems and how you can resolve them.  Take time for just the two of you this season and build on the good that you have or rebuild the good you once had.

Missing Important Steps

There are things in life that require steps to be followed to get the best results.  One of the most obvious being cooking and baking. When you skip steps the food can turn out really bad causing not only frustration but wasted money and time. It’s why we rely on written recipes when making a new foods, so that it turns out like it’s supposed to. After we’ve made it we can try and and different things or change things, but usually you make the food as directed in the recipe the first time. So what happens if the recipe itself is missing some steps?  Because this has happened to me in the past, now when I make a new recipe I always check out a few similar ones to make sure that’s not the case, especially if the recipe I originally found seems light on details.

So what does this have to do with life? Simply that sometimes there are steps that we miss, sometimes even because we didn’t know we were supposed to take them. If you’re selling a product to someone it should come with instructions for immediate use like wash first or soak in water before planting or check for updates before using. But sometimes we get stuff with companies (or coworkers) expecting us to know what we should do, or expecting based on their research what typical behavior is (like washing clothes before wearing them). But not everyone follows that behavior, which is why it’s important to do the research because unfortunately we aren’t always told the whole story.

Leaving out pertinent details can cause serious issues, whether we’re talking about cooking, buying things, using things or relationships and communication. Sometimes we leave out details because we’re ashamed, think we’re protecting someone or don’t know the answer, other times we may leave out the details because we think it’s so obvious they can’t possibly miss it. So every so often it’s good to take a second and think about things and make sure that they really make sense in your head before proceeding. Think about what the logical thing to do would be, ask yourself if there should be other steps, and do a little research to make sure that you do have all the facts.

Due Diligence

As a business owner I get asked lots of questions about what I offer. I make a point of doing my very best to answer all questions before people even think of talking with me because it’s always easier and cheaper to not have to talk with people, but to just make the sale. I always try to make sure my marketing and sales descriptions are as clear as possible and make it as easy for people to understand as possible so there’s no confusion, because there’s at least a 50% chance that if someone is confused they’ll leave and not make a purchase no matter how perfect that product or service would be for them rather than ask.

Every so often though I get someone who says something like ‘this is what I want, you will deliver that, right?’ after making the purchase, or someone who says “I’m not sure what you sell but here’s the money” or worst “I thought you were going to do/provide X” after the sale has been completed and the service/product delivered. Fortunately these people aren’t the majority, but they always make an impression when they pop up.

What amazes me about these people is that they’re willing to put down money assuming that the business will deliver what they want because they want it, or they put down money without even knowing what they’re ordering. There are two things I want to highlight today: your responsibility and theirs.

Your job, as I’ve already mentioned, is to be as helpful in your communications as possible.  If there aren’t any words on the page, if there isn’t an explainer video, how can they possibly know what you sell?  And just saying “I sell life insurance” or “I do construction” or “I sell jewelry” or “I create websites” or “I deliver food” isn’t very helpful.  It gives people a very basic idea, yes, but to know if they want to choose you to provide that service or product for them there has to be more detail provided, and that’s your job.  In just about every situation there is plenty of room for you to provide the necessary info and answer typical questions.

Their responsibility is to read or listen what’s there.  If you don’t take the time to read what you’re buying, shame on you!  It’s completely unnecessary in this day and age (and irresponsible) to make a purchase without knowing what you’re getting. People go to great lengths to put up details because they want their customers to be happy.  I can’t understand why you wouldn’t listen to or read the details provided before making a purchase, especially if you expect to be pleased with your purchase.

So this week I do encourage you to check out your descriptions and make sure they’re helpful, and when you go to make a purchase make sure that you know what you’re buying before putting down any money.

“Due diligence is the practice of confirming that what you are getting is what you think you are getting.” Dr Henry Cloud

Having Healthy (Tough) Conversations

I got an email talking about a topic that’s challenging: talking about the tough stuff.  You’ve probably seen some of the commercials on TV with two people walking or at a diner talking about how they recently discovered a family member participating in illegal or bad activities. The commercial ends with silence because the listener doesn’t know how to respond to what their friend just told them.  Generally most of us prefer to avoid the tough conversations about money, things they’re struggling with personally, things they’re struggling with professionally or about things that aren’t going well with the family or in a relationship.  We avoid them because we often don’t know what to say, how to express our struggles, that they won’t understand what we’re going through, that they won’t be willing to listen, or that they’ll just judge us instead of being supportive.

