Is It a Sign or a Test?

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of May 6th)

Every one of us will have experiences that will cause us to question the meaning of an event. Doesn’t matter if you’re an employee, or employer. It will happen. The problem for many is they want the right answer. There is a right answer — but not what you might think.

Some questions simply don’t have a correct answer. Many of these questions revolve around the idea of trying something and not having it work out. Should you have tried? Do you try again? Did something happen you couldn’t control on your end or theirs but you can’t tell which, and call or ask to find out?  An example might be that a colleague didn’t answer your email or voice message, and it happened more than once. Are they ignoring you? Are they not getting the message, or too busy at the moment? Email or call just one more time and you could be seen not as a person demonstrating professional due diligence, but as a pest.

So what is the correct answer?

There isn’t one. This is a judgment call, and the chips must fall where they may. But how you view your decision is what’s important — not the actual task.

Many people get hung up when something they worked long and hard on falls apart. You make plans, do your due diligence, prepare, and then things go awry. A client you’ve been trying to acquire for 5 years finally says, “OK send me an RFP / Request For Proposal.” You spend two weeks working on the perfect proposal. To ensure there are no typos you have it proofread by an English professor only to discover after you sent it you mistakenly put Mr. instead of Ms. throughout. Is it a test or a sign?

Some things happen completely outside of your control. You plan an event. You’ve been wondering if you should hold it at a certain venue for a long time, yet you could never get proper pricing or a workable date. Out of the blue you’re notified that all your criteria have been met. You decide to do it. The day of your event their air conditioning units fail, and it’s hot. To top it off the building is one that doesn’t allow windows to be opened. Is it a test or a sign?

As you can see,  there is no right or wrong answer. It’s all in how you look at it once the dust settles. The only correct question and answer to any of the above is this: Did you do your best — yes or no?

If you did, that’s all you can do. You can’t change the past. Kicking yourself over and over again won’t change it either. If the answer is no, then what you need to do is take measures to ensure you don’t do it again. But whether or not it’s a test or a sign is still arguable. The mistake may have been within your control — but some mistakes happen no matter how hard or diligent you are. There are situations where no amount of preparedness can satisfy all the variables.

Don’t beat yourself up. Move on. It’s called life. You win some, you lose some, but you learn from all.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

When Being Right Could Be Wrong

Today there is a trend that’s been in play for quite some time. Everyone believes they’re right even on the slimmest of reasons which in turn has morphed into either defending that view verbally or worse in some form of mortal combat. Reasoning for many has gone out the window. Not anywhere has this been demonstrated of late than when we see scream-fests, out right assaults, and more at restaurants. Why? I suggest it’s because everyone thinks they are right, and they can point to some slogan or fine print that either bolsters their defense or believe it doesn’t apply to them.

Remember when “The customer is always right” was the slogan of the retail trade? However retailers found as time rolled on the out of the ordinary simple requests for returns or unsatisfied customers had morphed into scenes of customers berating store management with profanity laden attacks to get their way. Most retailers found it was not worth the aggravation and just agreed to what ever the demands as to make it go away. Problem was not only did it not go away, but it taught and emboldened more on exactly what to do. Retails solution? Put a dis-empowered employee and instruct them while they’re being berated just point to the fine print and repeatedly state “There’s nothing I can do. Our policy is written right here.” (I can hear the escalation from here.)

The real problem for both retailers and customers is everyone is now lumped into the same dumpster. Most retailers policies and employee cultures are viewing every customer as a problem. You can see it for yourself when dealing with most establishments of any size. The front line workers give you the vibe that their job would go so much more smoothly if it wasn’t for customers. You can almost hear through their eyes “Can’t you see I’m texting, Sheeesh!” Many customers on the other hand now look at any policy of returns or promises of satisfaction as a way to exploit the rules to either enhance a purchase, or get something for nothing.

The problem developing is for the legitimate claims or refusals from both. The ones that truly do have an issue that might fall outside of the norm but can and should be handled with both sides feeling as if their demands were reasonable and fulfilled to the best of each others satisfaction. This will only happen once retailers understand that they need to empower front line employees with the ability to fix customer complaints or requests by using their judgement based on what is good for the company and the customer. Not simply calling someone a “manager” then making them call 47 “Executive V.P.’s” to get authorization to use the restroom.

