Relationships Are Key

If you haven’t seen this in the news, McDonald’s is installing self serve kiosks in all of their restaurants. Recognizing McDonald’s may not be the pinnacle of the customer experience and for all the arguing we heard in the news a while back about people wanting to get paid $15 to flip burgers, this is certainly a great cost-saving measure for McDonald’s that comes with a twist of irony. It also highlights an interesting trend that seems contrary to everything business ought to be.

The backbone of any business is the relationship it has with its customers. Good experiences and interaction for the customers keeps them coming back, and placing them ahead of profits ensures they do so for years to come. Placing profits ahead of customers might mean we make a boatload of cash in a short time frame, but at what price for the long term? Obviously McDonald’s is a huge corporation and the idea that they would make this move without a lot of research and development seems highly unlikely. It also seems unlikely that customers will enjoy being treated with such little regard over the long term. On the other hand, their business model is all about delivering cheap, crappy, over-salted food to customers as fast as they can and perhaps removing part of the human interaction really is the ideal move for them. Time will tell.

To be fair, fast food has never been my business model, but this still feels counter-intuitive to all I believe about business. To get back to the original point, the advent of computers and even more so the internet makes it too easy for us to get sucked into the idea that relationships aren’t as important as they once were. We only need to look at upcoming generations with their permanently bent thumbs over smartphones and tablets to see how these tools can easily separate us when they should be the ultimate tools to pull us together.

The other part of this could have to do with the scale of the product that’s being exchanged;  perhaps a commodity as common as a cheeseburger doesn’t fall under the same rules of building relationships with customers, but a kiosk isn’t likely going to be able to answer questions as fast as a person can, nor are they particularly good at smiling or interpreting the customer’s mood and body language.

As we continue to conduct our own business, let’s take a closer look at how we are interacting with our customers and clients. Do we see them or our products and services as our commodities? Are we actively working to increase trust with our clients and build our relationships with them, or are we just trying to squeeze every last penny out of them that we can?

Obviously we need to make money lest our businesses just become really expensive hobbies, but if we follow the principle that money follows value, we can dramatically improve the customer experience, which in turn boosts our reputation, and the money takes care of itself. It might be a longer game to play, but it’s also more enduring and frankly it’s just the right thing to do.

On Superiority

We each have our own unique talents and gifts that can help us perform at levels well above our peers in our chosen fields. We invest vast quantities of time and energy through years of training and practice, and maybe even advanced degrees from a prestigious college to show how well we know what we do.

But let’s be blunt. Such knowledge and training does not make us better than another. No matter how good we may be at our chose professions, this is not enough to make up the total definition of our character. The way our world works anymore it would be impossible for any one person to have superior knowledge in all areas of life. It requires us to combine all of our unique talents and skills to keep the whole thing running.

We can absolutely be proud of our achievements and what we’ve learned along the way. Hard work should be recognized for the value it provides both ourselves and others. Let’s also keep a sense of humbleness and remember that the only true feeling of superiority we should feel is over former versions of ourselves.

Be Kind

Among the most amazing writing in history comes the Diary of Anne Frank. Hiding with family in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in World War 2, she was ultimately discovered and led to a concentration camp where she passed away due to illness. Her father was the only member of the family to survive and hurried to publish the journal shortly after its discovery.

The trials of hiding for several years in an attic is not something most of us could readily endure. Yet Anne Frank’s journal shows us that it is possible. Although not everything in her journal is uplifting, it still has many examples of how we don’t have to be trapped by the experiences we’re having.

If anyone could have been justified for holding a grudge or be angry for their surroundings, Anne Frank would have been right at the front of the line. She was a girl with no country and the occupying force wanted to destroy her for reasons completely unjustified. And instead of harboring anger, we could even suggest she mocked the weapons from which she was hiding. She kept peace at the forefront of her thoughts so she could keep the one they could never take from her: her spirit.

Please think on this as you go about the world. We have all been through things that have caused damage. So many of us just need to know somebody cares about us, that we count, and that our efforts mean something. For the pressures heaped upon us by increasing pace of the world, we could all use a little more kindness to get through the day.

Heck, even the toughest among us could still use an extra smile here and there. We don’t have to turn into total softies because business does require some toughness, but it is possible to have compassion at the same time.

Personal Relationships

“Personal relationships are always the key to good business. You can buy networking; you can’t buy friendships.” -Lindsay Fox

Lindsay Fox is an Australian businessman. He formed his trucking and logistics company with one truck in 1956 (62 years ago as of this note) and according to Forbes he is worth roughly $3.4 billion US dollars. That’s quite a few zeroes!

It would be very difficult to build an organization of that size that has lasted that without learning a few things about business. With that much money comes a lot of power and odds are pretty good he could do just about anything he feels like doing whether we like it or not. So to hear him suggest that personal relationships are key, it’s worth paying attention.

It’s easy for us to get excited when we’re making lots of money because it does give us more freedom. We can buy more stuff and do more things than we used to.

However, we need to remember that stuff is just that: stuff. It can come and go and has little to do with who we are. We must also remember that people are ALWAYS more important. It’s far more important we use stuff to help people rather than using people to get more stuff.

It’s okay to want a better car or a bigger house. Just keep it all in proper perspective.

Your Inner Circle

“Everyone is your best friend when you are successful. Make sure that the people that you surround yourself with are also the people that you are not afraid of failing with.” -Paula Abdul

Let’s carry on our discussion of relationships from yesterday.

First off, if you remember listening to Paula Abdul on the radio, you’re definitely another child of the 80s. If you’re not sure who is, just think big hair, drum machines, and fancy dance moves. The 80s was an interesting decade for music for sure! But I digress.

She still makes a good point, though. Obviously we want things to go well as much as we can. Nobody likes to be overly stressed or struggling to get through challenges when we would really rather be on the beach playing with our friends. And when things are going well everybody wants to hang out.

The real test of our relationships comes when things are not going as planned. When we’re maybe not as available as we used to be or asking for some help to get through the rough spots, our closest of friends will rally around us, lift us, and help us get through. Of course we can’t just sit around and let everyone else handle the mess for us, but even having someone we can talk to when things are hard can be enough.

It’s these people, the ones that stay closest to us when things are hard, the ones that sacrifice on our behalf and expect nothing in return… These are our genuine friends, that deserve our love and respect above all others. If we’re living correctly we should want to help anybody that needs it, but it’s okay to give this core group a little more attention.

We should certainly offer the same love and respect in return. It’s how we pay it forward and help everyone around us rise right along with us. I’ve offered my help to others just as I have also asked for it and my relationships with my dearest friends have grown tremendously. There is nothing we can’t handle when working together and I cherish that above all else.

Money vs Value

How many times have you heard that money isn’t the most important thing in the world?

It might not be the most important thing in the world, but I still rank it right up there with oxygen! It’s hard to do much in this world without it unless you really want to live off the fat of the land. Even then the tax collector will come find you for property taxes. Sigh.

Still, it’s not entirely wrong that about money being the only thing we pursue in business. Placing money over people might make us money for the short term, but it isn’t sustainable and eventually people will stop trusting you.

Far better we create value for others and let the money follow. A willingness to share and place others before ourselves creates trust and people are far more likely to join us in our pursuits. Money then becomes a natural byproduct of all we do and the greater the service we provide, the greater the income.

That doesn’t mean we have to do anything for free! If we don’t make any money then we just have an expensive hobby that we can only sustain until we run out of funds. It’s more about making sure we keep it all in the right order.