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Business Strategy Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Your Customer

Some kind soul took it upon himself to remind me that the galactically insignificant number that indicates my age will soon be advancing by one digit. Normally, I would have just smiled my characteristically exuberant smile, and not given it another thought. But today, the thought of this tiny digit change made me actually sit down and reflect on what has happened in my life since the previous number advancing incident last year. I thought about what I’ve accomplished and what I haven’t accomplished. It was like taking inventory of this year, and comparing it to last year’s. I’ve done this sort of analysis before, and each time I do, I’m disappointed in myself. It seems like I haven’t done enough – both from a personal perspective, and a business one.

On the business front, I’m upset I haven’t accomplished more. It seems like we all try so hard but never quite get to where we think we should be. In my mind, the customer is always number one. Success in business, to me, is always measured by answering the question, “Is there anything else we can do to better serve our customers?” If the answer is yes, you need to accomplish more, and very rarely is the answer ever “no”.

All decisions should center around your customer. Buying new equipment, becoming more efficient, better communication, and many other investments in both capital and time need to continue being made to better serve your customers. This is a never ending cycle of improvement, but sometimes, it does not feel like enough. This can be really frustrating. You feel like an athlete who needs to retire from their sport since you’re unable to keep up to the fast pace of the game.

But then I realized, my mind is playing tricks on me again. I was only focusing on the bad news, the depressing news, and not the good news going through my head. No, I’m not about to knock on your door and thrust a pamphlet in your face, I mean the good news about my business, like comments we’ve received from customers about how happy they are, or how we were able to solve a tough manufacturing problem for a customer. The sorts of stories that seem to be dwarfed by the Bad News Cloud that can easily take over your brain.

A good analogy of this can be found by watching economic shows on TV. I often see a news segment of a company reporting high profits, but the analysts on the program sit there and question the company’s future. I don’t know where these analysts come from but it must be the seventh circle of Hell. Definitely a place where any happy thought is beaten out of them to be replaced with only doom and gloom. They seem to only focus on the negative side of things, and unquantifiable “what ifs” that theoretically could happen, but who cares? A company made money. That’s great news. These analysts need to stop raining on the profit parade with their pie in the sky BS. 

What I prefer to do when analyzing my own business is focus on the positives. I leave all the negatives with the analysts, who are obviously comfortable living in their fatalistic Hellscape. Instead, I make a list of all the things we’ve accomplished as a company at Modern over the past year. Then, I focus on improving those good things even more.

It’s important to remember than your customers’ expectations are always changing. All we can do is try our best to meet them, and adapt to changing needs. When I say “try”, I really mean TRY! Don’t just go through the motions of pretending to care. It’s easy to spot companies who pretend – lots of apologies to customers and no action!

Your customers will recognize when your employees, and your company as a whole, are working to help them. They also, of course, recognize when they’re not getting the help they need. Sometimes, you just can’t do enough, and you can’t meet a customer’s expectation, but you should always try.

Looking back on the previous year, and making plans to improve in the next one, makes us better, as both a company and as leaders and employees. We need to be setting the bar as high as we can, because you can bet your customers already have a pretty high bar set for you in their own mind.

So reflect on the past year, make your list of positives, and decide how you’re going to keep improving in 2017. Here’s to you, and your success for years to come. Just remember: keep improving, and your customers will notice.