Lucky's Blog

Friday, November 21, 2014

Inspect What You Expect

Ok, so yes, this an old saying that has been heard thousands of times. However, it is astonishing how few people really follow the wisdom. There is a reason that old clichés stick around for so long. They are very true!

Over the years I have seen many examples of companies that have built a great process around the execution of the tasks within their businesses. At the same time, I have seen them fall by the way side and close their doors. Most of the time, it comes down to simply not inspecting the team to ensure that the processes are being followed.

Recently, I had a similar situation I was dealing with that really drives this point home. I was talking with Bob and he was explaining to me how he continues to have issues in the field with his team. He had over a dozen “at fault” accidents, in company vehicles that were costing him a fortune since his company is self-insured up to 100K.

Bob was befuddled because he spent so much time training his team on how to be safe drivers. He had all driving team members take a defensive driving course, he prepared his own safe driving course, and had monthly meetings where he reiterated the teachings and importance of safe driving. Despite his continued focus, the accidents kept piling up. None were major accidents, just minor rear end bumps, but enough to cause damage to both vehicles.

Bob knew the problem was that his team members were distracted, more than likely by smart phones and tablets. But he had made it clear that they should pull over and stop before looking at any emails or answering their phones, regardless of whether or not they had Bluetooth. However, it was obvious his instructions were not being followed.

I asked Bob if his team had a record of not following directions. To which he replied,” No!” So we started going through his records. It was amazing all the process that Bob had built for his team. He had very structured protocol for how each team member was to fill out paper work, safety documentation, invoicing, even how they interacted with the customer. It was as if I had built the structure myself. However, once we started reviewing the documentation, it became apparent that none of the process he spent so much time building was being followed by the overwhelming majority of his team members. So I asked Bob what protocols he had in place to review and inspect that his processes were being followed.  He looked at me with a dazed look on his face. I asked him if he ever does QC checks on the jobsites to ensure the required processes he had in place were being followed. Again, nothing!

Bob just lowered his head and said, “I am an idiot! I have been so focused on building the right processes to create an excellent, repeatable, experience for my customers; I forgot the most important element, to inspect what I am expecting from my team!” I explained to Bob that without the inspection process, the team doesn’t realize how important this is to you. While yes, you spend the time and money to constantly remind them in meetings how important it is, if you are not checking to ensure the processes are being followed, it sends a different message to the team.

Now Bob has instituted a QC process to ensure not only the quality of the work and the customer experience, but also for the documentation side which tells him his processes are being followed. Additionally, with the installation of a GPS tracking system, even the driving element is now monitored. These changes have made a huge difference in the effectiveness of his team, as well as shown improvement to the bottom line. The fact is that when inspecting what you expect from your team, you are sending a clear and concise message that nothing less will be tolerated. ‘Buy in’ is a must!

While everyone wants to have the company that provides a level of excellence that blows the customer away, without a solid QC and inspection process, failure is the only thing you can truly expect.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I am raising money to help the Arthritis Foundation. Please consider giving to this great organization by clicking on my team page and making a donation. We only have 46 days left before the big race day. Thanks to everyone in advance for your generosity and support.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Being The Best

Those who know me already know that I have an almost sick obsession with being the best at everything I do. I guess it is my competitive nature that drives this behavior. It is a hard line to walk between my desire for being the best in every aspect of my life, but also having the serenity to know that it is never obtainable.

As I have mentioned in previous articles, I wake up every day with a laser focus on being the best. I ask myself every morning, what I can do today to be better than I was yesterday; as a leader, a husband, a father,  or as a solution for my valued customers, etc...
I have always lived under the principle that if you provide a superior service at a fair price, you will always remain busy. So far that principle has served me well (knock on wood). However, this article isn’t about me and my relentless pursuit of perfection. This article is about focusing on being the best at what you do, no matter your station in your life.

On the business side it doesn’t matter what your role is in an organization. If you draw a paycheck then you are an important member of the team. It should always be your main focus to be the best you can be at that position. If you are digging a ditch, then you should focus on being the very best ditch digger. This is the true measure of a person’s character. I have spent my entire career focused on being the best team member I could be and focused on making the company the most money I could, regardless of what tasks I was given. This is the best advice I could ever give anyone. If you focus on the success of your team, rather than on your own selfish needs, you will always be in demand and rarely need to worry about money or keeping your job. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well’.”

It has always been strange to me that many people look past the receptionist at the front desk, or the janitor that sweeps the halls. Their role is every bit as important, if not more so, than that of the CEO.

Let’s look at the receptionist for example. When someone enters a business, the receptionist is the first person they meet. If they call the office, they are the first person to whom they speak. Have you ever heard of first impressions? How well the receptionist does their job, how clean they keep their desk, and how warm and welcoming they are, will definitely have an effect on your customer’s impression of your business. If first impressions are so important, then in turn so is the receptionist.

