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It’s Not Just Business It’s Personal


If you have ever seen the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” there is a gem of a scene in it that speaks volumes to the business world for those listening.

For those unfamiliar, this story has Tom Hanks as the owner of a large discount bookstore that moved in the same area as a small family-owned bookstore ran by Meg Ryan’s character. The two are simultaneously engaged in a blossoming online romance of anonymity neither knowing the person on the other end is a business rival.

To our point here, by the time Meg’s character owning the “Shop Around the Corner” bookstore is forced out of business by the big box retailer, Tom Hanks has become aware that it is her he has been falling for in the online romance. He recognizes the depth of her loss and without revealing his “Big Box identity,” he visits her to bring flowers and seemingly apologize for running her out of business in an attempt to move their possible relationship forward.

Their conversation goes like this:

  • Tom:You know, it wasn’t personal
  • Meg:What is that supposed to mean?-I’m so sick of that. All that means is that is wasn’t personal to you- but it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people.  What is so wrong with being personal anyway?”
  • Tom:Uh- Nothing.”
  • Meg:Because whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”

While I could write an entire book on how being personal and proper people skills can benefit you in business, here are just a few examples:

The Numbers are a result of the people

While every business has the clichés and sayings like, “our people are our great asset,” or “your customer experience will never be better than our employee experience,” or “The customer comes first,” when it comes down to it, they all look at the numbers. When push comes to shove the decision usually goes with the numbers. (Except in the case of litigation issues where employees may appear to be protected and come first. This protection itself, however, is often a nod to the greater numeric impact of paying out a larger legal settlement or the losses from bad press, more than a moral consideration for the individual.)

From Retail to Banking to restaurants and every business in between there comes the point where the emphasis on numbers and the pressure to meet prescribed numbers as metrics take over.

  • Ever stood in a long line at a retail or grocery store check-out when they have 35 registers but only 6 of them staffed and opened having cashiers there running them? Saving money by not paying a cashier in order to save labor dollars (numbers) just created you an inconvenient and extended length of time to wait in line. Ooops Numbers over customer experience.
  • Have you ever used a Self-check-out, in one of these locations? Congratulations, you just worked for free. They didn’t have to pay a cashier at all. And by continuing to create an infuriating experience when you stand in one of the few register lanes that are open, you conclude “I can do this faster myself,” and go the self-check-out, or “free labor” lane voluntarily.
  • Ever been at a restaurant drive-thru and asked to “pull forward and we’ll bring your meal out to you?” That’s because there is a timer, measuring how long cars sit there waiting for their food to be handed to them. If a car sits there too long or longer than the target number time, the managers can lose bonus money. So instead of losing that bonus money, you are asked to pull forward. Code for “get off of my timer so I don’t lose my bonus or have someone rail me for missing my target numbers.
  • Ever heard in the news of a bank having employees creating accounts that customers weren’t even aware of? Again, the pressure to hit their numbers won out over being a trusted adviser.

The irony is that all of these situations in an attempt to hit the numbers may contribute to that in the short-term but serve long-term thru a poor customer experience to start a downward spiral. As guest or customers visit less frequently, there are smaller margins and the numbers to hit get smaller as well.

While every business has to control expenses, the easiest way to cover them is to have more sales. Once you cover the break-even costs of business, a greater portion of every dollar flows thru as profit. The examples in the above approach are backward. If each business provided a truly excellent experience, their revenue would increase and provide the additional funds needed to bring the numbers in line when executed correctly.

Technology is only a facilitator

In his book, “It’s Your Ship, Management Techniques from the Best Ship in the Navy,” Veteran and Captain D. Michael Abrashoff, makes the statement, “Technology is only a facilitator.” I’ve never heard anyone define it so correctly.

  • Good Businesses are the result of the people working there. Effectively ran businesses are led by effective leaders. What technology does is facilitate what a good leader would be doing, allowing that leader to leverage his time and spread themselves to a broader coverage of the business as a result. But the technology won’t make the business a success unless the right person is driving it.
  • Businesses of all kinds were previously running with simple adding machines but now computers and electronic registers abound, and IT (Information Technology) departments are a staple. Guess what? Good operators can still open and run a business without computers. They did it for years. Having these items only facilitates the ability to do so.
  • However, it is the person, not the technology that is most important in this equation. I’ll defend that statement as follows: Even with a register that tells you how much money to give for change, if the person running the register cannot count, the till will be off and the customer is given incorrect change.
  • If however the computer is removed from the equation, the person who can count accurately will still be able to make the change as needed.
  • This scenario is true from basic technologies to advanced analytics. There is a task of business at the root of what each technology is delivering which a person wants or could do themselves in most cases. The tradeoff is spending the money to buy the technology that facilitates the tasks for them.

