The value of an apology.

30 09 2009


The apology. At least for me, I always know in my gut when it must be said – but why is it so hard?

It’s a given that people make mistakes, nobody’s perfect. Sometimes things happen that shouldn’t. And in business, at some point, something is likely to go wrong in the face of a customer. But while most business strategies focus on avoiding these mistakes, a successful business should also consider a strategy for turning a negative into a positive. A sincere and meaningful apology in a business setting can be a powerful tool to build stronger relationships. A tool that can also be used to improve any unfounded missteps in business operations and to help build a powerful workplace business culture.

“Experts say that companies willing to admit mistakes may uncover and fix problems that otherwise might have continued to fester, and avoid the stress and lost productivity that come when workers focus on covering up mistakes and misdeeds rather than achieving business objectives.”

New research shows that a business is likely to get more customer satisfaction by simply apologizing, versus attempting to make financial compensation. It has also been found that people are more than twice as likely to forgive a company that says “sorry” than one that instead offers them cash. Thus, the simple act of apologizing actually hits your bottom line. And it has been noted that apologies do influence customer behavior (triggering an instinct to forgive) – relative to the offering of cash.

I came across Fast Company’s “30 Second MBA” site and noticed their week long discussion entitled, “What is the business case for generosity?” Each person speaking about generosity a part of a business brings up great points. From instilling collaboration, to balancing your missionary v. mercenary positions, to creating the basis by which you do business, each 30 second video highlights the influence of “being human.”

Being human is hard to systematize. But isn’t it nice to recognize that humans stand behind the outward facade of a business? Whether you determine generosity to be an investment or an apology to be a tool to build relationships, either way your business will gain a personality of its own – one that customers can identify with and create loyalties toward.

Photo courtesy of The Negotiation Law Blog.

Why you need a business plan.

28 09 2009


I love the Wall Street Journal. I read it online everyday and invariably find something to Tweet about or include on my blog. When I saw the article, “Why You Need a Business Plan,” in the small business section, I knew I had to write about it. It simply provided a great framework for why a business owner needs a business plan:

  1. It forces you to identify with your (and your company’s) strengths and weaknesses.
  2. It helps you figure out how much money you’ll need.
  3. It gives you clear direction, which can help eliminate stress.
  4. It will serve as a resume when you seek lenders, investors, or partners. (Also, here’s a great article detailing what you should know about raising money for your business.)
  5. It makes you evaluate the market for your product or service and size up the competition.

This makes sense. And as baby boomers are beginning to hand down their businesses to a younger crowd – this transition also creates the need for a flexible or completely different business plan. The WSJ also posted an article about franchisers having more confidence in young entrepreneurs than who they may traditionally have sought; older more seasoned managers who have built up lots of savings to plow into the venture. So when do you need to have a business plan in place and how flexible can it be, given the potential transitions of leadership throughout a business’ life cycle?

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Seattle Chamber: “It’s Time For Business!”

25 09 2009

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, supporting local businesses rocks! My first post was all about the glory of local businesses – they increase the velocity of money in a community and they improve the economy by hiring and spending locally. Afterall, economic sustainability is a community issue – it’s up to all of us to make smart choices about how we impact our own community.

Seattle is fortunate to be the home of several industry headquarters and an entrepreneurial community. That’s why the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce has launched “It’s Time for Business,” a campaign to promote regional economic recovery. Their website offers the opportunity for businesses to showcase their products and services, as well as events in the area. They’re even kicking off this new campaign with an after hours event at Herban Feast’s Sodo Park on October 14th – allowing business people to network with chamber members from all over Puget Sound and those interested in getting involved.

In this economy, it truly is time for business. The more we support our own businesses, the greater the opportunity each business has to positively influence our community. Together, with a shared vision, we all can make Seattle and the greater Puget Sound area an even better place to work, live, or visit!

Post a job opening, share your achievements, and promote your business! The Seattle Chamber is behind you – tell us why “it’s time for business!” Let’s make this viral!

Spotlight on Business: Lambs Ear Shoes

25 09 2009


Mentors. They’re really hard to find and when you finally gain one, hold on tight. Any mentor will tell you that it takes hard work to see the results. But it is sure nice to look back and realize how far you’ve come. So when I asked Angie Sorenson of Lambs Ear Shoes about the inspirations behind the opening of her store, it’s not surprising that she mentioned her mentor Becky Buford of Les Amis and Essenza in Fremont. And the more I hear about Becky, the more she resembles a retail savvy version Tom Douglas, unofficially noted for Tom Douglas University.

