Every Business Problem Is an Opportunity

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” These are good words to live by whenever a business problem occurs. Let’s explore this idea.

Handling a Business Problem Can Become the Problem

When you stop and think about times when you’ve been on the receiving end of a business problem — for instance, waiting for a late delivery — it’s not always the problem itself, but the company’s response to the problem, that gives you the most heartburn.

You can wait another couple of days for your designer salt and pepper shakers, but what you can’t put up with is the retailer’s uncaring attitude and inability to give you timely delivery status updates. Your frustration about feeling neglected as a customer is what drives you into the arms of another home goods store.

Even When the Problem Is a Problem, It Isn’t a Problem

Of course, there are times when a late delivery is a genuine business problem. For instance, when you are waiting for a furnace repair in the dead of winter and icicles are forming on your showerhead.

However, if the HVAC service technician braves a blizzard and arrives with space heaters, every necessary part to make the repairs and an apologetic and concerned attitude, you are liable to not only forgive an extended wait but also be inclined to use the company in the future.

Attitude Is Important

Transforming a business problem into an opportunity requires the right outlook. When something goes wrong, we have a tendency to get defensive, to play the blame game. Very bad for business! Disgruntled customers or suppliers do not want to argue about whose fault it is; they want the problem solved.

There will be plenty of time to perform the autopsy afterward. Attempts to assess blame in the heat of the fire will only cause an explosion. A conciliatory tone, an attitude that says, let’s put our heads together and work this out, inspires a sense of cooperation and commitment among all parties to the problem.

Have a Response Plan

On a practical level, creating a response plan enables you to put your best foot forward in the aftermath of a problem. You may notice certain retailers quickly send apology emails after you experience a service or product problem — often accompanied by a discount on your order or a coupon for free items.

An apology and free products can take the edge off and may push an unhappy customer off the fence and into your camp. Prudent businesspeople plan for failure as well as success.

Learn and Improve

Successful businesspeople learn from every experience, good and bad. After a problem occurs, it’s imperative to assess the damage and determine how the problem can be prevented in the future. This seems obvious, but think: How many companies make the same mistakes over and over? Why is it that some companies have a reputation for excellence, and others are notorious for bad customer service or inconsistent quality? Why do some companies prosper and grow, while others teeter on the brink of insolvency year after year?

The fact is, some business cultures are resistant to learning and adapting. Since we only learn and adapt when we encounter problems, we should welcome them. We should go out of our way to ferret problems out, rather than gloss over them.

One of my business mentors was fond of saying the easiest competitor to beat was the one that was dumb, fat and happy. This proved to be true because such competitors were completely blind to their shortcomings and therefore easy to sell against. On the other hand, companies that are ever vigilant, always on the lookout for ways to reduce the impact of problems on their business, are formidable foes.

Since I opened with a proverb, I’ll close with another one: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s true, as most proverbs are. Any problem, no matter how seemingly devastating it appears to be in the heat of the moment, has the capacity to make your business more successful.

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