Become A Fixer
Does it often seem that the only time people contact you is when they are in a jam? When they have a problem? When they need help? