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Getting the Big Picture

April 13, 2009
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“What does not kill you will make you stronger.”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Surprisingly, all pundits, financial gurus, the famous man-in-the-street and yes, even your mom all agree on one thing: business conditions this challenging have not been seen in most people’s lifetimes. (And hopefully will not be seen again!) Yet you, as a small business entrepreneur, have the great privilege of determining your own financial future. A wonderful opportunity – if you do it right!

Last month we examined several “Early Warning Systems” that identify business problems before they grow into malignant cancers that can threaten your entire company. These EWS included systems that dig out loser employees, unhappy customers and hidden financial problems.

But all this macro-analysis can lead to the ugly problem of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” It is just all too easy to lose sight of the big picture in business.

The very best way to get the big picture of your business? Just walk around! Great business managers and entrepreneurs have always seen the need to actively involve themselves in the actual work of their company. In 1982 Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman popularized the term “Management By Walking Around” in their hugely successful book, In Search of Excellence. The authors focused on large companies and how easily management can lose touch with their employees. But small entrepreneurs can use MBWA to their benefit too.

If you have employees, it is a no-brainer to keep in touch with them (see last month’s column for some great ideas on staying close to your people emotionally). But carpet cleaning businesses of any size face an even greater challenge: it is all too easy to lose the big picture with your clients. So how can MBWA help you?

Invite your customers along for your “walk-around”! Why? Because success in business is based on how your clients perceive your operation. You see, nobody cares about how you feel about your company. Remember that “love is blind” and no love is blinder than that which you have for your company. Now, I realize you are constantly examining your business (and if you aren’t you most definitely should be). But here is your challenge: it’s not all about you! Instead, your customer’s “Perception of Value” will define your success or lack of it.

So therefore to be truly successful in this walking around game, you have to “Look Through Your Customer’s Eyeglasses.” Here are some great questions, along with the answers I would humbly propose.
  1. Who is your customer? The hardest thing to grasp is that you are not your customer! When I compared myself to my typical customer, I realized they were better educated, wealthier, usually older, more stressed out and definitely less mechanically and technically focused. (And, of course, not nearly as good looking!) Now, if all of the above was true of me as a more-or-less successful business owner, imagine the emotional gulf between the homeowner and my 23-year-old technician!
  2. What has your customer’s history been with previous carpet cleaners? Sadly, you probably already know the answer. In public opinion polls, carpet cleaners consistently rank right down there with used car dealers and late-night hucksters. (However, we still rank above attorneys!) Seriously, though, your first-time customer very likely is going to be nervous, suspicious, cynical and even a bit hostile simply because of his or her bad experiences with other carpet cleaners. Once again, how can your company set itself apart from the crowd? By focusing on what I call the “Three A’s”- Appearance, Actions and Attitude!
  3. What are their current circumstances? Empathy is defined as “the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings or difficulties.” This customer compassion is essential if you are going to successfully LTYCE. (This empathy is especially important if you offer emergency water-damage service.) And yet, we all too often fall short in this area. Why?
    • You (or your employee) are stressed out, running behind and all too often are only focused on banging the job out, or
    • The carpet cleaner doesn’t know or care about what the homeowner is dealing with in their life. Why bother with all this feel-good stuff?
  4. How does the homeowner decide if your company has done a “good job” or a “bad job”? By far the biggest factor is their relationship with the person actually doing the work. If this individual is you, with your sparkling personality, congratulations! You are home free! (At least until one day when your aching body means that your scrub wand doesn’t look as inviting as it did 20 years ago!) But if you are leaving this all-important relationship in the hands of the typical 23-year-old “I could care less” technician, the next question should make you a bit nervous.
  5. What will make your customer want to do business with you again? When you LTYCE, you realize a homeowner will come back again and again only if you can consistently provide them three things:
    • Provide a “solution” to their problem. Most of us do a decent job at this. Dirty carpets? Bingo! Sparkling clean carpet! Making carpets at least “look clean” is relatively easy given today’s equipment, chemicals and technical training. But here is your challenge. Just getting the carpet clean is not enough to differentiate your company from your competition and create customer loyalty.
    • Make it “easy.” Customers are more stressed today than ever before. So LTYCE and ask, “Is my company simple and easy to do business with?” For example, do you offer extended hours, flexible scheduling and different pricing options? How about online scheduling and a professionally produced Web site that allows your customer to research his or her options before calling you? So now you have made it simple for the customer to work with you. Great! You are already ahead of the pack. But to slam dunk the competition, you once again should focus on your customer’s emotions.
    • Give them “good feelings”. That’s right. You may have the biggest, baddest truckmounts around and workers who are well trained technically. But what is the “vibe” of your company? Are you personally fun to do business with? How about your employees? Remember, nobody really enjoys the disruption of having their carpets cleaned. At best, your visit is viewed by the homeowner as a tolerated irritation! However, you can ease the pain of this semi-annoying transaction by bringing a bit of cheer and good humor to your customer’s day.


Most carpet cleaners would prefer to avoid all these messy Emotional Dynamics of dealing with the homeowner. Life would be so much simpler if we could just focus on PSI, inches of water lift, CFM and those beautiful new carpet glides! However, just walking around in your company and getting the big picture by Looking Through Your Customer’s Eyeglasses will pay off immediately and build a solid company that will prosper in the future.

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