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  The Making It! Business Blog
by Nelson Davis

Friday, February 29, 2008
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This past weekend, like a few million others I watched the Academy Awards, witnessing the results of voting by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Of course that casting of ballots pales in comparison to the voting going on in living rooms around the country to decide who looked best or worst in what dress! A few days prior to that I saw Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barak Obama wailing away on each other in debate, pursuing votes in our country’s seemingly endless political primary process. It dawned on me that whether it be with our fingers, feet or dollars, we are always voting.

You may remember the disputes surrounding the presidential election of 2000, when most of us heard the term “hanging chad” for the very first time. Pundits and politicians argued that the voting process or results weren’t truly valid, but eventually the candidates accepted the results and we moved on. In the world of business there are many votes going on right now and a lot of folks are having a hard time accepting what those referendums are saying.

For an example, let’s look at Starbucks. Though I don’t drink coffee, admiration is what I have for what Howard Schultz and his teams of associates at Starbucks have built. They put the coffee experience on Main Street America in a way that hadn’t been done before. At the end of 2007 Starbucks had 8,505 company-owned outlets worldwide: 6,793 of them in the United States and 1,712 in other countries and U.S. territories.  But these days they are being sent back to the drawing boards by stagnant sales and the employee ennui that comes with doing anything for a long time. Customers have been voting and some other coffee candidates have been getting the nod. This past week most Starbucks closed for several hours so that staff could be reminded that their business must be about providing a great customer experience


We’ve all heard marketing and sales people blame sluggish results on budgets, distribution, the ad campaign, the time of year and other factors they like to think are beyond their control. CEOs in corporate America are swapping Chief Marketing Officers as quickly as they switch golf clubs. I wonder how much time these people take to tabulate the votes that really matter. These days the first place to look is at e-mails from customers, both the happy and disgruntled kind. Of course you can create a survey “ballot” to hand out or send electronically so that existing and prospective customers can tell you what they are thinking. I’m fond of saying that the truth will set you free, but first it may thoroughly kick your butt.


As a business owner and consumer, I’ve become much more comfortable with the idea of telling other businesspeople about my experience with their product or service. Even if I’ve had a less-than-satisfactory encounter, if they listen well I’ll promise to return and try it again. If they behave as if honest feedback is an intrusion on their perfect business, I vote with my feet and the money will go elsewhere next time. I want everyone to succeed in business, and my grandmother’s advice frequently comes to mind. She said “you have two ears and one mouth so listen twice as long as you talk.”


One thing is certain. The voters will prevail, and they are not necessarily the people who are in your office, on your payroll or sitting at your dinner table. At IBM or Joe’s Gardening service, you need to look into the eyes of customers and pay attention to their words like you are panning for gold because that really is what you are doing.






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