Thus after nine years as a manager and buyer for Les Amis, Angie was primed to jump start her long desire to open a store. Her goal was to stay in Fremont and build a fashion forward brand that would match the talent defining boutique retail in the neighborhood. And for a girl who shops for shoes and jewelry before all else, Lambs Ear Shoes was born.

Time, place…and a little grace.

Selecting a completely interior store space without any windows was certainly a daring move, but also an opportunity given the time and her opening budget. Angie hired Jason Thomas Faulkner of Society & Co., Michael Danielson, and Joe Bourmeister to complete her vision of something modern and clean. Jason believed that a good design would never age and continue to look fresh. And with these goals in mind, she completely entrusted the store’s design to Jason, provided that he stay within budget.

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You had me at “hello”: Operations done right.

21 09 2009


Recently, I spoke with Nathan Hambley of The Frause Group about public relations (PR) and small businesses. At Frause, Nathan manages hospitality accounts and supports in other categories like real estate, consumer products and professional services. Over lunch, we discussed how businesses use and reference PR and how PR is used for damage control.

With regard to the timing of PR, Nathan’s number one suggestion for businesses is to “nail their operations first.” This seems like a simple concept, but we all know of a business or restaurant that lost your business because their service didn’t make par. If a business has a clear focus on how to conduct their operations and they’ve mastered the process, PR simply compliments their existing success. And in this struggling economy, the last thing a business owner wants to do is spend money on damage control.

So is there a framework to follow for nailing business operations? Well, nothing tied to your business in particular, but there are some general concepts that are applicable to all businesses. It’s not rocket science. But when it is so easy to get bogged down by day-to-day operations, these fundamental business concepts are a good broad level focus reminder.

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Social Media: Should you outsource?

17 09 2009


Joining the social media marketing stampede now seems a nearly unavoidable business necessity. And a common question for business owners is, “should I outsource social media?” But whom should a company have do all the site building, optimizing, networking, publishing, sharing, linking, interacting, reaching out and monitoring required to implement an effective social media marketing program?

For me, just reading that last sentence is overwhelming. General concerns about social media mainly surround the time it takes to manage the strategy, and create an authentic message communicated through the right channels on a consistent basis. Know first that given all the avenues for marketing your business, social media provides the most direct message possible. That’s why some think that having a corporate social media strategy is like selling uncut cocaine. Traditional corporate communications (PR, journalists, other bloggers) “cut” up your story and dilute your message. So is it worthwhile to put your fate in other people’s hands while playing the telephone game with your company’s information?

The answer is, maybe. Whether your company chooses to outsource the job to avoid wasting time and money, management needs to be very clear with all concerned as to just what they want to accomplish.

Believe it or not, the global business process outsourcing (BPO) industry is expected to grow to $230 billion by 2012, with $50 billion of it going to India only. It’s amazing to think that social media outsourcing will be a segment of this forecast. Choosing whether to outsource or retain your social media strategy in-house is personal to your business and there is no right or wrong answer, as long as the campaign has a clear focus.

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Customer obsession.

11 09 2009


I was recently given a tip to watch the video from Jeff Bezos about Amazon and Zappos. In the video, Mr. Bezos talked directly to Zappos employees about the company’s transition to Amazon, but also discussed his core values from a business perspective. The first of these values included “obsess over customers.” It’s a simple concept, but one that can easily slip into the background when challenges arise otherwise. Might this obsession solve those challenges?

What does customer focus really mean? And does it have a different meaning for different people? Oddly enough, my search for this blog post’s photo led me to The Tatham Group, who sought to answer these questions. According to them, it matters more as to whether you’re considering this obsession as a part of your systematic business strategy. Does your obsession over customer values lead you to guide their behavior? Here were some examples:

  • Ensure customers play a role in your product/service development process (enhances loyalty and engagement)
  • While listening to customers needs, separate what they ask for from what they really need to get done (differentiation and speed to market)
  • Recognize that customers are essential in value creation but may need “tough love” (establishes more partnership vs. provider/consumer relationship)
  • Understand the customer’s customer so that there can be true alignment of capabilities and value (sustains and enhances revenue/profits and lets business model evolve with markets)

But doesn’t “guiding their behavior” really just mean connecting with customers to a point where you’re able to anticipate how to solve their problems before they arise? Which, actually, leads to Mr. Bezos’ second core value, “invent.” With a close relationship with your customers, you’ll be better prepared to invent new solutions for them – faster. And the benefits could be huge.

It really is a simple concept – and with great relations, come great rewards. Enjoy getting to know more about your customers.

Photo courtesy of the Tatham Group.