A case in point happened in Texas this week. A family dined at a local restaurant where the policy for a group more than 8 would have a 17% gratuity added to their bill. This is an acceptable and legitimate charge for a restaurant (Before you start yelling and sending me emails read my thoughts and why here first.) as long as it’s stated on the menu. And you know we’ve all seen them ourselves. This protects the servers from cheap skates leaving $2 dollars for a party of 15 just because they’re cheap. (Once again let me remind you to read my article on gratuity.)

It would seem this party had very rude and inept servers so they believed the tip should be discretionary. The restaurant didn’t agree and pointed to the menu stating it’s the house policy and rule. The restaurant is correct and the rule is a valid point, but (and it’s a big but) the party has stated repeatedly that they approached the management several times during the meal to complain about the servers. They said they were not only inept but rude in their tones in dealing with the party. If that bears out to be factual, then they have every right to not leave any gratuity. A built-in tip comes with the inferred reasoning of satisfactory service. Not over and above, you can add more yourself if that’s the case. But it’s not for just service of any type. Bad service is not guaranteed anything but scorn in my book. So how did the restaurant deal with this debacle?

It seems not only did they not even change the servers, or discount anything. But when the patrons refused to pay the gratuity the restaurant locked the doors and called the police! This type of behavior usually comes from employees who also feel they are not empowered and feel embolden themselves that to prove they are right they’ll escalate because after all, the fine print is on their side.

Just how far this pendulum swings before righting itself is anyone’s guess. But I believe the first place to start is with empowering front line staff with the power to make decisions based on sound judgement then the ability to execute them. They can later justify their reasoning or be trained to handle them differently during debriefing with proper tools and techniques. Not by being instructed only to point to the fine print.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr

The S.O.S. You Should Never Answer

(My column as it appeared in Upmarket magazine week of April 29th)

This statement comes from personal experience both as a salesman through CEO. When you’re the one responsible for putting together agreements worth millions of dollars at a time and more, and there are many others from employees to board members depending on your acumen and insight to secure these deals, I am here to empirically state that true growth happens when you stop answering the distress calls of your competition: Save Our Salesman!

At first blush this might seem convoluted. However trust me when I tell you that many of you from the novice salesperson to experienced managers or owners, you’ll do this more often then you’ll either admit, or worse, more than you know.

Here’s a brief example: You’ve been trying for the longest time to acquire Customer X when out of the blue you receive a call personally or from your salesperson that your competition is unable to fulfill Customer X’s order and they’re in deep need of your product or service to bail them out. It’s a weekend, holiday, or some other condition that makes you the only one with the ability to help. What you do next is not only important, but I will contend separates you from mediocrity and is critical for your own survival in business.

Your response should have the following tone: “I would be happy to, but, if I do I want your business from now on. Not some portion or 50/50 split between them and us, but all.  If that’s not agreeable to you, I’m sorry. I reserve my resources for my own customers so they aren’t put in a position such as yourself. And if the company you’re currently doing business with can’t help you, and I can. Then why exactly are you going to stay with them?” I can hear most of you gasping from here. Many of you are telling yourselves that’s just crazy. What about goodwill? What about proving ourselves by how we respond? That will tick this person off and they’ll never deal with us ever! All those statements I’ve heard, and more. And I’m here to tell you from actual experience they’re hogwash and a waste of your resources.

If you rush out and bend yourself over backwards calling in favors, going the extra 100 miles to save this customer from a dilemma without getting the continuing business as a condition for your efforts. Then all you’ve done is saved you competitors salesman from doing what you are about to do. And tomorrow, or next week, or next month they’ll continue to get the sale. Not you.

If you want to be in the business of rescuing potential customers from impending disasters when other salespeople can’t there’s nothing wrong with that, and much to gain. However if you have the means to provide the life raft or lifeline that will save a customer when your competition doesn’t, why would you feel remiss on demanding the business when they clearly are putting a customer in distress? We are talking about business here, not charity on the high seas.

Save your resources and lifeboats for your own clients so they needn’t call anyone else because you’ve proven to be there when needed because they are your customers. The customer that doesn’t give you the business after you saved them was never going to be a customer of yours to begin with.

© 2012 Mark St.Cyr