10 November 2007

Kill Your Alligators While They Are Small

This piece of business wisdom, is so ingrained, I'm not sure when I learned it. When I think about it, all I hear is my mom telling my dad, "We have a few alligators to deal with today." An alligator is a problem in your business. I just grew up with the analogy and didn't really understand that it wasn't a universal thing until I had to explain it to a number of other business owners. Over the years I've realized that my parents naturalized rules for dealing with alligators were actually a very good system for dealing with problems that come up in small business. When ever there was a problem they would say, "We need to kill this alligator while it's small." The faster you can deal with a problem after it comes up, the easier it is to make it go away. If you ignore it and wait until its grown into a twelve foot toothy beast, it's a lot harder to handle.

The Five Steps to Kill an Alligator

1. Respond to the problem as soon as you know about it. This will help the person you are dealing with, either customer or staff know that they have been heard.

2. If at all possible, go and assess the problem in person. Listen to both the customer and your staff to gather as much information as possible. The first thing you do with your customer is apologize and assure them that they will be taken care of. The first thing you do with your staff is to assure them that they aren't going to get fired for having the problem, but you expect them to learn from it. This gets everyone on your side. Listen to the person that has the problem and let them vent. Stay calm and reassuring. Provide a solution as soon as you have an opening in the conversation.

3. If it's fixable, fix it as soon as possible. Offer 3 choices, and let the person choose what will make them happy. In the case of the client the choices are:
A. Re-do the work.
B. Refund the work.
C. Replace what was damaged.

4. Do follow up with the customer and your staff after the agreed upon solution has been executed. This cements the good relationship with the customer and allows you to use the experience to train your employees.

5. If you really feel that you have been taken for a ride by the person who had a problem with you, fix the problem and then fire the customer. Firing a customer can be accomplished by a notation in their file that tells you that you don't want to work with them anymore. If they call again, (pulling a customers file should always be part of your phone script, but that's another post)you'll see the notation and you can simply tell them, "The last time we did work for you, you were really not happy with our service. It might be better for both of us if you found someone else to work with, I can give you a couple of recommendations."

Handling the business problems sooner rather than later will help your business grow and help you to maintain a good reputation. Killing your alligators is about taking care of what is most important in business, your relationships with people. However, it also allows you to maintain control of your business and assess the people and customers you work with to the benefit of everyone.

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