December 2017
Ladysmith Chamber Business Essentials
The Failure Opportunity


The Failure Opportunity

It's often been said that people learn from their mistakes. This assumes every failure automatically registers with the 'failee' as a learning experience. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, "failure doesn't guarantee learning, just an opportunity to learn?"

People make mistakes over and over again - often the same mistakes. The truth is, we don't always learn from our mistakes. That's because we don't pause and consider why we failed - what we did wrong, what we could do better next time. Failure can and does happen again and again unless we actively promote change.

The Failure Myth

Most of us have grown up to believe that as we get older, we become more mature. And as our maturity increases, we make less mistakes. The former is no doubt true (in most cases) but it's a fallacy to believe that just because we are mature, we make less mistakes. Actually, the reverse could be true.

Maturity leads to self-confidence and self-confidence allows us to admit our mistakes instead of trying to hide them and this gives us an opportunity to learn from them. Once we get the hang of learning from our mistakes, we are less fearful about making them; and this gives us 'permission' to take more risks. Sure, we might make more mistakes, but now we have an opportunity to reach higher and ultimately achieve more.

Failure Has Value

Trial and error is important; until we know what doesn't work, how can we know what does? Mistakes and failures are critical to the process of problem-solving and creativity.

Handling Failure Positively

Here are six tips on how to handle mistakes.

  1. Admit the mistake - acknowledging your mistake is the first step. Don't blame it on someone else or try to cover it up. Take responsibility. Apologize if you need to and move on.
  2. Realize mistakes aren't the end of the world - the sun will rise again tomorrow and you'll wake up to face another day. Punishing yourself for your mistake is a pointless waste of energy.
  3. Analyze the mistake - try to figure out what went wrong and why. Knowing those answers will help you towards the next step.
  4. Determine how you can avoid the same mistake - the key is avoiding the same mistake.
  5. Laugh at yourself - sometimes it's the only reasonable thing you can do. Life is too short to dwell on all your imperfections. If you can find some humour in your failure, it can take away a lot of the stress.
  6. Congratulate yourself - for trying again. Our measure of success should not be that we arrived at the finish line, but in how many times we picked ourselves up off the ground along the way and chose to keep running.

The Failure Opportunity

You blew it. You forgot the big deadline. You misplaced that important document. You lost that valuable customer. You didn't make a profit last month. You blew up at your employee over nothing. Mistakes happen in business everyday - don't focus on the mistake itself, focus on what went wrong, what you could have done differently and figure out how you can turn what you learned into a business growth opportunity.

This might involve changing a process, system, customer service policy, the way you book appointments, how you purchase from suppliers - it doesn't matter what part of your business is affected, so long as what you learned allows you to become more efficient and ultimately more profitable.

So, forget brooding about what went wrong, look for the silver lining - it's always there, you just have to look for it.

The Failure Opportunity


15 Ways to Deliver Exceptional Customer Service (Part 2)

Last month we gave you the first seven principles for delivering exceptional customer service. Here are the remaining tips.

Go above and beyond - give your customer something more, something they did not expect. Every time we exceed expectations we win a long-term customer. Many business owners believe providing excellent customer service is enough to separate them from their competitors. Admittedly it helps but actually, customers EXPECT to get the highest standard of service, so providing it is not going above and beyond. Task your team with coming up with ways to wow your customers.

Don't fake customer service - have a solid system behind the smile. The dreaded frozen fake smile and wooden greeting does not equate to good customer service. Excellent customer service has to come from the heart. Employees have to believe in it and mean it. It all starts with hiring the right people (hire for attitude not for skill), building a good team and developing a corporate philosophy that embodies a genuine willingness to help people. Don't just tell your staff to be nice to customers, teach them how to communicate effectively. Empower them to make customers happy and show them this will actually make their job far more pleasant and rewarding.

Make every staff member responsible for customer service. There is a major international wholesale warehouse chain that generally offers excellent customer service. Checkout staff are efficient and cheerful, customer service personnel make returning something simple, painless and quick. However, the people handing out product samples don't seem to be part of the same team. They have little knowledge of where products are located. When customers ask for something, they can't help and are often dismissive. They have not been trained to be part of the team. One sees this often with cleaning staff or other employees who don't interact with customers on a regular basis.

