One of the biggest business mistakes people make is hiding when there is a crisis or problem. We spend countless hours and dollars trying to convince people how good our product or solution is, and that we care about them. Yet some hide or run from an issue making the situation worse. The wisest maneuver is to SPRINT straight TO PROBLEMS.
Several years ago, I had an indelible experience, which taught me a lesson, as we were in the market for replacing the carpet in our whole house. We did our due diligence researching several options and settled upon a lesser-known small company, without a showroom, to do the job. The salesperson convinced us because they were small, we would be provided with extra care that the others could never fulfill. She had several great reference letters. We picked out our carpet and arranged for installation.
It was imperative that delivery and installation was finished on the day requested as I travel and needed to be home during the process. To save money and she said it would be the best solution to completing the installation quickly; I decided to move the furniture and tear up and remove the old carpeting first. We wrote a check for the advanced deposit on the carpet and set a date for a Monday, two weeks later on the calendar. A Monday would allow me to use the weekend to move everything out-of-the-way for the installation.
Enthusiastically the salesperson was in contact with us over the next week and all was set between the carpet provider, installer and I. We began the task of moving everything out-of-the-way, ripped up all the carpet, and hauled it out to the street for the Monday morning garbage pick-up. All was going as planned. I patted myself on the back for my planning prowess knowing the job would be finished with little interruption to the household. All was part of the plan for my day off on a Monday afternoon. Afterward, I would be on a plane in the morning for this week’s business travels.
Monday morning arrived, but there was no truck with the installers. As the scheduled arrival time on the clock took more turns, I called our salesperson on her cell phone to ask their whereabouts. The first phone call was answered with a voicemail after five rings. I left a nice but hurried message. The second was answered with a voicemail after three rings. I left a less courteous marked urgent message. The third was answered by voicemail after no rings. I left a nasty message with a threat of you better call me quickly or else.
It was late morning, so I tried a fourth time. A sheepish, ‘hello’ was heard on the other end. I could tell from the tone of voice she knew exactly who was calling and why, yet she asked who was calling and acted as if she had not heard my earlier messages. I was forced to explain the situation from scratch to which she replied, let me check on this for you. We discussed the urgency and the entirety of the situation with my carpet gone and all the furniture astray. After several minutes of discussing the matter she slipped out, ‘I think the carpet is not in stock.’ I replied you have to be *&^% (or something along those lines). Her reply was, ‘sometimes things don’t go as planned, and there is no sense in getting upset about it’.
I ignored the statement and asked, ‘how long did you know the carpet was out of stock’? Her answer, ‘we can probably substitute the carpet you picked out with a higher grade that will cost just a little more’. I replied, ‘how long did you know the carpet was out of stock’? She began hem hawing how busy she was and I was not her only customer. I said, ‘so you have known for a while there was a problem and decided to not say anything, and now I will be leaving in the morning on a plane with my house completely torn apart….
Needless to say, the conversation did not end up graciously. It got worse a week later when the carpeting was finally installed, post us walking on a concrete floor for a week, when my wife discovered a set of expensive rings was missing. When I called to discuss the situation with the sales rep, she did not sprint to help with the additional problem, in fact, she did not return my phone calls at all. We soon realized this rep was not only going to continue with her zero post-sale help, but her concerns for having us write a reference letter about her great service was no longer a priority. (Lucky for her I am not posting the name of her company on this post, although it is very tempting)
Maybe it is good for business owners, managers, and anyone in customer service roles to experience the helplessness one feels in situations such as we had with our carpet installation. It provides experiential knowledge of how important a person with a helping hand is, when the inevitable product failure, delivery delay, lost order, or a myriad of other problems arises. Everyone wants to have a human to talk with to resolve a problem when it arises. Even if the only solution they can provide is to be a sounding board for their frustration.
I have learned over 35 years of sales experience to walk out slowly and enjoy receiving an order and run back a second time to thank the customer (read here if you missed that mini-story). More important is dropping everything and sprinting to my customer (or friend) in need when there is a problem. I have hopped on airplanes the next morning to go straight to a customer location to assure them that their problem has become mine, even if the only thing I can do is find someone in my organization to fix it.
People seldom remember the days, months or even years of smooth operating equipment or services. If there is one break down, they remember it for life as it creates a crisis for them. The best way to squelch that memory is to turn a difficult one into a heroic one as they see you sprinting to solve the problem for them. Everyone promises to take care of you, until a crisis arises, when true colors are revealed.
It amazes me how many people allow the fear or unpleasantness of a trouble call to cause them to disappear and hide from the problem. It actually opens up a huge opportunity to set oneself apart from the competition, as everyone experiences problems eventually.
I recall a VP who would not return my phone calls or respond to any emails from me, even though we were an incumbent and his firm was purchasing millions of dollars of our equipment. I was looking to add to the sales numbers with a new product when a possible component issue created a huge problem. Although it clearly was not a problem I had a hand in, I knew if true it would create major time losses for this client and would jeopardize our position drastically. I remembered a similar situation with the advice given; ‘say nothing and hope it blows over.’ That methodology turned out to be a disaster.
Having learned from that past mistake, I hopped in my car and drove two hundred miles early the next morning to be there while the issue was at its hottest point. Throughout the day, I hung out with the technicians as trouble-shooting and finger-pointing was rampant. I made it a point to walk by the executive’s office several times without saying a word to him, to make sure he was aware I was present. As the day rounded up, I knocked on his door to provide an honest assessment of the ‘disaster’.
