Life is full of juxtapositions like good and evil, up and down, elated and deflated and oh my, I can go on with this example forever, but the point is simple.
Just like life itself brings you the good and the bad, so will your life in business, so be prepared for the worst and bask in the triumphs of success, even small wins.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it isn’t.
I’m pretty sure my particular path has been along the lines of the “School of Hard Knocks” but I’m not complaining, mind you. And most importantly, I continue to try to figure it out as I go, and the lessons just keep on coming.
Sure, some knocks are harder than others, and some may darn near kill you or push you to the brink of giving up. But, that’s the most important lesson of all.
Because how you handle your struggles in business, or in life, is what makes all the difference.
Look, not many of us are blessed with the life of the perfectly pit-less and sweetly tainted maraschino cherry, always landing proudly on top!
If you’re like me, and not always frolicking in the fluffy whipped cream like those perfect cherries, maybe you can use some help.
So here’s what experience has taught me for how to crush those pits including some business tips you can use right now.
I collected these tidbits over 29 years (or so) career as a services business owner, and I wish I knew some of this stuff much earlier, in the big scheme of things.
As your business grows, you’re bound to run into some things that you don’t know how to handle.
Business Life is Not Always a Bowl of Cherries
The truth is, it’s easy when things are going smoothly, and there’s only nice progress going on around your business, and everything is cherry. (Sunshine and rainbows!?)
It’s when something goes awry—when you hit a pit—that you need to buck up and turn on your best business practices of all.
When the heat is on, and it always gets hot at some point, you (or your business) need to shine, or your cherries can end up, flambé.
Here’re some examples worth considering for your operations:
1. Learning to say (and mean it) the words: I’m sorry.
2. Accepting responsibility to make things right and to commit to solving any problems or issues as best as possible.
3. Listening and asking to get to the very heart of the matter and finding viable solutions to resolve things in a way that is acceptable to everyone involved.
4. Figuring out there IS NO MONEY IN THE WORLD worth some business.
5. Meaning what you say, always!
6. Maintaining positive interactions at all times, even if there’s trouble brewing.
Not all of these are easy, at least if you happen to be a human.
Humanity, however, is at the core of every lesson I’ve learned and is central to the examples above.
Find Your Humanity in Business
Let’s dig deeper.
Example 1: Some people are allergic to ever, ever, ever uttering the words, “I’m sorry,” but sometimes that’s exactly what a customer needs to hear. And, I hate to tell you, sometimes that’s what you owe a customer if you are honest enough to admit it.
This doesn’t mean the customer is always right because I don’t believe that’s true, but that doesn’t change the value of extending an apology.
Because even if your customer is crazy, absolutely stark raving mad, you do feel bad to learn they are unhappy with any part of your business or their experience with you. Aren’t you? If you care, you are.
I’m not afraid to say I’m sorry, because genuinely I am, and I think customers appreciate a candid and honest apology. Use it as an opener to further discussions and as a path to get to the bottom of any issue so you can bring the interaction or transaction to an agreeable close.
You don’t want to leave negativity in the wake of your last involvement with anyone. It’s bad business, no matter what the problem, leaving bad feelings out there to smolder and grow.
Don’t Be Afraid to Say You’re Sorry
With social media, these residual bad feelings can grow exponentially and may be disastrous to a company’s reputation.
The recent case with Allegiant Airlines is just one example. After a FaceBook post was quickly picked up by the worldwide news, the story of a customer interaction turned into an instant PR nightmare for the company.
Even the use of Social Media by a company can cause chaos when hastily handled or not carefully vetted, as these examples by Digital Trends clearly show.
The fast pace of the digital environment may lend itself to some recklessness or other “oops” possibilities to slip up while speeding along.
In the end, you’re looking for a state of conducting business, like that famous line from “Love Story,” where you’ll never need to say you’re sorry.
In your company love story, this translates to trying not to make mistakes in the first place. Of course, since we’re human, mistakes will happen—even by you.
Most reasonable people realize no one is perfect.
If you make a mistake one time over a long and valuable relationship, then a mistake is usually acceptable, or understandable. It won’t hurt your business or change a solid relationship.
Still, apologizing doesn’t hurt, no matter how forgiving a client may be. And just like saying, “thank you,” saying “I’m sorry” is also free!
Sometimes as an additional note of appreciation for a client’s understanding, an added surprise—maybe on their next job, just to let them know you appreciate them—is a good follow-up for reinforcing a favorable outcome.
Example 2: Responsibility means accountability and as a business owner, you are responsible for anything and everything that goes on in your organization. Everything reflects back to you and reflects on you.
And that means you have to stand up, and especially so, if there’s a problem.
I’ve found handling a problem straight on, and as soon as possible, is the best policy.
You’re responsible even if someone else on your team is the reason for a mishap, mistake, or issue of any type. Accepting your responsibility goes hand in hand with that apology in the last section.
How you handle the situation will demonstrate to your people, and to your customer, how you conduct business and what your values are, as a person and a business.
You Have to Stand Up and Be Responsible
Sorry to have to break it to you, but here goes: responsibility is a full-time job, 24/7, and it never goes away.
To take responsibility, you need to be present and available to handle things going on in your company. Make a point of knowing what’s happening in your operations.
Example 3: Listening to people’s story (their side, perception, opinion, whatever) is imperative and asking questions to get to the bottom of things furthers your agenda to collect all the info possible before deciding your position or taking a stance.
Reacting before putting in some due diligence backfires sometimes and so this step helps.
There are times when you need to back yourself, your people, or your business which I suppose feels unapologetic, but need not be, if handled properly.