Every member of your staff should be aware of your customer service policy. Every employee should be empowered to exceed expectations. Employees who know and fully understand your customer service policy, and are clear about exactly what they can or can't offer customers, will act in a confident and professional manner. A confident and empowered employee will more quickly and easily put an irate customer at ease. Customers want to be listened to first - and by the first person they talk to. Then they want their situation understood, and finally they want a fair and friendly solution to their problem. This will more likely be achieved, and accepted by the customer, if it's seen to be policy rather than an off-the-cuff solution. Once a fair solution has been reached, you should set about exceeding expectations as mentioned above. Offer the customer something they are not expecting - a certificate for a latte at a local coffee shop, a discount off their next purchase - the value is less important than the gesture.

Get feedback from your customers - only they can tell you what more you should, or could, be doing. At the end of the day, customer service is a matter of perception. Excellent customer service to one person may only be satisfactory to the next. The only way to be sure you are providing excellent customer service is to ask the customer. Short exit or follow-up surveys or contact by telephone are all effective ways of ensuring your customers are extolling your virtues, not complaining about your inadequacies.

Constantly check on how you are doing - evaluate results. It's no good training your staff, empowering them, and instilling them with a highly positive corporate customer service philosophy if you never evaluate the results. Nothing works all the time. Difficult customers put a strain on the system, or take advantage of it. Initiate ways to check on how you are doing. The survey mentioned above is a start, but also have regular staff meetings and listen to what your staff has to say about how your customer service policy is working on the front line. Continually adapt the program to keep it fresh.

Customer service needs to be exceptional all the time.

If you are going to provide positively outrageous, or even excellent, customer service it has to be consistent. If a customer gets incredible service one day and lousy or even mediocre service the next, they will notice. Their first thought will be something like, "this place is going downhill" and at that point they will start thinking about alternative places to shop. Customer service is an ongoing priority for any business if you want to do well and increase sales.

Exceptional customer service has to get progressively better.

Unfortunately, after a while the level of customer service you provide becomes the norm; it becomes what your customers expect. An effective customer service policy continues to improve.

Listen to your customers. Listen to your employees. The answers are there if you encourage creativity, celebrate innovation and listen carefully.

The Failure Opportunity


Giving Back

Charles Dudley Warner said, "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another, without helping himself."

As we head towards Christmas, many people become more sensitive to the needs of others, especially those less fortunate. We see businesses offering turkey meals to the homeless; we see owners, managers and staff volunteering to raise money, or serve those Christmas meals. Somehow, at this time of year, we make time in our busy schedules.

This is wonderful. But, what about the rest of the year? Is your business the type of company that routinely makes charity a part of its business culture? If not, here are some things you might want to consider.

An effective life, both personal and business, is one that has a positive impact on others. An effective business is not only measured by its profit and loss statement, but also by how committed it is to its community.

Examples abound to illustrate the ways small companies give back. One company donates a dollar per volunteer hour to any charitable organization for which their employees volunteer. A small, but empowering gesture, which encourages staff to support local charities. Another company provides free coffee for any non-profit organization putting on a fundraising event. Others support little league sports teams, or donate day-old food items to food banks rather than selling them at discounted prices.

These small businesses embrace the philosophy that making a difference counts as much as making a profit, and those in the community who benefit from their generosity would heartily agree.

Have you thought about implementing a corporate-giving philosophy? Are there organizations in your community who could benefit from your involvement? How might a charitable philosophy affect not only the people benefiting from it, but also the people who work for you, or even your customers? Here are some questions you might ask to help you get started.

Where are my personal and corporate interests?

To what organizations am I drawn? Perhaps you particularly feel for the needs of children, or the homeless, or those with disabilities. Your corporate giving will be more meaningful if you're partnering with organizations that go along with your natural interests or concerns.

What charitable organizations are a natural fit for my business? If you own a food store then you may think about food banks. If you sell shoes, perhaps providing shoes for children without them in developing countries?

How can I realistically be involved?

Ask yourself:

  • Am I able to give cash donations each month?
  • Can I provide gifts in kind (products I supply, or services I offer)?
  • Could I give some of my own time?
  • How can I involve my staff?
  • How can I let my customers know about my giving-back projects and involve them?
  • How do I want my business to be perceived in my community, and what other ways might there be for me to get involved?
  • Can I bring together other businesses, or even competitors, in my community to provide a larger base of support for a special event or cause?

George Eliot said, "What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?"

Can you incorporate that philosophy into your business mission? If we buy into the quote from Charles Dudley Warner at the beginning of this article, then when you give to others, you can't help but benefit yourself. Try it and see for yourself!


Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 598, 33 Roberts Street, Ladysmith, BC V9G 1A4
Phone: 250-245-2112