Sincerity, Service, and Dedication are Intangible Personal Assets often left off the books

They say in the restaurant business that good service can save a bad meal, but a good meal can’t make up for bad service. This translates into all business. The right personal touch can often recover a flaw in the product. Here are a few comments from both sides of that.

  • I once knew of a customer complaint that was handled  correctly. The customer was so impressed, and they did come back in the future. Not only that, but they became an advocate for the business bringing in tons of future business because their initial complaint was handled correctly. This goes back to the first examples. Rather than looking at that one customer and trying to hit the numbers by not replacing the item of complaint or doing anything for them, they were extended a replacement and treated kindly. The returns were extraordinary as was the free publicity.
  • Once while on a trip, I know a family who placed a 35 dollar order at a major fast for chains drive-thru. When getting the window, they asked for “an extra pack of BBQ sauce for the chicken nuggets please.” To which they were told that it would be “extra charge of 25 cents plus tax”. Imagine that- running the food cost numbers was so important that on a 35 dollar transaction they had to get another 25 cents for one sauce packet. It hit the customer the wrong way. Their evaluation was, that for that large of an order they should be given one extra sauce or the restaurant could just risk them just abandoning the order and the restaurant then loses that wasted product and any remaining lifetime of return patronage, plus all the negative influence that could be thrown their way. It became personal to them, and while I understand the need to control cost, that was the wrong way to attempt it. The backlash far exceeding the 25 cents they tried to bleed the customer for. And that was before social media.
  • In a banking situation, I know a person that had a replacement debit card for their medical savings account supposedly sent out three different times without receiving it, calling the bank each time to follow up. In the meantime, while the customer awaited the card to be able to access the funds, a service charge was applied to the account every month depleting funds that the customer couldn’t get to. After several months, the frustrated customer called again explaining the situation, to which the employee said,” I see that is all documented in your account, even that you had called in several times for a card.” The customer then said, “So don’t you think the right thing to do in terms of customer service, since you see that, would be to credit back my service charges since you see I had no access to the funds?” The reply was astonishing- “Probably so, but is that something you are requesting? “ With a confirmation from the customer then it was, “I’ll have to have a supervisor call you back.” As a result of quibbling over not refunding less than 45 dollars in fees, that customer completely closed the Medical Savings Account, and all other accounts which netted a removal in combined funds from the bank of over 385,000 Dollars. It was personal!
  • Ever walk into a retail store and have a greeter stair at you but not talk? What an oxymoron. Someone to stand there and stare at you like you have egg on your face.
  • On one occasion, I once went to a bakery to find a bell on the counter with a sign that read, “You are very important to us. Ring the bell to let us know you are here.” I thought, “if I am truly so important to you, why do I have to help you notice me?”

Contrast that to a place where someone greets me upon entry with a smile and holding the door open for me. Guess where I am going back to?

  • I know sales people that are always at the top of the list no matter what company they are with or what product they are selling. Their client list is personal, and as Meg said, “begins with being personal”. As a result, they are trusted and present whatever they have with an honest presentation and the welfare of that client in mind. This is why they are successful no matter where they go.

Great leaders get all of this and as servant leaders have reduced turnover, better sales, and profitability as a whole.

The truth of the matter is that the popular rise of Loyalty Programs is an automated attempt to capture the return patronage that has been lost by poor service and experiences like these above. The real leaders aren’t making these mistakes and because they know it starts with being personal, their numbers in business are good.

Business and Personal/ You are at War! 

  • It’s the historical recognition of Ying vs. Yang. To everything, there is an opposite.
  • Consider a car loan, or a mortgage. The same transaction being an asset or a liability depends if you are the Bank or the Consumer. All transactions are this way.
  • I heard one author describe “being at war” concerning your money. Businesses may try to take it, and you have to defend it. That is your job. It’s not just business; It’s personal!

Want to win your war?

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Until Next time Remember,

“In Life, Family, Faith or Finance-Your Success is in the Details”- Doug

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