Highest and Best Use, Customer Style

Person making notes

In real estate development, there’s an expression: “highest and best use” – it refers to something that is permissible (by law), possible (can be executed), financially feasible, and maximally productive. Whether you’re self-employed, or you work for someone else, this is a concept you can apply to your work, and to your selection of customers. Because it’s precisely why targeting is so important.

Often, business opportunities will present themselves. If we don’t have a full pipeline, or revenues are down, or we’re just starting out, it can be tempting to work with any customer who comes in the door. But this can be a bit of a trap. These customers that aren’t “maximally productive” (or prevent us from being maximally productive), may keep us working in our businesses, long after we should be working on our businesses. So while it’s prudent to make sure there’s money coming in to keep the wolf from the door, it’s important to carve out time and space to cultivate the right customers – the ones that will let you make highest and best use of your time, and your business.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. PANOPTIKA means “seeing everything” – because we work with our clients to help them see everything they need to consider to make better decisions and grow their businesses. You can find us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and please subscribe below to receive our monthly newsletter for more News You Can Use.

What is the New Normal for Your Customers?

Homemade face mask

That’s the ten-million-dollar question, isn’t it? What is the new normal? How can you know? Our answer? You can’t.

We frequently have clients who ask us to ask their customers to predict future behaviour. Purchase intent or behavioural intent are no more predictable than whether a pandemic will suddenly shut down the entire world and kill millions of people. It never has been. That’s why financial offerings have all those disclaimers about forward-looking statements. It’s the same reason that there are statements like “past behaviour is not an indicator of future performance”. It’s the same for your customers. The best you can hope for, is to play the odds. And the best way to do that, is to ask them to think, as much as possible, about now, or as close to now, as you can. The precious present (circumstances) is all they really have a good handle on.

They’re sort of good at recalling what they do under normal circumstances, although they may filter their behaviour through a lens of “what I should do”. We saw this in action back in the early days of mobile research. We had a group of moms completing food diaries. Now when they did this on paper, they would note that they gave their kids an unhealthy snack three days in a row, and might erase and replace with a more acceptable answer. But when they did the diary in real time on mobile, they didn’t have the same opportunity to edit themselves. Eureka! An insight was born.

They’re even less good at predicting what they will do, because they will try to apply logic and reason – especially if they are trained in using rubrics and logic to make decisions (think doctors, engineers, or actuaries). So you can’t take them at face value.

You can, however, take stock in the directionality of their answers – if they are more likely to do something versus another thing, or if they think your new option is more appealing than your current one. So do listen to what they are saying. And if you get them to complain about something they don’t like, listen VERY carefully. Discomfort is something they are often best at expressing. Then stop. Do not ask them to solve their problem, or tell you how. After all, if they knew how, they would have solved it already, or would have asked you to solve it. And if (worst case scenario), they did tell you how to solve it and you simply didn’t want to respond? Now you’ve poked the bear, and you’ll have to work extra hard to regain their trust.

So the short answer to what is the new normal for your customers is, whatever they are experiencing and doing right now. Because tomorrow? That never comes.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them make better decisions and build stronger relationships with customers. You can also find us on LinkedIn, on Facebook, or on Twitter. And you can sign up below for regular news you can use.

How to Deal with an Angry Customer

We’ve all had one. And in some situations, if not many, we aren’t the source of their anger. It’s frustrating. We can feel even more powerless when it seems obvious what needs to be done to assuage their angry feelings, but we don’t seem to have the authority to do it.

How to deal with an angry customer in that situation? Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. First, use your empathy. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what might make you feel better.
  2. Ask yourself, is their concern legitimate?
  3. Next, think about the people who do have the authority to do something, and get creative. What might you do or say that will get them to open their minds?
  4. Apologize to the angry customer. Even if you feel like it isn’t your fault. Acknowledge that they have a right to their anger.
  5. Take responsibility. Let them know you will do everything you can to assist.
  6. Set boundaries. State clearly that you are going to be respectful during your conversation, and you are sure they will do likewise (even if you’re not so sure).
  7. Commit to listening. No matter how angry the customer seems in their delivery, hear their words.
  8. Answer customer anger with questions. Find out more. Why is that? And then what happened? What was the impact on you? How can you help?
  9. Do or say something that is within your power, that will move the situation forward, even if it is just a little.
  10. Keep working to change the policy that prevents you from solving the problem.

