By Steve Roderick, Assistant Vice President
Hey, What’s Your Problem?
How many industries would you describe as perfect? How many things, in general, would you describe as perfect? In the next few issues, we will discuss how to fix “anything” by breaking down issues to their basic elements. It’s just a process. You can either embrace it or just fold your poker hand and say, “Well, I can’t fix that!”
Picking out shortcomings is easy—in fact, it’s too easy. As a society, we collectively do it way too much. So identifying problems in an industry shouldn’t be very difficult at all. However, being able to relate from a consumer standpoint is far more difficult. But that’s the answer to fixing it, whatever “it” is. You might have 99 problems, but the ones you need to be concerned with are the ones that your clientele see as problems.
What Is Your Shoe Size?
Start by being a customer. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s an exercise in self-awareness as a company. From the first point of contact with your business, then the purchasing process, to delivery of goods or services, to invoicing and finally follow-up. However your particular industry operates, run through it from beginning to end. Do it with your own company, and then give it a shot in the marketplace with a competitor. What was easy? What was cumbersome? What was disappointing? What was most rewarding? Would I look forward to doing it again? Be the customer. It’s such a simple exercise that so many people ignore, to great detriment to their understanding of how their industry operates.
Wait, You Want Me to Fix What?
OK, now the hard part: comparing what you do to how others do it and identifying the real problems that the customer faces industry wide. Not just how your company can do it better, but how the entire industry could do it better.
First, identify your problem (a major discomfort) from the perspective of the customer. For example, if your widget machine is 78 years old and breaks down all the time, that’s your problem. What we are talking about here are things that your customers see as problems. They don’t necessarily care how much time you spend repairing your old widget machine; they just want their widgets on time. So we need to get into their heads and identify what causes them discomfort so we can ease their pain and so they continue to buy our widgets.
Far too often, people blame poor performance on perceived professional handicaps. Statements like “We can’t compete with the bigger guys” or “We don’t have the money in our budget” reveal a lack of vision and a poor understanding of your customers’ needs.
Glass Half Full
Often when we go looking for problems, we automatically become pessimistic. The entire process holds a negative tone, so the negative attitude can tend to dominate. At this point, it is very important to be looking for light, not dark. It’s a paradox really: looking for problems with a good attitude and an end goal to solve them. Remember, that primary end goal should be solving your customers’ problems, not your own. Look for opportunities to benefit their needs. “When/Where/How can I make them happier?” These are the questions to ask when beginning this process. The solutions to your own issues come later. We don’t even know what those are yet. We have only just begun.
The Unstoppable Force
We all have our “go-to” people or providers for certain goods or services; usually found in the recent-calls list in your smartphone. That’s your end goal when fixing stuff. Be someone’s “go-to.” Be the one who solves the issues. We aim to make their lives easier, better, more profitable, and in turn, we want them to seek us out for solutions.
So what’s their problem? Is it service? Monetary? Functionality? Transparency? Education? Accessibility? Time-related? Exclusionary? By focusing on their problems rather than your own, you start providing real value to your customers. If all you can come up with is a cheaper way to do something, all you have done is make yourself cheaper, and you haven’t fixed anything at all.