The same holds true for the janitor. Can you imagine what the place would look like if you didn’t have someone who cleaned up the place and kept it looking like a professional work place?

I bring these positions up because many times people take them for granted. In fact many times we take other very important people in our organization for granted. It makes it very difficult for a team member to put passion and desire into their job, if they feel they are being taken for granted. Always remember that every team member is important and has their role to play in the success of the business.

With all that said, how do we become the very best? Well you can’t! Remember, that is how I started this article. You have to understand that being the best isn’t really a goal, it is a desire. However you should strive to achieve perfection with every fiber of your being.

The difference between being ordinary and world class is often only one second. If you think about it for a minute you will begin to understand what I am saying. In most cases the difference between a gold medal winner in the Olympics and the person who came in dead last is less than a second. So these athletes train day after day, night after night, to gain that second over their competition.

If you want to be the best, then you also need to have that passion and work ethic. You have to want it more than you want to take your next breath. You need to dedicate your time and efforts to being the best. This means training, practicing, and conditioning day after day, night after night, to gain the one second on your competition. This is the portrait of a winner and it doesn’t matter what you do, you can be better at it; and people will notice. Good luck and train on!

Friday, May 2, 2014

What Makes You Different

What Makes You Different
One of the best questions you can ask yourself in business is; what makes you different? It really doesn't matter whether we are talking about your business, or your position within a business. I have been asked many times to help people with their business, or with their career, and this is always the first question I ask them. Rarely do I get a cogent answer.

The most common answer is “our company provides the best quality”, or “I work harder than my peers”. While all that may be true, it usually isn't a true differentiator. Just about every business thinks they are different, better, faster, or offer a greater value. The truth though, is that most people cannot articulate what makes them different, better, faster, or why their offer provides a greater value. Whether you are an employee or a business owner, you need to ask yourself this question and give it some serious thought. If you cannot identify specific metrics that truly separate you from the competition, then you are going to have a hard time convincing your customers, or boss, that you are the better choice.

If we take a look at some examples I think my point may become clear about how to differentiate you, even in a saturated market. In previous articles I have used the comparison of Best Buy versus Wal-Mart. I don’t mean to rehash the same point, but I can’t think of a better example when it comes to two completely different experiences within the same market. So for my faithful followers, here I go again.

Wal-Mart is a great company who provides a valuable service to a diverse set of demographics. If you want to but a product and be sure that you are paying near the lowest price possible, then Wal-Mart is the place for you. They have massive superstores now that have everything from furniture to tonight’s dinner. However, it will usually be hard to find a parking space anywhere near the store, it will be very crowded, and chances are you will not get a sales person who has a great deal of knowledge about the products you are considering for purchase. Once you find the product you want, it will take some time to find someone to pull it from the back for you, and if you are lucky, they will help you get it to your car. This works great for the frugal buyer who has no problem getting and loading their own products and already knows what they want. It is especially a great venue for the buyer who spends weeks looking up information on the internet deciding what the best product for their needs is and requires little to no input from a sales person.

Best Buy has a whole different model. They pay their employees no commission, and make sure that they are very well trained on all the products they carry. They have wide open spaces with great selections to choose from, and a salesperson will spend as much time as you need answering questions and making sure you are paired with the proper product. They will gladly load that product into your vehicle, and even send someone to your house to set it up for you if you desire.

So there you have it, two completely different experiences, in the same retail environment. One is not better than the other, just different. Each one caters to a different type of client. If you were to ask Wal-Mart what makes them different, they would more than likely respond, ‘great value and low prices’, and they would be correct. If you were to ask Best Buy what makes them different, they would more than likely respond with ‘great selection and exceptional customer service’, and they too would be correct.

So when you analyze yourself or your business, ask yourself what makes me/us different? For me, at my office, we have designed innovative ways to enhance the customer experience. We have used technology to become more efficient and speed up the service process for our customers. We have also designed a system to ensure the highest possible quality for every job, every time. If that wasn’t enough we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure that we have some of the best trained team members in the industry. While I am not going to reveal all the details, since this is our competitive advantage, be sure that they are a part of our marketing package when approaching new customers.

So what makes you different? What can you do that nobody else can do? If you don’t have that answer, get it! As the economy begins to recover, the companies and employees that truly set themselves apart will have an enormous advantage. You need to identify who is your perfect customer and how can you serve them better than anyone else? If you are an employee, ask yourself what internal need can I fill and be better than anyone else at performing? Once you have identified these things you need to plan and develop internal processes that will set you apart from everyone else. Whether it is focusing on a specific type of customer, service, or job duty, find something that you can do that no one else is offering or can’t offer, and then make that your sole focus. Saying you are better or faster is easy, actually being able to prove it is a whole different situation. So hurry up and develop what truly makes you different than your competition!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Three Men & A Hotel

Ok,  so yesterday a friend of mine came to me with this riddle. I am not usually someone who posts riddles, but this one really took me a while to figure out. I even looked online and couldn't find a acceptable answer. So here is how it goes;