But in our talks about being healthy this month, it’s important to talk about the stuff that’s not so easy to talk about too.  Healthy isn’t just about the good habits, it’s about overcoming the not so good in your life.  Often you have to address the not so good before you can move on to the good.  Some of the hardest parts of the bad is talking about it with others and admitting your struggle, or talking about what’s bothering you, or how the other person hurt you (intentional or not).

The better you become at communicating the hard stuff the healthier your life can be, and the better overall your communication can be.  Because once you’ve learned how to communicate through the tough stuff, it’s much easier to talk about anything including the joys in life and your healthy habits and preferences.  Starting the conversation though can be challenging.  You may want to start the conversation with an impartial person like a pastor, coach, counselor or other advisor.  Talking through it with them can give you a chance to do any venting and get feedback on how to communicate your struggle to those who matter most to you (or those who matter in that situation), as well as important next steps to try to work through the struggle.  If that’s not possible and you’re really concerned about how the conversation might go, as a friend or more impartial family member to sit in on the conversation.

Ignoring it won’t make it go away typically, it usually makes things worse or allows them to compile.  There’s no reason for things to come to the point of blowing up in your face or becoming so overwhelmed that the rest of your life suffers.  Choosing honesty even when it is challenging or makes you not look so great is important to having healthy relationships and a healthy future.  The sooner you start communicating about the tough stuff, and agreeing with all involved parties to communicate when the challenges come up, the easier it will be to work through them and get back to or on to living a great life.  Make it a point today to have a tough conversation with someone, don’t put it off again until tomorrow.

Asking A Better Question

As business owners one of the best ways to have a breakthrough in our business or with a client is to ask the right questions.  It’s not always easy to know what questions to ask, and sometimes we think we’re asking the right question only to keep getting frustrated because it turns out that we’re not asking the right question.  So today I’ve got a whole bunch of questions that may be new to you that you could try when you get stuck with an issue.  Some are questions you an ask to someone else, others are those you can use in your own thought processes.

What should questions do?

They should empower, challenge assumptions, re-frame issues, stretch the person/people asking, and encourage breakthrough thinking.

Question Disclaimers:

Sometimes you’ll get an answer you weren’t expecting or wanting to hear.  Sometimes you’ll need to ask another question to get deeper into the heart of the matter.  Sometimes a vague question is good, other times you want to be specific.  Not everyone can give you an instant answer, don’t be afraid to wait for the answer (unless you’re looking for that first impression). You expect a response when you ask a question, and those who are giving the answer expect to be given some kind of feedback on their answer.  Sometimes ‘I don’t know’ is the answer you get.

Let’s talk about some questions to ask yourself to ask the right question:

Do I need a factually correct answer?

Do I need an expert opinion?

Do I need a well-reasoned judgment?

Do I want the truth or the answer they think I want to hear?

Is yes/no sufficient, or do I want more?

Do I really want an answer?

And now some questions you might try:

What’s the RONI — the Risk of Not Investing?

When did you last do something fun?

What can I do to help you?

Do I want to add value?

Do your core values make business sense?

What do you stand for?

Who do you serve?

What is your competitor’s plan to win?

Is it helping?

What is the one thing you have postponed changing about yourself? Are you prepared to make that change now?

Are you a good friend who keeps your word all the time?

Would you offer a good friend much needed (uninvited) advice when you can see he/she is headed for disaster, or remain silent?

Are you open to receiving uninvited counsel from a good friend if the situation were reversed?

Is it more important for you to win the power game or to know the truth?

What is more important to you – wealth or love? (No, you can’t have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Have you explored your creativity to your satisfaction?

What do you need to stop?

Do you dismiss your creative ideas based on financial thinking or lack of time?

Which would you prefer: Losing your creative energy and spark or gaining more free time in your life? (No, you cannot have both so far as this question is concerned.)

Can you actually name a creative project or dream that you would like to pursue now?

What do you notice about the reasons for your success?

What are you trying to accomplish?

How are you being helpful to your team?

What are you doing that hurts your team? (Insert customers, employees, manager, yourself, or organization?)

What’s working for you?

What could be better?

What matters most to your customers? (Insert you, team, employees, manager, or leaders?)