Here’s an example from my experiences with a customer—who turned into a 20+ year client after this incident—to show you what I mean about sticking up for you.
In a situation beyond our control, a customer delivery was late. We were late. Period. Wrong on our part. Right? Everyone agrees. And the truth is, we NEVER want to be late.
Everyone in my world knows my personal motto cause they hear it enough: “There’s No Late in Business.” Sort of like the Tom Hanks line, “There’s no crying in baseball.”
There’s No Late in Business
So we all agree again, late is not okay.
But. There’s always a “but” and, this time, it goes back to the small side note above about how we were late, “due to circumstances beyond our control.” You see, there was gridlock no one could foresee, change, or avoid.
What we did do (and I think was right) is:
1.) Notify the customer as soon as the situation occurred.
2.) Kept the customer apprised of progress continually until the order arrived, complete.
3.) Followed up with an apology (though also stated continually throughout) via email.
4.) Followed up the same day to confirm services were up to par with an added “thank you.”
Then we were fired with a nice long scathing note to go with it.
I was so upset. After reviewing every detail of what transpired and how we handled it, upset turned to mad.
I was very unhappy with the situation and did not (and never want) to lose a customer over a mistake.
But did we really, in fact, make a mistake? I wasn’t so sure.
Getting Fired or Not
So I decided to write back, with all the same cc notations to the same company big shots as the scathing email I received. And, I answered with a very strong position on how we did every possible thing in our power to handle a bad situation in the best way we knew how.
I apologized again and let them know again that it is never acceptable to be late for any reason and reminded them of our 99% on-time record.
I explained that we let them know what was happening asap and kept them up-to-date through the process. Heck, I even threw in their positive response to our services, after delivered. Then I posed a question.
I asked them how they go about guaranteeing on-time delivery in their business and asked them how they would handle the same situation if it happened to their company in the exact scenario.
I went so far as to ask them to give me (with all their business know-how and experience) the answer to solve the situation so I didn’t make this mistake ever again, or so I would know the best solution if a similar problem happened in the future.
Taking a strong position to defend your business is not always going to work in your favor.
Some people you deal with may not even want to consider your side of things or they have unreasonable expectations or are tainted in some other way.
Value Customers But, Make Sure They Value You
In some cases, you lose no matter what, but that’s okay. Remember my theory on marketing for your business: “You value your customer and they value you.”
I find if this “mutual value relationship” doesn’t exist, you may get fired, or have to fire your customer.
Then we were un-fired!
In this case, what happened next was a delightful surprise. We were NOT fired and still do business with this company today.
I started getting copies of emails getting “inter-officed” around the complaining company with various big shots, cc recipients, and others adding notes like, “Wow, we want to work with this company,” and so, ultimately, they respected the fact I stood up for my business and services.
Also, when faced with a question, asking them to put themselves in my shoes, they had no response.
They had absolutely no answer for how to possibly do anything better than what we had done to try and make things right. It stopped the initially uber critical review, dead.
Tip: Sometimes you have to stand up for what you think is right with a customer.
Tip: Listen to all sides, ask questions to gather info, and respond, purposefully.
Example 4: I have a special place in my heart, and an additional charge to add, too, when it comes to some customers.
I call it a “chicken fee” and it means when I have to run around like a chicken because a client is a spaz, driving me nuts with changes, questions, and hand-holding time in order to work with them, I charge.
Simply put, this costs more. Their orders, no matter how simple, take a lot more of my time (and possibly aggravation) and often a bunch of run-around just to appease often unreasonable demands or basically, demands that go beyond the typical scope of the project.
Look, I’ve even given budgets that were so high I never imagined I’d get the work, but if I did, it was worth it. And when I did, I did earn every extra penny charged so there’s nothing unfair here.
Working Together Works Best
If a business relationship isn’t mutually beneficial it won’t work.
Some customers, as alluded to a couple times already, won’t be worth working with and you need to learn how to weed the bad ones out so you can keep your business and business experience, in general, a positive one.
Tip: Customers who don’t value your work may not be worth having. You decide.
Example 5: This one is pretty straightforward and in business, it comes down to this main piece of advice: Always keep your word.
Mean what you say and say what you mean. This is good business, all the time.
Tip: Your word is golden. That is if you work hard to make sure it’s worth something.
Example 6: I think the trick is to have anyone and everyone—from visitors to vendors to partners to employees to prospects to customers—leave with a positive feeling and good impression after having an interaction with you.
By you, I mean you, your business, your team, or your digital properties, your help desk, your…whatever. Get it?
It’s simple. You want any “touch” with you, or your company, to be a great experience. Right?
Maybe it’s just me. I’m a positive person. In business and in life, I like to avoid negativity or, turn negative to positive at every chance.
I bet your favorite companies to deal with aren’t the grumpy ones. Or the ones who ignore you as a customer either. Think about it.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that positive people keep trying. I’ve also noticed that having one seriously negative person can bring a whole team down.
Is Your Team “Willing?”
Further, I decided a long time ago, I would rather have one “willing spirit” to work with than 5 talented “jerks.” You’ll be better off with a “willing spirit” every single time. Guaranteed.
Tip: A “willing spirit” is a valuable jewel.
Overall, the main way to find yourself rolling in cherries and whipped cream in your life and business is to do the best you can and keep trying.
Go ahead and strive for perfection, but remember, no one is perfect so don’t expect yourself, your life, or your business to be perfect either.
Just like me, you’ll hit a pit in your life cherry along the way. It can’t be avoided.
Tip: It’s how you handle your struggles in life and business that matters.
Any thoughts? Please let me know in the comments below:)