Three men check into a hotel. The night clerk tells them it will be 30 dollars for the night. Since they are all sharing a room, they decide to split the bill, each paying 10 dollars. The men then proceed to their room. The night clerk realizes that he gave them the wrong rate. It should have been 25 dollars for the night. So the night clerk gives the bell hop five dollars and tells him to return it to the men.  On the way to the room the bell hop cannot figure out how to divide the five dollars between the three men, so he decides to give each of them one dollar and keep two dollars for himself. So each man only spent 9 dollars. So if 9 dollars X three men = 27 ( 9X3=27 ), and the boy kept two dollars for himself, then where did the other dollar go? 27+2=29

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Toll Plaza

In many other articles I have mentioned about how important it is to act professional at all times. Since you never know where your next customer may come from, you don’t ever want to get caught behaving inappropriately. Below is a story that illustrates my point. While this story is a little long it is well worth the read and may even make you chuckle a little bit. The names have been changed to protect the (and not so) innocent...LOL

Rocky was a great electrician and was always considered one of the top guys at Electric Co. where he worked. While Rocky enjoyed working at Electric Co., he always wanted to have his own business. He spent tireless nights and weekends studying for his master’s test and after more than a year of giving up all of his free time to achieve this goal, he finally passed his master’s exam. He was finally qualified to contract electrical work on his own.

Rocky turned in his notice to Electric Co. and ventured down the entrepreneurial road. He spent several years struggling with the business end. Since he had only worked as an electrician, he wasn’t ready for all the stresses and demands that come with owning your own business. However, thanks to the help of some really great mentors he was able to institute a strong financial and operations structure and started having some success.

Over the next year he was making decent money on small contracts and service work. However he hadn’t had that big break through job yet. He knew that at some point it would come along and would forever change his company. Finally one day, after many months of marketing to the better companies, he got his big break. Pinnacle Construction invited him to bid on a large $30-Million-Dollar project for which they had already won the contract. Well at least in his mind a $30-Million-Dollar project was huge!

Pinnacle Construction was a very reputable general contractor. They were known for building relationships and they were not only interested in who had the lowest price, they were interested in the best value and working with subcontractors that understood what relationships are all about. This would be a perfect fit for Rocky’s company, since he had built a ‘quality first’ minded company and was more interested in providing quality than quantity.

Rocky spent the next week estimating this project night and day. He took the time to really understand the overall design, and had come up with many ‘value engineered’ ideas that he knew the customer would love, and he hoped would give him a competitive edge. Rocky called Mr. Thornton, who was the lead for this project, and asked to set up a meeting for him to hand deliver his proposal and a short presentation of who he was and some money saving ideas he had for the project. Mr. Thornton agreed and they set a time up for 9:00am on Friday morning.

Over the next few days Rocky was so excited that he couldn’t sleep. In his head, he ran over and over his presentation a thousand times, and Friday couldn’t come fast enough. Rocky woke up on Friday morning and got ready for his meeting. He took extra time to make sure that he was groomed to the nines and put on his best suit. Rocky was diligent in every detail. He made sure his shoes had a high shine and his tie was straight with a perfectly tied Windsor knot. He put on his Rolex watch and was ready for the meeting that would take his business to the next level and forever change his life.

Rocky knew his meeting wasn’t until 9:00 am but he left an hour early. Rocky always wanted to make sure he was punctual, so it was a habit of his to get to the place early then park nearby and prepare.

As he headed out, he noticed that traffic was quite heavy that morning, much heavier than he had ever seen it in the past. Oh well, he said to himself, that is why I leave early, right? As he continued on, he merged onto the local turnpike. It was gridlock! Rocky then turn on the radio to see if he could get any information on why the traffic was so atrocious. Then, he heard the announcer say that the President was in town today and many roads would be closed.

Rocky shouted at himself, “you idiot! The most important meeting of your life and you didn’t even watch the news last night which could have helped you avoid this mess”. Rocky started to panic. The time was flying by and 9:00am was fast approaching. He kept jumping on and off the turnpike trying back roads, but it was no use, the traffic was horrible.

Finally, back on the turnpike, things were starting to move a little quicker. He could see the toll booth up ahead and knew his exit was soon after that toll. As he approached the toll, he noticed a red sports car pull out from many cars back and shoot up the merge lane to try and avoid traffic. Rocky was furious. He thought to himself, who does this idiot think they are? Why are they so much more important than everyone else? As the little red sports car approached they put their blinker on to try and merge back in, right in front of Rocky and right before the toll. Rocky quickly closed the gap and blew his horn, making a gesture with his thumb, as if to say ‘back of the line’.

The man in the red sports car rolled down his window and started waving at Rocky to let him in. Rocky was increasingly frustrated. Rocky rolled down his window and exposed his middle finger at the guy in the red sports car and continued to yell obscenities at him. The man became hostile and was screaming what is your problem?