Lastly, remind yourself of this: not every problem can be solved today. Solutions will reveal themselves in their own good time. And as long as you have done everything in your power to make it better, be satisfied that you made the effort.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them engage their customers (even angry customers), and to see everything they need to know to make better decisions and grow their careers or their businesses. You can also find us on Twitter, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn. And weekly, we share some more insights in our News you Can Use. Get it Below.

The Longer You Hide From Issues, the Bigger They Get

Boy covering face with hands

Have you ever seen a little kid hide their face, thinking that if they do that, no one will see them? Not facing up to issues is a big like that. Not only do they keep on coming, but the longer you hide from issues, the bigger they get. And eventually, just like with the little kid, they’re eventually so close that you have no choice but to deal with them…but on their terms, not yours.

So what can you do? It depends on the issue. Is it a potential issue, or a risk? Something that could go wrong? Then the best course of action is to investigate. You need to determine whether the issue or outcome you’re worried about is real. That takes research, or seeking feedback, or plain old listening. Once you’ve established that what you’re worried about could happen, it’s time to do a risk assessment. That entails two parts:

  1. Evaluating the degree of risk, or probability
  2. Deciding how much tolerance you have for taking the risk, knowing the degree of probability that it will happen

Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to make a more informed plan of action, rather than just waiting and hoping.

On the other hand, there are issues that you’ve already created for yourself. The odds, or probability, of an issue directly caused by your actions (a customer service error, or a major faux pas with your audience or stakeholders) being harmful to your business, are 100%. At that point, you need to fix it. The classic apology strategy goes like this:

  1. Express regret. Say you’re sorry. Say it publicly.
  2. Explain what you did wrong so the person/people wronged know you understand.
  3. Acknowledge your responsibility to fix it.
  4. State very clearly that you will commit to not doing it again.
  5. Make an offer of reparation – don’t just fix it, but take the penalty.
  6. Ask for their forgiveness.

And then, most importantly of all, don’t demand that their forgiveness is given on your timeline. And don’t hide, hoping it will all blow over. It won’t. No matter how much you hide, the injury will never go away, but by taking an active part, you can help it to heal. That means getting back to business, doing your work, and continuing to keep the commitments you’ve made as part of your apology – no matter how much it stings your ego to do so.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients see everything in their business environment, so they can make better decisions and forge stronger relationships with their customers, clients, and constituents. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Or you can receive weekly news by signing up with the orange button, below.

How to Use Systems Thinking to Solve Complex Problems

Tangled mass of ropes

There used to be a telephone jingle that went something like this: “We’re all connected, New York Telephone”. Trust me, you don’t want me to sing it. But it springs to mind whenever I hear the words, “Systems Thinking”. People who know me, know I’m a systems thinker. Even if I can’t see the connections before I tackle a challenge, I know they have to be there. And that they’ll be the key to figuring it out. So this week, a tweet from my friend and fellow problem-solver Debbie Adams got me thinking about this topic again. Here’s how systems thinking works to help solve complex problems…

One important aspect of systems thinking is keeping your perspective, and the ability to see the big picture. If you’ve ever been wrapped up in a big, hairy, all-consuming problem, you know perspective is the hardest thing to hold on to. But it’s vital. If you have ever been inside a maze, you’ll know that it can be difficult to figure out which way to turn. Yet if you view the maze from above, the route can seem patently obvious. Stepping back from the thing you’re trying to solve or improve periodically, to remind yourself of what you are trying to achieve, will keep you moving in the right direction, and get you back on track when you take a turn that doesn’t work out.

Systems thinkers search for the key. More importantly, they believe there is a key. Not kidding ourselves that there is a magical key that will unlock everything, but that it will become clearer, if we keep working on it, how to solve the problem. In the words of Marie Forleo, “everything is figureoutable“.

Big problems also take time to solve. Even when we don’t yet know the solution or solutions, we systems thinkers allow ourselves the time to explore how and why things are connected. Similarly, we know that while complicated things are linear (and so we can get to the solution in a stepwise fashion), complex things are most decidedly not. They’re more of a tangle, with many knots to be untied. So we need to stop looking for a linear solution and make the time to understand how things are inter-related or interconnected.

