Recently, a fellow business coach who I respect greatly posted a statement on Facebook about how frustrated he gets when he hears that famous definition of insanity – doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result. His position is that the phrase is an overused oversimplification. That’s true enough, as far as it goes. But it got me thinking . . .
When you flip a coin, there is a 50% chance that it will come up heads. Let’s say you flip the coin and it does come up heads. The next time you flip it, should you expect the coin to come up heads again? Same action, same result? Of course not, every time you flip the coin it has a 50% chance of coming up heads – or tails. So, when it comes to flipping coins, doing the same thing in the same way can get you a different result.
In fact, there are many times we can expect change to come from doing the same thing in the same way. An athlete can repeat the same exercise time and time again. Even if the athlete exercises exactly the same way each time, the athlete is creating muscle memory which will ultimately improve performance. Think Ralph Macchio waxing Mr. Miyagi’s car in KARATE KID. Wax on, wax off.
The same can apply to running a business. If we make a commitment to having integrity in all of our business dealings day after day, without exception, we can expect that our reputation will change – we will develop a reputation for having integrity. If we make a commitment to treating customers with respect day after day, without exception, we will see a dramatic increase in customer loyalty. Over time, doing business with integrity and respect is ingrained in our mental muscle memory. Consistency becomes the key to success. Wax on, wax off.
The standard definition of insanity would have you believe that if you want to change the amount of profits your business generates, then you have to make a change. Raise your prices – or lower them. Work more hours. Advertise more. Literally, change for the sake of change.
But life – and business – is more complicated than that. Sometimes, change is good, sometimes not. If you try to increase your profit margins by using cheaper supplies, maybe your customers notice and maybe they don’t. If you aggressively advertise to bring in more clients, maybe you have the ability to give each client the time and attention your regulars are used to receiving, maybe not.
How do you know which changes are the right changes? Truth be told we probably don’t. Left to our own devices, at best we can make educated guesses.
The ones who truly know which changes will work and which will not are our customers. Each and every person who does business with us does so for a reason. There is something of value to them in the relationship. If we can find out what our customers believe they are getting from us, what they value, then we can make changes to give them more of what they value.
This isn’t an entirely new concept. It’s part of the logic behind focus groups and market testing. There is an entire industry of people you can hire to find out what your customers want, and what they value. But no one you can hire can build a relationship for you. Nothing can ever be as effective as you having direct communication with your customers about how you can serve them better.
So, my new definition of insanity is changing for the sake of change and expecting a positive outcome. You have about as much a chance of success as you do guessing whether a coin will come up heads or tails. If you want to grow your business, if you want to increase your profits, ask your customers what’s working for them and what isn’t. Let them tell you what needs to change, and what needs to stay the same.
How do you ask your customers what’s working and what isn’t? The art of soliciting customer feedback has advanced by leaps and bounds since the invention of the suggestions box. Here is a sampling of cutting edge customer engagement tools.
- Email Surveys. Services like Ask Nicely and Clicktools can be used to reach out to your customers by email and ask them about their experience with your business. For example, after a complaint submitted on the telephone or through a website is resolved, you can send a survey to the customer asking how you can serve them better.
- Feedback Apps. Tools like Feedbackify and Opinion Lab allow your customers to choose to send questions and complaints, as well as share other information, through your website. One interesting feature is the ability to geographically track information submitted through mobile devices to see if any given location is faring better, or worse, than others.
- Online Communities. Services such as Get Satisfaction and User Echo invite your customers to join an online group to share their thoughts and experiences with you and with each other. The groups can be tiered so that certain customers can have access to a premium level of service. Content from the community can be shared on your website and in your promotional materials.
So don’t be afraid to go a little insane. Invite your customers to tell what’s working and instead of changing what you’re doing well, double down on it. And just to prove I practice what I preach, if you have any questions or comments about this post please send them to me here.