Eventually Rocky was successful at keeping the man with his fancy sports car behind him as he went through the toll. Meanwhile he could see in his rearview mirror that the man in the red sports cars was waving his arm around and still visually upset with Rocky. As Rocky came up to his exit, the man in the red car also exited. Rocky thought to himself, ok lets rock! This idiot is following me and he is going to get his. However as they came up to the intersection the red car went one way and Rocky went the other.

At this point Rocky still had about 15 minutes until his big meeting. So he decided to pull into the local gas station, compose himself and prepare for the meeting. As 9:00am neared, Rocky decided to head on over to Pinnacle’s office building. He pulled in to a parking space and headed into the building. It was a beautiful building with a very nice reception area. Rocky thought to himself, this is the first step to me have a place like this for my business. He walked up to the receptionist and told her who he was and that he was there for a meeting with Mr. Thornton. She asked him to take a seat and she would let him know Rocky was there.

As Rocky waited, he was running though the presentation one last time in his head. Suddenly he heard a man’s voice. “So it’s you” said the booming voice. Rocky looked up and his heart fell to the floor. For standing there in front of him was the man from the little red sports car.

 “Mr. Thornton I presume?” stuttered Rocky.

“Why yes I am, and I have no interest in moving forward with this meeting. We at Pinnacle Construction only deal with professionals, and your behavior earlier was anything but professional. Good day sir”, said Mr. Thornton, and he turned and walked away.

This is a true story. I have kept the real names out of this story out of respect for those involved. While it may not be the norm, it clearly shows why you need to always be on your best behavior. As I have stated before you are always on stage and you are always being judged. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You Gotta Wanit!

Yesterday a colleague and I were discussing internal training and processes and the effect we were having on our internal team. While the overall effect has been very positive, we were trying to figure out a way to reach more of our team and help them better understand and become more engaged during the monthly training sessions. You see, every month we bring in all of our field team members, across all of our offices, and we go through internal training on how we can get better with both, technical training and customer service training. This is to help to continue improvement in our efficiency, technical acumen, and providing our customers with the best possible experience in a uniformed and congruent fashion.

Our technicians have become very engaging and help make each training session better, by giving their input and feedback on what they are hearing in the field on the front lines. However, we have not been completely successful, since there always seems to be a few team members that are not fully engaged. That isn’t to say that they are not listening, or learning, just that they are not as engaged as some of their teammates.

It was at this point, that my colleague told me a story he had heard from back in his college days. It went something like this:

At a very well known and high level college campus, the members of the board were meeting to discuss how to attract more students to their college. They decided they were going to send out a survey to existing graduates to find out what they remembered from when they attended the college. The Board’s idea being that they would then take pictures from around the college campus based on the responses and memories of the alumni and then put them into their next year’s marketing campaign.

The results puzzled them. It seemed that the majority of responses they received, in fact more than 70%, were just the simple line, “You Gotta Wanit”. What did this mean? What are they trying to tell us? It seemed the biggest impact on the alumni was a single phrase. But where did it come from?

As it turns out that, Jeremy, the janitor for the college, would go through each class cleaning overnight and once he was done, he would write on the blackboard, “You Gotta Wanit”. (Just the way it sounds with all of the grammatical errors.) You see, Jeremy was working on going back to school to better himself, and he used this practice as a way to let every student know that you have to want it, if you are going to achieve anything in life. All the money and the best instructors in the world can’t help you, if you don’t want to learn.

Who would have guessed that with all the world class professors at this college, the person who would have the most impact on the student body was a janitor named Jeremy? It just goes to show, you never know what is going to have a huge impact on another person.

My collegue and I had a good laugh about the story, but then we also had a moment of silence. We both realized at the same time, that no matter how much we dedicate to training, and no matter how dynamic the class sessions are, it will have no effect if someone doesn’t want it to affect them. We decided that there are different type’s people who react differently to different things. So we will continue to improve the trainings, and do our best to provide interactive, fun, learning sessions and we will just hope that in the end --they will Wanit!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Indecisive Squirrel

A story about the consequences of being dubious:

Colby was a small squirrel who lived in the city. He was born in the city but spent most his time growing up in the park. However, as Colby got older he continued to push his way towards the outermost reaches of the park. One day while sitting up in a tree, Colby heard this loud clattering noise. He climbed to the highest perch in the tree and stood in udder amazement.  He saw large buildings, people rushing around and cars speeding up and down the streets. Colby’s curious side took over and he decided he had to get a closer look. Colby crawled to the parks edge and sat on the edge of the sidewalk looking at all of the cars zooming up and down the road. Colby knew he was very fast and figured he could make it across the multiple lanes of traffic as long as he chose the right moment. He waited for just the right time and then sprinted across the street. Suddenly, a giant semi-truck appeared out of nowhere and Colby froze in fear. Colby panicked and started to scramble left then right. He couldn’t make up his mind whether he should head back to the park or press on to the other side of the street. The truck was speeding toward Colby, yet he kept scrambling right then left remaining in the middle lane right in the truck’s path. The truck swerved to try and miss the little squirrel, causing the truck to slam into the car to his right. But it was no use. The truck ran right over Colby ending his life.

