5+ Things Businesses Don’t Do…That You Should


It was a simple post from Peter Shankman that caught my eye this week. He offered up Five Things People Don’t Do…That You Should. In it, Peter shares a number of terrific life lessons to help you be remembered and separate yourself from the pack. The post really resonated with me and was a good reminder that the most important thing about you is often how you make others feel. I couldn’t help but think the same thing applied to brands.

In the spirit of continuing the conversation, I thought today I’d share five things that all businesses don’t do, that you should. After all, we all want to be better, don’t we? Especially in business.

Know Who You Are

If I were to ask you who your competitors are, would you know? If I were to ask what makes YOU different from all the other like-yous in the market, would you be able to form a coherent answer? If I were to ask you what your unique selling proposition was, what would you tell me? To be successful, you need to know the answers to all of these questions. More than that, you need to exemplify the answers. Unfortunately, most businesses don’t. They have no idea who they are – and the result is they take no clear direction, they waste time in unfulfilling areas and they offer a fragmented brand image to users.

Be better than that. Take some time to outline your company’s strengths and weaknesses, who you want to model and whom you want to crush. You can’t move without direction and you definitely can’t convey a brand image to others you haven’t even figured out for yourself yet.

Accept Blame

It’s pretty much guaranteed that this new real-time world will open up an opportunity for you to publicly shoot yourself in the foot in GRAND fashion. You’ll tweet something, run something, publish something, post something, whatever, and, within 10 seconds, immediately see the error of your ways and wish you could take it back. But you can’t. Instead of accepting blame, most brands will quickly attempt to cast blame. They’ll locate a scapegoat that they can throw under the bus in an attempt to separate themselves from what happened. We saw J.C. Penney fire their SEO company after a paid links scandal, Groupon dismissed their ad agency, CP+B, after some polarizing ads, and we see it happen every day when social media interns are let go for simple n00b mistakes. Instead of looking for someone to blame, just admit the mistake.

Believe it or not, your customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They expect you to be genuine with them. If you mess up (and you will), admit the mistake, apologize, present a plan for how you’ll prevent it in the future, and then move on. We live in a real-time world. Someone will come around to goof even bigger than you in a few days. No one cares. Why risk tarnishing your brand’s image by showing people you’re not secure enough to (wo)man up?

Excel At Customer Service

There’s a great one man lunch spot a block up from the Outspoken Media office in Troy, NY. The food is deliciousness, it’s in walking distance, and I get to feel good about myself for supporting local business in Troy when I go there. But…I don’t go there very often. Why? Because the guy running the show always looks so miserable when someone comes in to order their food. Like I’m bothering him by walking into this storefront and as if he’d rather I just walk on by rather than stop in to order something. So most days I appease him and go somewhere else.

It doesn’t matter what service you sell or what product you offer – your job is customer service. It’s about greeting people with a smile and doing everything you can to exceed their expectations at every touch point. The businesses that stand out are the ones that become obsessed with delivering fantastic customer service. That friendly voice on the phone, in email or in store matters. It’s how customers will remember your brand and what they’ll tell their friends about when they leave. Businesses forget it and think serving a great Greek chicken wrap is enough – it’s not.

Have Some Chutzpah

Most brands spend their time too afraid to ever do anything interesting. They don’t ruffle feathers, won’t risk offending anyone and they definitely won’t mutter something someone could potentially find controversial. Instead, they keep their head down and continue to do what’s always worked. The problem is the “same old stuff” doesn’t work anymore and attempt it just makes you invisible.

Have some chutzpah. One of the cool things about really knowing who you are as a company is that it gives you a blueprint for where you need to be and whom you need to attract. You start to understand your audience and what they’re secretly pining for them. When you know – find new and exciting ways to give it to them. Know who you are and stand for something. Maybe that means you’ll pull a groupon and accidentally fall off the course – but when you do, you’ll be able to put yourself back on, say you’re sorry and try again. As your customer, I’m much more likely to forgive you when I know you’re trying and when you constantly give me cool stuff to look at or enjoy. How many things has Google thrown against the wall to see if they stuck? How many have failed miserably? Doesn’t seem to have hindered them much.

Recommend Competitors (when it makes sense)

You are not God’s gift to the world. There are things your business is good at and things they are not so good at. It’s your job to know the difference and to send customers elsewhere when they come looking for services you simply can’t provide. But some businesses choose not to do this. They’ll take on a client they know they can’t service because they don’t want to admit they can’t handle it or because they think if they send you away once you’ll never come back. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

As your customer, I know you can’t do everything well. I know this because as perfect as I am, I can’t do everything well either. So I respect you when you have enough confidence in your business to send me elsewhere. In fact, I appreciate that you value me enough not to waste my time and to simply help me solve my problem. I’ll remember that about you. That you’re the kind of business that cares more about our relationship than the $100 you could have earned by selling me something you shouldn’t have.

Bonus: Make Me Feel Like Your Favorite

You want to know a secret? Your customers want to feel like you appreciate them more than all your other customers. We’re all vying to be your favorite, and the smaller your business, the more that’s true. I like that when I go to Flavour Café, the owner knows my name, my order, and sometimes drops a free cupcake off at my table when he sees I’ve been working all day. I like that my morning Dunkin Donuts order is started as soon as I walk in the door and I hope on line. I like when I ordered a pair of shoes and get a handwritten note throw in the box thanking me. All of these little things? They tell me that you see me. That you noticed I like you and that you like me back. Sure, this could be lumped into customer service, but I think it goes beyond that. I want you to show me I’m your favorite customer.