When all was said and done, I let him know we had all hands on deck to resolve every issue. I tried to assure him, that although I could not physically fix a single thing, that I was available to be cursed at, and I would do whatever I could to ensure this problem had the fullest attention.
It seemed that he was not listening to a word. Then he looked up from the keyboard he had been typing on profusely for the past few minutes, to speak. He said ‘you realize, this problem has the attention of the board of directors and will cost us a ton of money’. I replied I sure do, which is exactly why I sprinted here to do everything I could with your staff to resolve the issue as soon as possible. His response was, ‘let’s get outta here and grab a beer’. The relationship turned on a dime, as he knew that he found someone who was more than an order taker, he found someone who actually cared.
It is easy to hang with people and customers when all is well. But those who sprint to be a friend in time of need prove they really care. There is no better opportunity to rise to the top then being the first to arrive when things are falling apart. Those who hide make matters worse, while those who sprint to solve a problem are the ones who walk away with many victories.
My customer and carpet-laying story were great learning lessons for me. If you are interested in a story of how running away in fear made matters worse for a great prophet, enter into the portico…
(If this is your first time visiting Average Joe’s Portico, please read the Do you Dare tab to understand the shift, tap the red line before you read below and come on back ‘if you dare’)
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We all love to hear stories of amazing bravery and wish we carried the courage of heroic people. For those not familiar with the Bible you will hear critics talk about made up stories of miracles by brave believers. However, if you peel back and read the whole book, you will find that most were just plain average Joe’s like you and I. In fact, in most cases the bravest were also the biggest worriers. One example is one considered the greatest Prophet, Elijah.
Elijah was an amazing prophet of God who had direct conversations with God foretelling a number of things. You can read all about it in easy format here for the whole story in the section 1 Kings. Using a cliff notes summary; Elijah was told to tell the people it would not rain for a total of over three years. Then he told them the exact date when it would start again.
That is precisely what happened.
Another incident tells the story of a ruler married to the infamous Jezebel. As all the people were worshiping other gods besides the God of Elijah, God set out a challenge to the 450 prophets of the other gods (Baal is what they were called). A duel took place at a sacrificial altar where the challenge would determine which god would be able to light the fire without a match (or whatever method they used to start a fire in those days)
The prophets of Baal tried for hours and could not get their gods to light the bull on fire while Elijah bravely taunted them. Elijah upped the ante, stepped forward, and doused the altar, with water to prove his God was the mightiest. Long story shortened – God lit the altar with a ball of fire from above:
When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, “O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I’m doing what I’m doing under your orders. Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”
Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench. All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!” Elijah told them, “Grab the Baal prophets! Don’t let one get away!” They grabbed them. Elijah had them taken down to the Brook Kishon and they massacred the lot. 1 Kings 18:36-40 (The MSG)
After all that and many other amazing feats that had done through the hands and words of Elijah you would think nothing would stop him from being able to deal with every problem in the land to make things better for everyone. But, shortly thereafter word got out to Jezebel how her beloved Prophets had been defeated in a contest and were massacred. She sent out an edict for Elijah to be killed (which was not the first time he had been threatened or had faced a major problem).
Elijah, knowing he had all the power of God to back him up, sprinted straight to the problem. He knew that was the smartest way to deal with problems and it would allow him to walk away with a huge victory.
“Ahab reported to Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the massacre of the prophets. Jezebel immediately sent a messenger to Elijah with her threat: “The gods will get you for this and I’ll get even with you! By this time tomorrow, you’ll be as dead as any one of those prophets.”
When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there and then went on into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush. 1 Kings 19:1-5
What happened to the mighty warrior and prophet of God? He had prayed and fire fell from the sky and he witnessed 450 false prophets get wiped out, at his command. He had stopped and started rain and performed many other amazing feats. Then Queen Jezebel makes an idol threat and he bolts and runs 100 miles away. Instead of remembering all the victories God had carried him through, Elijah let worry and fear get the best of him.
If you finish reading the story, God rescues a starving and thirsting Elijah and reveals to this average man all that He lovingly felt about him. Running from the problem made matters much more difficult for Elijah. Had he kept that trust that he had before and sprinted straight to the problem, he would have walked away in immediate victory. Later, God in His awesomeness restored Elijah and Jezebel was humiliated and eliminated.
Elijah became known as the greatest prophet in the Bible. But his story started as none other than an Average Joe like you and I. What made him the greatest prophet ever; taking small steps of trust in God, which grew to greater happenings. He did encounter problems that he found were greater than he could handle though. To become the greatest prophet ever he had to go through deeper lessons of trust, which culminated in tremendous, historical victories.
Perhaps your goal is not to become a prophet or hero. However, what is there to prevent us from becoming one, aside from our own fears. As we encounter problems as a worker bee, nurse, sales executive, or whatever, and we face them head on; we will overcome our fears one small test at a time. Our ability will grow enabling us to be stronger to handle the next one.
Next time you hear a call for help in time of trouble; do not run away as you know it will only make matters worse. One option is to run away and hide under a bush or your desk or behind voicemail. Instead, grow out of those fears. Sprint to the problem, and you will find yourself walking away in victory.
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