This story has a sad ending, true. But the lesson in this story is solid. If Colby had made a decision and stuck with it, everyone would have been fine. However, Colby was so worried about which was the right decision; he essentially made no decision, which had dire consequences for all involved.

All of us have made bad decisions in our lifetime. However, the key point is that we made a decision. Don’t waste time worrying about what is the right decision or the wrong decision. Gather all of your information, weigh your options, and if you still can’t decide-- flip a coin and move on. As Dee Snyder said, “Make your choice now, for tomorrow may be far too late!”

 Once you have made your decision let it go and take comfort in knowing that you made the best decision you could at that time, knowing all the information you had at that moment. If time proves it was a bad decision, you have nothing to feel bad about. Henry Link put it best: “While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other person is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” Make your choice now, dart for the finish and never look back.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Big Deal

A true story, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Jerry was a young energetic manager who wanted to make a big splash in the business world. He worked hard and tirelessly. It was not uncommon for Jerry to work 18 or even 20 hours a day when he first got to the company to make sure he would accomplish his goals.

When Jerry first got to the company he made a list of his Top 5 Dream Clients in the area. Starting with the biggest client in the state, with a worldwide footprint, Jerry put this customer as number one for a reason. We will call this company Minnie Entertainment (ME) for the purposes of this story. If he could win this customer for the company it would change his career path. A customer of this size and notoriety would be a shot heard through the entire company and set the course for his rapid rise to the top.

Jerry focused a lot of energy doing research on what motivates this customer to buy, and who the real decision makers were. Over the next several months Jerry kept pounding the pavement and the internet to try and get a chance to meet with the decision makers at this company. One thing Jerry had on his side is that he really cared about his customers and developing real relationships with all of them. Then out of nowhere he was contacted by a local customer who knew, and was good friends with, the VP of ME. Because of all of the help and support that Jerry had given to this customer, he was willing to introduce Jerry’s company to the VP of ME and hopefully solidify all of Jerry’s efforts into what had now been over a year’s worth of prospecting and research. Jerry was so excited he couldn’t believe he was going to get a chance to meet with the VP of ME. You see Jerry grew up with this company. He had bought many of their toys and seen every movie they ever put out. As a kid he could remember the magical time he had visiting their parks and how much fun he had taking his own kids there as an adult. He dreamed of the impact he would make with ME by providing them with the excellent service and customer support he had built his reputation on thus far and couldn’t wait for the meeting.

The next day his phone rang and it was his corporate office. They had received word that Jerry had made headway with this customer and had a meeting with their VP. Jerry was very proud of himself, and boasted, just a little, about his tenacity in finally getting this meeting. In an instant corporate took over and started planning the presentation for this meeting. They told Jerry that all of their top brass would come down for this meeting and they would prepare a presentation that would blow away ME. Jerry was concerned. You see all the research he had done pointed to the fact that ME was interested in relationships and vendors that understood their needs. However, Jerry’s experience had been that the corporate marketing MO was to stand on the top of the mountain and pound their chest, ranting about how great they are. Jerry knew this approach would not go well and tried to help steer the presentation in the appropriate direction. But it was to no avail. When Jerry tried to help with the presentation he was told that his ideas were amateurish and would not fit the company’s brand. With Jerry’s back against the wall he had no other option but to take a back seat and allow the corporate office to run this meeting and hope everything turned out well in the end.

Finally the day had come. Jerry was so excited to finally see the backstage operations of ME and meet with the VP of what he considered one of the greatest companies in the world. As they were escorted into the conference room, Jerry noticed that not only was the VP there but so was every other decision maker for the entire ME operation. The VP, we will call him Jim, introduced himself and then proceeded to introduce each member of his team. When he finished the corporate brass went down the line introducing everyone on their team. Jerry was trying to keep his grin under control. He thought to himself, ‘this is amazing!’ When will we ever get a chance to have this many power decision makers around one table again? This was the chance of a lifetime and it was all because of the real relationships Jerry had built with one local customer.

Jill, one of the directors of Jerry’s corporate office started off the meeting stating that they had prepared a presentation that they would like to run through. Jim, the VP of ME told Jill to go ahead. Jill proceeded to give the presentation and as she did, she brought each member of the team in to discuss their role. Well, all the members except for Jerry. Jerry sat in awe of all the things Jill explained. Many of the things Jill was saying they could do, Jerry didn’t even know was a product or service his company provided. Finally, after 3 hours of the presentation Jill closed up the presentation.