What are the most impactful things you do?

If things were going perfectly, what would it look like?

How does this support the company’s mission, goals and projected success?

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned along the way?

If all jobs paid the same, what would you be doing?

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

What does my (audience/customer/employee/partner/teammate) need to hear from me?

What kind of leader am I?

Do you know what I see in you?

How could we do that differently?

What are people concerned about, but no one says?

Did I help someone else succeed today?

What do we want to sustain?

What questions would you add to this list that have helped you in the past?

First Impressions Count

It’s back to school time so today I’m thinking about something that many of the students are thinking about: making a good first impression.  Many business owners only get one chance to make a good first impression because their first impression was bad or unremarkable.  In these cases if a second or third impression opportunity comes along the business owner has a very difficult job of overcoming the negative impression the people had and showing them that they do deserve their attention.  Many people won’t give them a second opportunity because there are other options out there for just about everything.  With as challenging as it is to convert people into being customers, it’s important to make sure you do the best you can for your first impression.  Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to make a good first impression.

Get the details right.  When people visit your website they expect the information there is accurate.  When people call in they expect to be told the correct thing.  When people give their name they expect for it to be said back to them correctly (I’m talking about a Bob/John difference, not accents, inflections or languages).  Don’t be ashamed to take notes.  Don’t be afraid to hire someone to make sure all the details (especially dates) are kept up to date.  Don’t be afraid of making changes because it means things have to be updated.

Look good.  First impressions often have to do with how things appear, whether we’re talking the physical or virtual world.  If you have a website that looks like it was made in 1990 people will assume your business isn’t relevant to them in 2016 (unless you deal in 1990’s stuff).  If you or your team are sloppily dressed and don’t clean up the mess around the store, people notice and assume that the products or services you provide might be contaminated or aren’t that great.  No, you don’t have to spend thousands on appearances, but current, neat and tidy are the minimum.

Communication counts.  How and if you communicate is also key to creating a great first impression.  If you know you’ll be dealing with multiple cultures and languages do your best to understand the cultures and offer translations or interpreters to make it easier to do business with you.  While some would say the first hours (minutes even!?) after are the only appropriate time to respond, I say make sure to respond to all inquiries and orders within 24 hours.  Take courses on how to become a better communicator (everyone can improve).  Always try to provide a helpful (not pacifying) response, and do your very best to provide real answers and solutions to questions and issues.

These may seem simple but how your business deals with them says something very important about your business: do you care?  How you show up is a great indicator of how you and your team feel about the business and your customers.  It shows whether you care about what you’re selling and about the people buying.  What does your first impression say about you?

Connecting and Communicating

We’re all in relationships whether we want to be or not.  And I’m not just talking about a relationship in the way that you think of a (married) couple or parent/child, because I believe that we are all in relationships with everyone around us.  The dictionary defines relationship as “a connection, association, or involvement.”  So technically every interaction you have with someone is creating a relationship and either builds on that relationship or works on tearing it down.  The interactions and relationships you have also create people’s opinions of you.  So your interaction with someone else may not only build or destroy the relationship you’re in with them, but it may build or damage the relationship with someone else who sees that interaction. For example consider the child crying at the food store and their parent yelling at them.  That’s not helping build the relationship between parent and child, and it most likely isn’t building your opinion of that parent (and maybe not of the child either) or your willingness to enter into a close relationship with that parent or child.

One of the biggest things that helps or hurts a relationship is our ability to communicate.  Some people use their words to intentionally hurt others or damage relationships.  Some people aren’t aware that they’re a bad communicator, refuse to hear when others ask for clarification or do better at communicating than saying just “I hate you” or “you hate me.”   So part one of communication includes the words you use, how you talk to people, and even if you truly talk to people.  The second part of communication is communicating in such a way to help others to understand how we see things, our confusion, our desires, what we’re looking for, or our plans.  Often we’re so set in seeing things in our own way that we can forget that others don’t see things in the way that we do, or speak the same language (sometimes even literally) as we do.  A typical example is the couple who has been fighting so long over who is “right” that they haven’t talked about the actual issues, or tried to help each other understand how they’re feeling, what they’re missing and what they’re struggling with, or even what the issue is in the first place.  I don’t believe that being “right” should be the goal, the goal should be to build a stronger relationship, and that can only happen if you communicate and understand where the other person is coming from.

