One of my favorite very funny, but very sad scenes in A Thousand Clowns is when the lead character in the film, played by Jason Robards, says “I’m Sorry” on the corner of 51st and Lexington Ave. In response, people say things to him. Something had happened to all of them for which they felt somebody should apologize. It was fabulous! He had tapped into some vast reservoir. He just said, “I’m sorry,” and they were all so generous, so kind, each of them verbalizing forgiveness.
In business, people do not want to be ignored. We walk past people in the aisle of the supermarket and divert our eyes. I’ve been in retail environments and realize as I go to my car, that even when I checked out, the cashier didn’t make eye contact. But everything changed for me both in the world and in my business. All I had to do was say “hello.” In the workplace and in the marketplace, customer service is more than KING. It’s one of the top issues mentioned as to why someone spends their money in a particular place. Think Zappos. They profess to be the BEST customer service in the world. Work with them once and you get it. You’ll want to buy a new pair of shoes every time you get an offer from them even when you don’t need shoes. Why? Because they treat you well. They say “hello.” They acknowledge you. And internally, their team is completely engaged with each other. It’s one of the best workplaces.
So instead of apologizing to everyone who thinks the world owes them an apology, just recognize them. Take care of them. Don’t ignore them. Just say “hello.” And be sure to smile and mean it.
All week long you’re engaged. You’re looking at email. You’re driving from here to there or you’re getting to the train and then the subway. You’re engaged in our work, your customers, your clients. You’re there for your family. You’re out picking up the dry cleaning and getting gas in the car. If you’re a business owner, when you wake up in the middle of the night, you’re still a business owner – someone has to own it overnight.
So when I picked up a friend over the weekend, she said, “I just want to spend the day being stupid.” We got in the car and headed out north. We took left and right turns, sometimes knowing where we were, and at other times not. We wound up in a country town with antique stores. Nothing even remotely worth buying except something small to add to a collection or a kitchen utensil that looked cool. No schedule to keep. Not even a movie time or a restaurant reservation. Not one minute of business talk. Deliberately not listening to the news on the radio. And we happened on a place to dine outdoors, overlooking a bocce game and a view to the west of lush green mountains.
We laughed our guts out. We talked about a zillion things. We came back as the sun was setting at around 8pm and the gorgeous moon was huge and in the distance. And we succeeded in staying stupid all day. Now how smart was that? Rejuvenated and ready to face our smart and engaged lives come Monday.
When I went out to walk Optimus, the dog this morning, I saw that my front passenger car window had been smashed. Stuff was missing from inside my car. My plan was to call the police and then the insurance company. My son came to support me while the police took the information. I was standing there ruing how my whole day was loused up. I’d have to rent a car. Get my car to a place to get it fixed, etc.
Back in the day, when my son went from being a child to becoming a teenager, I entered that period that all parents with teenagers know about. According to him, I knew nothing. Fortunately in his 20’s, he became aware again that I knew a lot. Well this morning he simply knew exactly who to call next. Not the insurance company. He posited that I could get the window fixed for under $300. My deductible is $500 so nothing would be covered and by reporting the break-in my insurance could go up. He even knew the name of the best place to call to get them to COME TO THE HOUSE and get it all vacuumed and done.
He was right! How did he know that? The same thing happened to him. The police at the time had told him how to handle it. He learned from experience and shared it with me. I’m completely calm. And there it is! Proof that you can learn from experience.
So in the world of business or the workplace, having something go wrong is also an opportunity. It’s an experience you can learn from and ensure that it never happens that way again. Don’t think of your mistakes or issues as failures. You could be thinking about them as learning opportunities.
At a conference of 1000 women, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company got up to deliver the first inspirational message to encourage us to make huge changes that would be good for us and the organization. He said, “Today the world changed in thousands of ways. If you did not change one thing, you’re a day behind.
Change is hard. When things seem to be working, we often don’t even think about changing anything. And then suddenly, vinyl becomes CDs and then CDs become iTunes. And a Walkman becomes an iPod and an iPod become a Smartphone. And all the vinyl is selling for 10 cents apiece at a yard sale. And when do we discover we need to make the change? When you can’t even buy the needle for your turntable?
Some of us are the first to try something new. Maybe we hear about it from someone we trust. Maybe we see it in the media. What does it take for you to change something before it gets old?
I was working with a man who always buys used cars. He said that the fun for him is knowing what neat features he can look forward to as each new car comes out. But by the time he gets his next car, the features are old hat and some don’t work the way they did when they were new. Some can’t even be fixed because the parts are outdated. So he’s always driving something that isn’t 100%.
Being open to change isn’t only about finally making a change. It’s about being open to something new as soon as it arrives. It’s about figuring out how it might improve your business or your career or your life. It’s about staying youthful and current. It’s about being perceived as “with it.” Your staff and your peers and your customers and clients will see it and want to work with you.
If you show up with old ideas, all your clients or customers will think they’re getting is a tired strategy.
If you have a task list for your business or your workday, and you check everything off by the end of the day, you get to say “I’m finished.” Good for you! But if you have a plan, and every task on your list is aligned with your plan, you realize you not really finished. You understand that you’ve accomplished a part of your plan.
No matter what you do for a living, if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. If I ask you to go buy shampoo, the first thing you do is figure out where to buy it. CVS? Grocery Store? 7-Eleven? Once you decide, you make a plan – take my wallet or just credit card? Keys? Best route to take without too many light?. Cheapest place? The place with the coupon? Do I need anything else while I’m there?
NOW you have a plan and you know where you’re going. Your accomplishment occurs when you get there and buy the shampoo. You do this kind of planning all the time.
So often, when you’re managing your career or your business, you just make the list of tasks you think you need to get done today and never really know what you’ve accomplished. The only thing you’re sure of is that you finished your list for today.
Make a plan. Then at the end of the day instead of being finished, you’ll feel accomplished.