The presentation was everything they promised. It was so much information it blew Jerry away. The presentation was very professional and very polished, as were the speakers that had traveled with Jill. However, as soon as the presentation was done, Jim stood up and said, “Well thanks for all the information. I was hoping that we could spend some time talking about what our needs are and what possible ideas or solutions you might have that could fit our current needs, but it seems we have run out of time. Thank you and good day!” And just like that all of the decision makers for ME shuffled out of the room. Jerry was crushed.

All too often when we want to try and win a new customer we spend our time talking at the person. When they are talking we are thinking of how we will respond and what we will say. As this story illustrates, many times it doesn’t matter what you have to say, but rather, can you listen? I have always tried to shut up and let others tell me what they need. If I think I can provide them what they need at an extremely high level, then we work together to find a solution. If I don’t think I can, I thank them for their time and then try to find someone that can help them. The moral behind this story is that you shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone and you shouldn’t waste time talking about yourself. Chances are most people have already done research on your company if they have agreed to meet with you and they are fully aware of the services or products you provide. Most of the time the best thing you can do, is shut up, listen, and then genuinely try to help everyone you meet. Only time will reveal who the customer is and how they will be presented to you. Then it is up to you to shut up and listen to that customer.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Don’t Lose You’re A$$

Some time ago I heard this story from one of my supervisors and it has stuck with me through the years. It goes like this:
A long time ago there was an old man, his grandson, and a donkey. It just so happened that the child’s parents had perished when he was just a baby and his grandfather had been raising him since that tragedy. The old man was very poor and they would spend their years together traveling from town to town trying to find work for the old man to feed and clothe the two of them and feed their pet.

One day as they were traveling through the country, they came up on a large town. As they approached the town the old man was walking the donkey with his grandchild atop the mule. Just as they entered the town they could hear the town folk scoffing at them.” Can you believe that kid? He is making that old man walk while he sits comfortably atop the mule. He has no respect for the elderly.”

The young boy jumped off the donkey and told his grandfather to get up on the mule and he would walk through the town guiding the donkey. They got a little further down the street and they could hear the peoples disparaging remarks. “Can you believe that old man sitting atop that mule, while the poor boy is forced to walk? How can he live with himself? That poor boy must be exhausted!”

The grandfather decided to pull the boy up with him and they would ride together. “Now that should take care of everything”, the old man thought. However, just a few more blocks and the contemptuous taunting continued. “Wow, can you believe those two? That poor mule must be ready to keel over with all that weight he is carrying. They should be turned in for animal cruelty. “

At this point the man and the child decided they would both get down and walk. “There”, said the old man, “now we are all walking that should appease everyone.” But alas, the vituperation continued. “Look at those two idiots exclaimed one man. They are walking next to a perfectly good mule, what a waste!”

Completely out of ideas the two stopped and started discussing how to approach this dilemma. The two tried brainstorming and were sure they could come up with a solution to stop these verbal attacks. As the two continued to ponder over a solution the mule wondered off, slipped into a steep sided pond and drowned. What is the moral of this story? If you try to please everyone you will end up losing your…..A$$.

Over the years I have talked with many people whose singular goal is to make everyone happy, one hundred percent of the time. The problem with that is that every one’s perceptions are different. You never know what someone else’s idea of value or quality is, and therefore it is hard to please everyone. While this should be everyone’s goal, you have to understand your business’s limitations. You should never base your internal structure, purpose, or mission on what others think. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t listen to criticism. However, you need to understand your objectives and your limitations. You should try to offer your customers the best product or service you can provide and have the wisdom to know what doesn’t fit your business. In the end you will be able to make almost everyone happy and you won’t lose your……..A$$.

Friday, January 24, 2014

That’s The Way We Have Always Done It!

I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It is definitely a little long for a blog post. However, there is a good lesson within this story, and well worth the read. Hope you enjoy! 

A story about change:
The other day I was a helping a customer with some ideas on how to improve their customer service. The owner had many complaints from his customers about rude behavior from his staff and being treated poorly from the moment they walked into their establishment. The owner said he was dedicated to making every customer feel special. However, it was getting lost somehow in translation from him to his staff. We talked on the phone and agreed to meet at his establishment.

When I arrived, I walked in the door and was completely ignored for about 30 minutes. Now if I was in a hundred thousand square foot facility, maybe I could understand this treatment, maybe, but probably not. However, I was actually standing in an establishment that was considerably smaller. In fact, when I walked in I could see all corners of the store, as well as all six employees standing around as if they had nothing to do.

I approached one of the employees and asked them if the owner was available to speak with me. The woman rolled her eyes and walked away. I stood there completely perplexed. Was she going to get him? Did she just completely blow me off? I had no idea. So I waited a few moments and pretended to shop around the store. Approximately five minutes later the owner came out and introduced himself to me, “Hi you must be Lucky? We spoke on the phone my name is John.”

“Hello John”, I said. “Do you have someplace we can sit and talk privately?”

 John said sure, but wanted to give me a quick tour of his facility first. I agreed and we started on the grand tour.