Sharing Freedom through Hope

Every day we do a thousand things that could either hurt or help ourselves and others.  We make tons of decisions about our lives and the lives of the other people we interact with.  Sometimes they’re really good decisions, sometimes they’re lucky decisions, sometimes they’re selfish decisions, sometimes they’re selfless decisions, sometimes they’re lazy decisions, sometimes they’re rushed decisions and sometimes they’re thoughtless decisions.  It’s always my goal to make one more thoughtful and selfless decision each day, but I’m not perfect and don’t expect that I’ll make all perfect decisions anytime in the near future (and sidenote: sometimes the best decision you can make is a selfish one).

So what if, instead of trying for the impossibility of perfect, we focused more on doing one more thing that could positively change the world?  What if instead of letting that insensitive thought fly out of our mouths, instead we looked for the words that would heal or free someone?  What if instead of playing the victim card you turned it around and became the victor?  What if instead of trying to get revenge on someone for the way they hurt you, instead you went on to encourage someone else?  What if instead of looking for ways that you can be king or queen, you looked for ways to make a difference instead?  What if instead of trying to always be center stage, you let someone else shine?  What if you took the spotlight off your life and you looked for ways that you could make one person’s day a little brighter?

Today I encourage you to choose the gifts of encouragement, hope, reassurance and shared strength.  Let people know that the whole world has not gone to pot and that there are still caring people here.  Let the world know that each person matters, as an individual and a human being.  Let people know that they are not forgotten.   Finally, let someone know that their life is not over and they can still find purpose and fulfillment and live their life however they choose.  Who will you encourage today?

“Is there somebody in your life whom by a word or an action you can help to unbind, help to set free? Give them hope. For that is God’s gift to each one of us. Give that gift to another today.”  Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Reality of Reviews

This week I’ve been thinking about a topic that is an issue for all business owners at some point in time or another: negative reviews.   Most of us have more than one customer throughout the lifetime of our business, so we have to be aware of how our business is seen by others.  The internet does good and bad things for us as just about every person goes online to check out businesses they may want to work with and products they’re considering before buying or striking up a conversation.  Whether company websites, review and group sites or social media, there are lots of ways that potential customers can find us and find out about us. So what happens when a customer has an interaction with us that for whatever reason doesn’t go the way they want it to?  They find a way to make their dissatisfaction known of course.

So what can we do about negative reviews?  The answer to this is not to eliminate the ability of customers to leave reviews, because unless you’re a bad business the reviews will largely be good and we need the good reviews to encourage potential customers to buy.  The answer is also not to bribe those who write negative reviews to remove them.  And, the answer is not to leave a scathing reply to their negative review because that just adds fuel to the fire.

First I think we need to understand the customer a bit and release some of the pressure from us.  Not all negative reviews are your/your business’s fault.  Sometimes people are having a bad day and find things to complain about, and you just get lucky that they picked you.  Second, some people who should have never purchased from you leave a negative review because they were unhappy with something they never would have been happy with.  And you have no control over the weather so as long as you do all things within your power when you have interaction with weather as part of your business, there’s nothing else you can do.

Second, know that negative reviews can be good because most of them point out an area of your business that you could improve.  But, they’re only helpful if you actually do something about it (and positive reviews after those negative reviews should indicate improvements).  Negative reviews do compile and do stick around so you want to make sure to address things you should address quickly, which means you need to keep an eye on your reviews.

Third, don’t take negative reviews too personally.  Yes, they hurt.  It’s not fun to have our businesses bashed, and sometimes the negative words are actually accurate.  But if you take all negative reviews super personally you’ll never have the attitude or strength to keep your business growing and thriving.

Finally, let’s talk about how you can respond to negative reviews.  First and foremost you should do everything in your power to resolve situations before anything gets posted online.  Some people prefer to just shout their displeasure to the world regardless of all efforts you make to communicate with them beforehand, and you can’t do anything about that.  Second, depending on the situation the right thing may be to reach out to the unhappy customer and try to resolve things.  This doesn’t work in every case and isn’t always recommended.  Third, do your best to get lots of good publicity so that it’s clear that the negative reviews aren’t representative of the majority of your customers.  This means having active social accounts, doing local newspaper interviews, contributing to local events and being an active part of relevant online groups and communities.

What are your thoughts about negative reviews?