My Thoughts by Rick Stephens

Loyal Customers Will Persevere

Posted in Customer Service,Developing Processes,General Business by Rick on the March 23rd, 2007

Being in business for yourself is tough. It gets really hard when you come to realize that you need to make a significant change to the way you do business and this change will impact the customer. Perhaps the change is an increase in price, or a change to the way you extend terms, or maybe your product line has to be updated.

When this happens, owners will formulate what I refer to as SID, Self Induced Doubt. They become afraid to make the needed decision to improve their business practice for fear of loosing their customers.

Loyal customers (and you do have loyal customers, right?) may show some resistance, but that is a natural response by everyone when it comes to change. Astute owners will recognize that loyal customers have chosen them as their company of choice, and hopefully you have nurtured that relationship and demonstrated that you truly care for them as customers. Loyal customers will understand that change is necessary to stay competitive, to continue providing top quality products or services, and to ultimately stay in business.

The trick to successfully transitioning in these instances is to position the change as a benefit to the customer. Give them notice of the change and offer assurance that the change is a good thing for them. Your loyal customers will stand by you, your satisfied customers will complain, but stay, and your unhappy customers may leave. So, am I saying that some customers will leave? Possibly, but those that do were probably problem customers anyway, late with payments, asking for unreasonable service, etc. If they leave, perhaps it will be a good thing. Your company will be stronger for it.

Don’t be afraid to change. Without change there is no improvement, there is no progression, there is no growth.

To Your Success –
Rick's Signature

What Did You Say?

Posted in Communications,Continual Improvement,Personal Growth by Rick on the March 14th, 2007

Diana RossI was watching American Idol last night (I know dog, it sounded a little pitchy to me too) and one of Motown’s greatest performers, Diana Ross, was coaching the contestants on their performances. I admire and respect Diana Ross for what she has accomplished, both as a performer and as a person, so I was surprised to hear her explain to one of the contestants that she needed to be careful and “pronunciate” her words correctly while singing. I looked to my wife and said, “Did she just say ‘Pronunciate’?” I thought Ms Ross had inappropriately combined Pronounce and Enunciate to create a non-existent word “Pronunciate.” To my surprise there is a word “Pronunciate.” Though rarely used in our language, it means exactly what Ms Ross meant for it to mean and was used correctly.

Hearing Diana Ross use a strange word caused me to think about the importance of good communication skills in business. I believe that how we communicate to our customers and clients can directly influence our success or failure in business. When consumers hear slang or improperly structured sentences, they may subconsciously discount our credibility as a business owner and make their purchase elsewhere. Structuring sentences and using words correctly can be very influential in this area and it should not be taken for granted.

I am not an English teacher, nor do I want to pretend that I never make mistakes in grammar or word usage, but there are a few very common things that everyone should avoid.

One of the words I have heard many times from otherwise educated people is “Irregardless.” Hearing this said, for me, is like scraping finger nails across a blackboard. The proper word is always, “regardless.”

Another common mistake is the usage of the pronouns I and Me. Many people think that using the word “Me” is inappropriate, when in fact, it is the only proper grammatical word for the sentence. Example: “It is important for you and I to speak correctly” is an incorrect usage of the pronoun “I.” In this case “Me” is the proper word. Another example: “It is important that you and I speak proper English” is the correct usage of the pronoun “I.”

There is an easy way to determine which pronoun to use. Take the other person out of the sentence and see how the pronoun sounds. In the first example the sentence would be, “It is important for I to speak correctly.” You can see that “I” does not work here and is therefore improper in this example. In the second example the sentence would read, “It is important that I speak proper English.” The use of “I” works fine in this sentence and the pronoun “Me” would sound awkward. Therefore, in this example “I” is being used correctly.

It can be difficult to use the English language correctly, simply because it is very complex and at times illogical. The culture we grew up in can also influence how we speak, and if English is not your native tongue, it can be an almost impossible task learning to speak it properly. For those who have learned English as a second language, I admire you and I can appreciate the challenge you must have, and are facing, to grasp its nuances. For those who speak English as a native tongue, it is even more important that it is spoken correctly. Do not accept that your childhood environment or lack of education excuses you from this vital skill. Learn to speak the language correctly and you will impress more often than not. People do notice what you say and how you say it.

An employee of mine was explaining to me one day why the Hispanic cleaning crew in our building failed to follow some cleaning instructions we had left for them the night before. He explained, “They just don’t speak no good English.” “I guess not” I said, and went about preparing his performance review.

To Your Success –
Rick's Signature

Small Business Ethics

Posted in Ethics,Leadership by Rick on the March 4th, 2007

Executive in CourtEthics in business has become big news over the past several years. We read about the escapades of the executives at Enron, WorldCom and other major companies and shake our heads in astonishment thinking, “How could that happen.” We marvel at the unethical behavior of these leaders while at the same time never considering our own behavior.

The truth is that business leaders, regardless of the size of the company, are faced with ethical pressures everyday. The scale or impact of the ethical decision may not measure up to the likes of an Enron, but nevertheless, they do exist. How a business leader handles minor ethical issues is a precursor to how larger decision will be made as the business grows.

Many of the ethical issues we may face are not clearly black or white. In fact, two people faced with the same issue could quite possible make contrary decisions, while believing they each have made the best ethical decision. Why? Because ethical decisions are based upon one’s moral character. When it comes to moral behavior, we each march to the sound of different drummers and as such will make different decisions on similar issues.

As a business owner you must set the bar on ethical behavior. Make integrity a core value, be honest with your customers and employees, always follow the rules, never compromise your principles, and remember that the right thing is not always the opposite of the wrong thing. Do these things and your customers will respect you and your employees will remain loyal, essential ingredients to a successful business.

To Your Success,

Rick's Signature