John spent the next 40 minutes showing me all of the different products he had in inventory. He showed me all of the money he had spent, and how he spared no expense on the real Italian marble floors, to the travertine tiled dressing room. He was very proud of this place and it was obvious he spent a lot of time and money to establish a specific feel when someone walked into the store. He went on to tell me how he had Mary Vinotelli, a very well know interior designer in the area, hand pick each decoration and design the entire layout of the store to make sure if felt open, friendly, and upscale.

I will admit, seeing this place through his eyes, the establishment was very plush and had a certain level of panache in its motif. However, I immediately went back to my experience when I arrived. I told John, we really needed to talk in private. I appreciated the tour and he does have a magnificent establishment, but we needed to dig past the luxurious façade of the store and get to the root of his problem.

We went up into his office where he had me take a seat across the desk from him and closed the door. John took his seat on the other side of the desk and said, “So what do you want to talk about? You seem very concerned and yet you haven’t been here but a few minutes. How can you already have drawn conclusions about my store in such a short amount of time? Was it something I said?”

 I told John, “The fact is that I have been here for over an hour. I spent the first 30 minutes being completely ignored, and the next 40 minutes being lead around your store being shown the esthetics of your facility which really have nothing to do with your customer’s complaints.”

 I went on and explained my experience when I arrived with his staff, and he was outraged. He stood up from behind his desk and stormed down the stairs. As I followed him I could hear John’s booming voice demanding to speak with Sarah. It was as if he knew immediately who the person was I was speaking about.

As Sarah came out of the back stock room, John went off yelling at her. If that wasn’t bad enough he actually had customers in the store while he completely demoralized this poor girl. I jumped in and told John, “Enough! Let’s go back up stairs.” He wanted Sarah to leave and told her she was fired before I could get him up stairs.

Once we got back into his office I told him that his reaction was inexcusable. I explained that first off you don’t treat your team members like that, and second off, you never discipline a team member in front of anyone else, let alone customers. John was quickly aggravated and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. He has always been the same way with subordinates and that it has always worked. I told John, that I was there to help, but if he really believed what he said, then I would leave. John quickly calmed down and asked me what he needed to do. I explained to him that I would need to talk with his team first, and that he needed to apologize to Sarah and get her back.

John tried to talk with Sarah but she wouldn’t talk to him. She was done. He had berated her for the last time. Her response was, “With the scraps we get paid, it just isn’t worth it.” Sarah left with tears still welling up in her eyes.

Over the next few hours I spoke with each of the remaining employees. It was as if they were each reading off the same cue cards. They all had the same complaints. Low pay based on commission, no structure as far as who does what in the store, most of them never knew what hours they were supposed to work until a day or two before, and of course John’s curmudgeon attitude and temper tantrums.

Once I was done interviewing them, I headed back up to John’s office. I said, “John I have some very difficult things to say to you and you are not going to like it. But if you want to fix the issues you are having, then I suggest you take a deep breath and listen to what I have to say.” John agreed and had me go on.
I began, “First of all John, from what I have been told by your employees, you are not paying them a wage that is commensurate with their responsibilities…”

 Once again John blew up, “Awe poor things! They don’t make enough money!” John then accused me of being a tree hugging hippie and said, “I suppose you would just pay them whatever they wanted, sit in a drum circle and puff, puff, pass? No one ever thinks they make enough money.” John continued, “You know, this is not my first business. I have owned and operated over six different businesses successfully and never had this problem before. The pay I am offering them is exactly the same structure I have used in all six endeavors. If they hustle rather than sit on their butts they can make good money. But they are just too lazy!”

I stopped John and told him. “Look this isn’t my first rodeo either and I am not a pot smoking hippie. I have helped more people than you know with turning their businesses around and helping improve their overall customer experience. I know what the standard rates are for a retail business such as this, as well as the basic commission structures. And John, I am afraid you are not even in the ball park. While you may be right about your other six businesses, I can’t make that determination since I have no information on those individual operations. Things change from market to market, town to town; even things like the local demographics can greatly change how you need to compensate your employees or what causes a great customer experience. What may be a great experience for a 28-year-old woman may not be a great experience for a 65-year-old man. There is no ‘one solution’ that works for every business model. You need to do the research for that market in that town and for your type of business. Simple things like the volume of the music, or the type of music you play for that matter can have drastic results on the experience your customers will take away from their visit.”

“Hogwash!” said John. “This is the way I have been doing it successfully for decades!”

“Well, then John”, I said, “Maybe you should be called Lucky! The fact is the only thing that tells me; is that you have been doing it wrong for decades.”

As I tried to discuss with John the other issues, I kept getting the same response. “That is the way I have done if for decades.” Finally I just told him, “John stop! The reality is John, that if you are not willing to change you are not going to change the attitude of this store, even if you were to fire everyone and start with a whole new staff. You have to understand, the first step to great customer service is how you treat your team.”