Another challenge that systems thinkers are good at surmounting, is remembering that there is never only one right way. Every action we take will trigger a series of reactions. Some will be seen, and some won’t reveal themselves until later. So a willingness to try and to experiment is useful. Observation, formulating hypotheses, and testing to see if we’re right, will help us eliminate actions that don’t get us where we need to go. And they will help us recognize if the step we just took was a useful one.

Have you ever puzzled over something repeatedly, and then had a friend say, “Oh, you just need to do this!” and it seems so obvious once they say it, you wonder why you didn’t think of it? That’s why being able to look at the problem from different viewpoints is important to the process.

Lastly, because it really is all connected, as systems thinkers, we need to look inward. I know that in approaching any problem, I must acknowledge that I am also part of the system. So we need to maintain a positive attitude, and ask ourselves, what assumptions am I making that may be preventing the outcome I want? What can I change about my mindset, or my approach, that will net a better result. That doesn’t mean wallowing in guilt, shame, or blame, it simply means accepting that actions have consequences, and that we all have actions we can take toward the solution. In simpler terms, expecting someone else to solve the problem without me being part of the solution is unlikely to have a sustainable result.

To recap, remember these important things the next time you’re faced with a messy problem to solve, so you can make better decisions:

  1. Keep the big picture in mind.
  2. Look for how things are connected.
  3. Have faith that a solution is possible.
  4. Take the time you need to work through the tough bits.
  5. Look for keys, but not a magic wand.
  6. Learn from the perspectives of others.
  7. Use the scientific method and experiment.
  8. Recognize reactions to your actions.
  9. Know that as part of the system, you’re also part of the problem – and of the solution.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m the CEO and a Partner here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients make better decisions for their businesses and careers. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Plus, you can subscribe for updates straight to your inbox with the handy button, below.

The Best Way to Make Customers Listen

How do you make customers listen to you, when you have something you want to tell them? The very best way to make customers listen, is to think about who you serve. Everyone serves someone, and if you’re in business, any business, you serve your customer. Universities serve their students. Corporations serve their customers (even before shareholders, or the shares won’t be worth much). Once you know who you serve, there are four more things to do, to get customers to listen:

  1. Listen to them first. Hear their aspirations, their challenges, and their concerns.
  2. Tell them that you’ve heard them, so they know you are listening.
  3. Back up what you’ve told them with action.
  4. Share the results.

Once they know that you’re willing to put them first, they’ll listen. You won’t need to ask twice.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m a Partner here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to know to make better decisions for their businesses and careers. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – and we’ll also send our weekly post along with some other useful tidbits, direct to your inbox – just click the handy button, below.

5 Keys to Writing on a Tight Timeline

Person writing with notebook and laptop

As a strategist, I like to plan ahead. I have a content calendar laid out in front of me, with plans for why we have specific messages, when, the audience, and when they’ll be delivered. But sometimes it’s necessary to have a short turnaround or a tight timeline – not because of lack of planning, but because an issue is emergent or important, or urgent, or all of these together. When that happens to you, here are 5 keys to writing a strong, coherent message as soon as possible:

  1. Consider the audience: who will receive the message?
  2. Ask, “What do I want them to do, think, or feel?”
  3. Decide on no more than three points that must be made.
  4. Draft the message in the simplest language possible to avoid misunderstandings.
  5. If someone else will be delivering the message, imagine them reading it out loud from a podium, and adjust the language to fit their style.

As the pace of play in workplaces continues to accelerate (despite our best efforts to slow it down), using a systematic and consistent approach will help you get more done, in less time.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We help our clients see everything they need to consider, so they can make better decisions and find, understand, and engage their customers. You can also find us on Twitter, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn – or get messages delivered direct to your inbox by using the handy and practical orange button. Click it now!

Four Rules for Better Decisions

Arrow pointing in two directions in barren desert

Decisions are hard. Especially in times of great uncertainty. That’s why thinking about how we make decisions, and creating frameworks for better decisions, can lighten the load when the going gets tough.