But most brands don’t think to do this. They treat all their customers like replaceable cattle. Problem is, when you make us feel replaceable, what you’re really doing is making your business replaceable in our eyes. Because when we feel like you’re loyal to us, it makes us want to be loyal right back.

Those are few of things businesses could do to improve themselves and create better relationships with customers. How would you like to see businesses step up? What could they do to really wow you?

Your Comments

  • Michael Dorausch

    Changing the passwords at office cause I feel you’ve been reading our customer service manual again. :)

    You’re nailing it Lisa, like nobody else does.

    We have found recommending competitors has been huge for our business growth. Not only do we recommend other chiropractors, I just suggested to a patient to use their insurance for physical therapy, even if they have to take a break from seeing us. Some may think that’s crazy but it has magical results. Especially so, when you consider the secret, you are our favorite!

    From the business owners perspective, when the office is full of your favorites, the day is full of enjoyment. A big win-win.

  • Lorayne

    This is one of my favorite articles that you have written! Thank you so much for pointing this out, Outspoken Media. Customer service is so important to me, and in this digital age so many businesses are forgettting that very important aspect of treating your customers well, and appreciating that their business supports yours. Having moved here from Long Island I find this problem especially prevelant here in the Capital District of Albany, where unfortunately there is not enough local competition that will entice business to stand out and excel. Thanks again for this article!

  • Sabre

    Yay! I loved that Peter Shankman article & I love this one too.

    On accepting blame:
    Customers aren’t stupid and the truth always comes out. You can pick a scapegoat to blame your problem/flub-up on, but you know what it makes you look like? A liar. Cover-ups and pointing the finger just show your customers that your #1 priority is YOU, not THEM. It should be the other way around and *they know that*. ‘Cause when it comes down to it, loyal customers know you have their back and when the ish hits the fan, they will have yours too.

    I see too many people think it’s “bad PR” to admit blame and instead just try to sweep it under the rug, but those are PR tactics PRE-social media and it just doesn’t work any more.

  • Mike Roberts

    Nice article. When I finally hit the lottery and open up that book store, I’ll be coming back to this as a primer to remind me better how to do things. Now if only I could win the lottery… maybe I’d have a better time at winning if I actually played.

  • Michael

    Adding on to the whole customer service angle, and a personal pet peeve: do away with the IVR (interactive voice response). Please. No matter how big our company grows we’ll always, ALWAYS have a real human pick up within a ring or three. Our customers like it, are quick to thank us for it, and come back to us because of it (amongst other reasons, of course). Business is, after all, all about the customer. Meet their needs -not the other way around.

  • Doc Sheldon

    As usual, Lisa, you’re spot on with this one! If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say, “There’s just no customer service any more!”…
    That’s not true, of course, but it is becoming a scarce commodity, it seems. I’ve proven time after time to my staff that good customer service can allow you to overcome many problems. Bad customer service, on the other hand, can tear a company apart, no matter what else they have going for them.
    @Michael – I couldn’t agree more, about interactive answering systems. I will NEVER allow one in our offices!

  • Mark Harai

    Interesting Lisa – every tip you’ve recommended is made possible by the first:

    “Know Who You Are.”

    When you achieve this, it will empower you to do the right things for the right reasons. It’s the only foundation you can build on that will last.

    Cheers to you Lisa : )

  • Adriana

    @Doc. I could not agree more. it is becoming a commodity. I would emphasize in the point about Excel At Customer Service, that companies NEED TO ACTUALLY CALL BACK TO THE CLIENT WHEN THEY PROMISE SO! It is amazing, when I tell the client we will call you, he answers with a voice like saying – yeah right -. Then when I call them as I promised they fall in love with the company and it improves our credibility. They feel they can trust us. They say THANK YOU SOOoooo MUCH FOR CALLING BACK!! hahahahha.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    About knowing who you are, an extraordinary excercise is ask yourself a simple question: what do you do in life, and what does your company do? It seems rather obvious, but if you can answer to this questions each in one sentence, it means you are on the right track.
    Also, I always believed competitors are often so just in your mind. I always bring the example of a marketing firm operating in the same town as mine. Normally, the “local habit” would be to fight to the last man standing in order to bury the other, but we followed the path of cooperating, this opened several interesting new projects with clients who wouldn’t take each of us singularly but agreed to take the best of both worlds. In this light, sometimes your competitors can be a powerful asset to your business. It’s also not very frequent to meet a business competing EXACTLY in your same market, so there’s room for cooperation and being a bit more open-minded.

  • Martina Iring

    Heck yes do I ever agree with these points Lisa! The “same old stuff” point resonated with me especially. Stop copying your competitors and sticking with the safe route. Being different and showing your personality is such an important way of standing out and connecting with your customers. And it makes running your business that much more fun :)

  • Stephen Dean

    The most successful business persons I know always accept blame… even if an outside observer would say it’s not their fault… because the successful person knows there’s ALWAYS something more they could have done to achieve a positive outcome. Great advice, all 5 points.

  • Cresilda @ Virtual Assistant, Inc.

    Thanks for sharing this very insightful post. I think the last 3 are often neglected by business owners. Businesses mostly are afraid to try new things out because it may be too risky. But working outside your comfort zone or working in a non-traditional way makes you stand out from your competitors.