As 2009 draws to a close, it’s likely many of us are glancing over our shoulders with trepidation. For thousands and thousands of businesses and millions and millions of individuals, the last 12 months have been nothing short of — well, it’s kinda hard to find the right word. “Challenging” comes to mind, but that really doesn’t quite capture the reality of this year, does it? “Jaw-dropping, ugly and vicious,” perhaps? Whatever the moniker one chooses, it’s impossible to get around the fact that for far too many of us, 2009 will be remembered as a year that was unlike anything we had ever experienced before (or would want to again).
Which, of course, can be a good thing in the way castor oil, demanding teachers and prostrate exams can be good things. Short-term pain for long-term gain.
There’s no doubt that the pain some American felt this year was — and, sadly, still is — almost unbearable. Losing one’s job in this economy means more than just a lost paycheck. It can mean a loss of healthcare. It can mean a loss of dignity, potential and purpose. It can mean a loss of one’s home and family. And with unemployment running hovering around 10 percent nationally and as high as 30 percent in some regions, it can mean a loss of hope.
And yet for some, it has meant a loss of fear. When circumstances beyond their control forced radical changes in their lives, some individuals responded by adapting and improving. They changed careers. They changed locations They changed approaches. Rather than focusing inward and getting stuck in a downward spiral, they looked outward to see how they could fit into their new environment more effectively. To be sure, not everyone had the flexibility or opportunity to do this. For those already living on the edge or on the boundaries of our economy, changes in circumstances just made it that much harder to pay the rent, buy food and keep their heads above the rapids. But just as in the natural world, those who could and did adapt found success. And success breeds success.
Channel the energy you would invest in fear on focus.
In business, the same rules apply. As companies faced a recession unprecedented in its scope and depth, some found the waves too powerful to endure. Crushed by the daily pressure of declining revenues, rising costs and increased competition, many had little choice but to call it a day. Others cut overhead, shed employees and shuttered operations in an attempt to bail water faster than the waves could put it in.
And others found ways to be successful and position themselves for future success. The regional powerhouse BB&T provides a sterling example (disclosure: BB&T is a Forge Communications client). Take a gander at some of their recent financials.
Why were some successful and others not? To be sure, luck played a part. And as our parents taught us, we sometimes create our own luck by the choices we make. Being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff means putting yourself in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.
What does that mean for an individual or organization heading into 2010?
About 10 years ago, I took my daughter to Disney World. While in Epcot one afternoon, I accidentally left my credit card at a shop in China. I didn’t realize it until I went to pay for something in another shop some 15 minutes away. The cashier suggested I go to Guest Services at the park entrance to report my loss. While in line at Guest Services, I just kept thinking over and over again how this trip to Disney (already quite an investment) could end up costing a whole lot more than I had intended.
Just as we walked up to the counter, a young Disney cast member ran in the front door and up to the counter where we stood. Flushed and still out of breath, he asked me if I had just lost my credit card. “Yes,” I said. Wiping beads of sweat from his brown, he then asked me my name. “Roger Friedensen,” I replied wondering what was going on. He then held up and handed me my credit card.
He had run from China to Guest Services — that’s about a mile — to help ensure one customer had a positive experience with his company. Astonished, I took the card, thanked him and headed back out with my daughter to enjoy the rest of our day. I had often heard about Disney’s laser-like focus on the customer, but experiencing that level of customer service first-hand literally blew me away. And to this day, quite frankly, it still does.
I share this story to make a point. Companies and individuals who choose to focus outside of themselves and find ways to give others what they need when they need it and in the way they want it will enjoy success. Like the old adage, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
So how can we increase our odds of success in 2010? Focus on the fundamentals and make our own luck by adapting yourself and your company to provide extraordinary service continuously tailored to each current and potential customer.
Even if it means going the extra mile.