We have four rules we like our clients to think about, when they’re trying to make challenging decisions in their business:

  1. Know that, no matter what, not everyone will agree with your decision.
  2. Understand that, once taken, it’s important to stick with the decision long enough to see that it’s working, or isn’t.
  3. In conjunction with the previous, before taking the decision, define carefully how you will judge whether it worked, or didn’t.
  4. Ignore red herrings and other extraneous information (or decision points) that are not pertinent to this specific decision.

Getting a handle on these four things will help you make decisions with more confidence in the process, even when you’re worried about the potential outcome.

I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to help them see everything they need to know to make better decisions for their businesses and careers. You can also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, or click the handy orange button below to subscribe to news you can use.

Some thoughts on hard things

Hands reaching out

President Obama famously had a sign on his desk that read, “Hard Things are Hard”. That really sums up this week. As if it wasn’t enough that we are embroiled in a pandemic, we have witnessed humans enduring pain, suffering, and death of a whole higher order. At the hand of other humans. How is such a thing possible? What do we do with it? How do we unpack it?

Last week, we talked about dealing with trolls. Of the tips we shared, numbers two and five are especially important this week, about dealing with negative messages (especially directed at ourselves). First, exercise compassion – pay attention to the remarks and see if there is a grain of truth that represents an opportunity for improvement. Secondly, if you have done something wrong, own up to it. Apologize and explain what you’ve done – if they’ve called you out on a legitimate complaint, say you’re sorry and tell them how you’re working to solve it. We’ve watched this playing out in real time this week, in a host of situations.

Companies and individuals have realized that silence is no longer acceptable. But speaking out isn’t enough. We need to look deep inside ourselves, do something to support others who are working to solve the problem, and figure out what personal action we need to take. Lego is a good example – they took a public stance. They donated money to support anti-racism causes. And then they looked for a contribution they could make, in their own house. You can read about it here.

For our part, we’re giving our privilege some deep thought. We will speak up more often where we should, and be quiet and listen where we must. Thank you for your patience with us. If you’d like to make a donation to an organization supporting anti-racism efforts here in Canada, here are three:

The Black Legal Action Centre

Black Women in Motion

Black Youth Helpline

And if you can support this event, happening today, or spread the word, we’d appreciate it.

I am Megann Willson, and I am a Partner here at PANOPTIKA. I’m better than I was yesterday. Not as good as tomorrow. And nowhere near what I hope to be when I’m done. I am listening, learning, and speaking…sometimes well, and sometimes in need of another lesson. Thank you for your patience. We’re listening here, here, and here. And we’d be grateful to have you join us for our weekly news.

What to do when the Trolls Show Up…

Troll in forest

You’ve started to get some traction with your social media posts or your blog, and then…the trolls show up. What can you do?

The natural urge is to feel defensive. To want to fight back. But is that in your best interest? Most of the time, it’s not. Here are some steps you can take when confronted with negative information:

  1. Remind yourself and your team that happy customers often say nothing – you may have many “likes” or “shares”, but much of the time, of comments
  2. Exercise compassion – pay attention to the remarks and see if there is a grain of truth that represents an opportunity for improvement.
  3. Consider the source – are they a “troll for hire” or bot, simply programmed by an algorithm to respond to certain phrases or topics?
  4. Don’t argue – looking defensive won’t get you anywhere and will add validity to their remarks
  5. Apologize and explain what you’ve done – if they’ve called you out on a legitimate complaint, say you’re sorry and tell them how you’re working to solve it
  6. Take the conversation offline – and show that you’re offering them another way to voice their concerns
  7. Push them out of the way – enlist your allies (customers, clients, or stakeholders) to help you build up the positive comments

Bear in mind that often the people who are bothered the most by trolls are team members who work their hardest to be good, kind, compassionate, and helpful. They’ll want to defend themselves. The best thing you can do for them is to have a clear policy and a place where they, too, can voice their concerns. Do that, and encourage them to support your efforts to manage what is sometimes a very unruly and discomfiting beast.

I’m Megann Willson, one of the Partners here at PANOPTIKA. We work with our clients to see everything they need to know to make better decisions as they find, understand, and engage their customers. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or subscribe for weekly updates using the handy button, below.