For the past eight years I’ve written a monthly e-newsletter about my business and life observations. The December issue is always a reflection on the things I learned. Here is a most delightful sixth lesson of 2011:
Gimme S’more – Pepperidge Farm knows what it’s doing when it comes to product extension – adding Pizza, Whole Grain, Pretzel and other flavors to its popular Cheddar Goldfish Crackers. Heck, those cute little guys even have their own website with fun and games for kids. Recently, Kathy brought home Goldfish S’mores Adventures. Delicious… and highly recommended.
My wife’s book club skipped this month’s meeting and attended the movie version of a novel they read: “The Help.” Afterwards, they wanted to go to a restaurant, have dessert and discuss the film. Kathy checked out a couple of nearby eateries’ websites and selected one that remained open late on a Wednesday night. Arriving just ahead of her group at 9:58, she went inside and the hostess said, “I’m sorry, we close at 10.” Kathy said, “But your website says you’re open until 11.” The hostess replied: “Oh, that’s our midtown location.”
Kathy asked to speak to the manager. Although he arrived quickly, she had the website on her phone to show him. “I have seven women coming here to talk about a movie we just saw,” she said. “Your website says you close at 11. It doesn’t say that’s just your other location.” Without hesitating, he said: “Not a problem. We’ll be happy to stay open just for you.”
Of course, the easier, less expensive response – and more typical one – would have been: “Ma’am, I’m sorry for the confusion. The home office is responsible for the website, and I guess it is confusing. I’ll be sure to tell them to correct that.” Then gently escort my wife out the door to face her friends alone. Instead, this astute leader created a huge win for his company. Eight women had a happy ending to their evening, and I’m guessing told lots of people about the incredible service at this establishment.
How would your employees have handled a similar situation?
Asking for donations may be one of the ‘least favorite’ things on my list. There’s just something about reaching out to people and requesting they make a contribution to one of my kids’ extracurricular activities that doesn’t inspire me. Yet, it’s one of those necessary evils… whether it was selling Girl Scout Cookies or wrapping paper when our kids were younger, I always had a ‘not another one’ attitude about the approach.
That’s why when we attended a meeting about a summer league team for my varsity basketball playing son – and the mom organizing everything said, “We’ll need to ask for donations or raise money for uniforms” – I cringed with anxiety and thought, ‘I kinda hoped we were past that phase.’
Yet being a good rules follower and helper guy, I suggested to my wife that we needed to reach out to establishments where we spend a lot of money and ask for their help. So through email and in-person visits, we requested donations from our dentist of 12 years, car repair place where we’ve been loyal customers for a decade and favorite two restaurants (one fast-casual and the other upscale).
What were the results? I’m thrilled to report four-for-four. These small business owners made a nice contribution – even knowing the reach for their advertising dollars would be minimal. One followed up with an email to Kathy that said, “Thank you for thinking of me.” I was so surprised by their responses that I decided Success Handler, LLC also needed to write a check.
There are two lessons here: 1) Never shy away from asking… you never know how much someone might want to help; and, 2) When a parent or organization makes a request of your business, catch them off guard by saying ‘Yes!’ They already have enough folks who will decline.
One other thing is certain: we’ll remain loyal customers of those four service providers for years. So they’ll end up way ahead regardless of whether anyone else becomes a customer after seeing their names on the back of our warm-up jerseys.
Kathy and I had dinner two weeks ago at the home of a couple we’ve grown close to the past few years. At the end of a wonderful evening together that included intriguing conversation and a meal featuring delicious pork, our hostess asked if we would like to see her latest paintings. Chris is an excellent artist and illustrator – with several published books – and she wanted to share her recent foray into impressionism.
As she shuffled through various outdoor, still-life and portrait works, I was amazed at her ability to vividly capture subjects on canvas. Being a neophyte to the art world, I asked about one nighttime scene of a bridge with water flowing rapidly beneath it, “How long did it take you to do that?”
“An entire lifetime,” she quickly responded. “It’s my art degree, the decades I’ve spent learning colors and technique, the ability to transfer what I see with my eye to my hand and onto the canvas, and the 10,000 hours I’ve stood in front of an easel. That’s how long it took me to paint that bridge.”
Malcolm Gladwell highlighted the 10,000 hours phenomenon in Outliers, using Bill Gates and the Beatles as prime examples. It’s become the accepted standard for the amount of time someone must put in to become an expert at his/her craft. Gladwell got it right… and our friend Chris is living proof. So, keep practicing.
[Note: Kathy and I commented that night how much we liked the pork entrée. Chris said it was her mother’s dish. A few days later, a note arrived in the mail. Enclosed was the recipe for “Mom’s Tender Lemon Pork Chops.” Those artists… they don’t miss a thing.]
The penultimate thing I learned in 2009:
Think It, Say It – One of my weaknesses as a husband, father and friend is trying to keep those I care about from feeling pain. Thus, I tend to withhold bad news and act as a peacemaker whenever there is rising conflict. (Interestingly, this never is a problem with clients; when needed, I ask hard questions and address tough issues.) After one challenging situation this year that ended with Kathy saying, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I vowed to stop being the great protector and start being the great communicator.