It Pays To Know What You Don't Know
By Eric Gilboord | February 28, 2003
Knowing what you don't know, means having an understanding and a respect for all the knowledge you do not possess. It would be difficult for anyone to possess all the answers as well as knowing all the questions. Two major stumbling blocks can stand in the way of the success of a small business.
The arrogance to think you have it all figured out. To believe no one else was as smart as you to see this great opportunity. No one knows your business like you. Or conversely, burying your head in the sand and not admitting there are unanswered questions about your business can be equally harmful.
There is nothing worse than being blind to need. Thinking you know it all is the big downfall. This is a time of rapid change i.e. e-commerce, instant communications and changing attitudes. Some companies are entering the same marketplace as you and making millions. Where do you think this money is coming from? It's coming from your customers-the current ones and the ones you'll never meet.
Customer needs change, they evolve and grow with the familiarity and ongoing use of your products and services. Order the same size pizza from the same location with the same toppings week after week and eventually you will develop a need for something different. Will you simply change your order or try a new pizza place that recently advertised a new crust or some unusual toppings. Customer needs change to reflect weather, holidays, families grow and tastes change. Opportunities abound for you to find more new ways to satisfy a customer's needs.
If you ran a pizza operation you could easily, actively poll your customers as they call in their orders and ask if there is a new topping you may not currently offer that they were thinking about. Maybe they tried a pizza from a competitor and discovered the taste of a new topping was the change they were looking for. Look for some common requests and begin to offer this new topping.
8 Tips For Determining What You Don't Know
- How Is Your Competition Doing? Ask yourself if your competition is doing better than you are. What do they know that you don't? Are they asking questions and responding to the answers? Did you see your competitor try something new and tell everyone you thought of it years ago. Thinking about it is one thing, doing something is what separates success from mediocrity. Thinking about it doesn't make the cash register ring.
- Ask Your Customers. Your customer knows their own needs, likes and dislikes. It's up to you to draw that information from them. One customer may have a specific need shared by many others. If you satisfy that one customer you may have found a product or service desired by many others. This opportunity is there right in front of you waiting to be recognized.
- Question Suppliers. Talk to your suppliers about new ideas. They see what your competition is doing on a regular basis and can have a greater awareness of newly developed, proven opportunities within your industry.
- Unhappy Customers. Turn a negative situation around. Have you learned to spot an unhappy customer? Do you try to find out what is wrong or just assume they are a grump. Is your first reaction short term - solve the immediate problem - or do you invest time to discover the root of the concern.
- How Big Is The Problem? Is the problem bigger than the one customer who voiced it? They say 80% of unhappy customers will never tell you they are dissatisfied. They may tell their friends about your inability to satisfy them but not you. Sometimes a problem can be turned around and become a huge opportunity. If you understand that you do not have all the answers, you will likely be more inclined to take that unhappy customer aside, buy them a cup of coffee and ask for their help. People are flattered to know someone values their opinion and will usually give you the time needed to explore the problem and help you turn it into an opportunity.
- Go Outside Your Industry. Don't restrict yourself to your own industry. Expose yourself to other businesses in different industries, seeing how they promote themselves, deal with customer service and gather information. Review magazine ads, visit websites, read brochures and go in to their stores. What are they doing right and what are they doing wrong? What turns you on as their customer and what turns you off.
- Trade shows. Trade shows are a gold mine for new ideas. They are a great place to ask questions and get instant answers. Investigate ideas, both new to your industry and new to you. Pick the shows carefully and use your time wisely. Identify specific questions and go for specific answers.
- Comment Cards. Comment cards from past customers are filled with ideas, directions and opportunities. There are no guarantees. Some ideas will be good, some bad and some great. Being open is the important part of the equation. Accepting the fact that someone else may have the answer is the first big step.