 John looked at me completely befuddled. “That’s right- they- are- your- team”, I spelled out for him. “You need to understand that the experience your customers will have will come from the overall team goals and message. You need to treat your team the way you want them to treat your customers. If you are condescending to your team they will in turn be condescending to your customers. When you can’t even make a simple schedule a week ahead of time, that tells your team you don’t care, so why should they? Only once you have accepted that philosophy and implemented structure, so your team knows what their roles are and what the common goal is, do you have any chance of getting the results you desire. While there are many other things that will contribute to the overall customer experience, nothing will have the same significant results as following these basic rules. Business is all about people and it doesn’t matter which side of the counter they are on, they all want that great experience.”

John’s face was turning red. His anger had reached new heights. John exclaimed, “Who do you think you are? I brought you here to help me figure out what is wrong with my employees, and you are trying to put the whole thing on me? As if to say, that it is my entire fault? I have had enough of your Barney themed; ‘I love you- you love me’ nonsense!”

 I told John I was sorry he felt that way and that I was afraid I was not going to be able to help him and wished him a good day. While I can’t remember exactly the words he used as I left his establishment, I do remember they we very creative.

Later, when I got back to my office, I put together a package that I sent to John. In it was a check refunding him his money and a copy of Spencer Johnson’s book, Who Moved My Cheese, with a note wishing him my most sincere hopes for his success.

This story is about change. Most everyone hates change and is afraid of reaching outside of the box. However, with no great risk comes- no great reward. I am always amazed by how many people get into a bad situation and just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, only to be mystified about why things won’t get better. As Henry Ford once said, “If you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get what you always have gotten”.

As life continues to change you need to move along with it. If you stay in one place and always continue to do things the exact same way, eventually you and your business will become obsolete. Pay attention to what is happening. Try to predict where the market is heading, and make changes to compensate for the move. Stay ahead of the curve and always be an innovator. That is what Henry Ford meant by his statement. Change is the one thing that will never change, and you don’t want to get caught doing things the way you always have done them.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Communication 101, Shut Up!

This article is about communication. The number one answer when people are asked about what’s wrong with their company is: communication. How is this possible in our electronic world where everyone is always on the phone, texting, tweeting, insta-gramming, face booking (if that is a word?) and every other type of social media that exists? The answer is simple. Everyone is talking but no one is listening.
I just finished reading Dale Carnegie’s book (HTWFAIP) for the third time. In the book he talks about how important listening is when it comes to building relationships. Yes, I have posted other articles about this in the past, but this article is taking a slightly different slant. Either way this is a point that needs to be brought up over and over again. Why? Because corporate communication as a whole, is still just as bad as it has been for decades.
I know this because I am just as guilty as everyone else. Each time I read Carnegie’s book I swear I am going to work on my two major flaws. One is that I have a bad habit of interrupting people when they are talking to me. I never mean any disrespect, and I really do care about what they have to say. However, in my head, I already know where they are going and what they are going to say. So in an attempt to save time, I will interrupt them and try to answer their question before it is asked. No one can know what is in someone else’s head and it doesn’t matter if I am right or wrong about what the point was they were trying to make. If I haven’t allowed them the chance to present their point, really give them a chance to be heard, they are not going to listen to what I have to say. And even if they do, they will more than likely walk away with a feeling that I don’t really care about them. It is embarrassing to me when I catch myself doing it, and I continue to struggle with eliminating this from my bad habits list. As John Maxwell once said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know you care”. Whenever someone is interrupted and unable to complete their thought, you will have a hard time convincing them that you really care no matter how much you do for them.
The other bad habit I have is that I am always trying to fix everyone’s problems. This comes from the fact that I really do want to help them. However, many times people don’t want help. They just want someone to listen to them. In John Gray’s book Men are from Mars / Women are from Venus, he explains the difference between men wanting to fix problems and women just wanting a sympathetic ear. While I don’t agree that this is true of all men and women, I do believe that everyone, at times, just wants someone to listen to them without offering advice or direction. Again, I am ashamed to say that I have not completely corrected this flaw either. However, I have made tremendous improvement and will continue my diligence in eradicating both of these habits from my repertoire, permanently.
All too often in business we get caught up in our own schedules and the demands of our jobs. We cannot allow these distractions to affect our team. It is more important than I could ever state here that your team knows you care and that you are there to help them should they need your help. However, you cannot listen to their problems if you are talking over them. Your team cannot grow if you fix all of their problems for them. With all of this in mind, sometimes the best thing you can do as a manager to communicate is to: shut up and listen. Putting yourself in the other person’s place and fully understanding their position before you do anything, is communication 101!

Author’s Note: I have exposed some of my flaws in this article to help illustrate how important good communication is amongst your team. Please do not take the time to send me comments bashing me about these flaws, since I think I have pretty clearly explained that I know they are not acceptable. However, just like with anything, the first step to fixing a problem is identifying and admitting you have that problem.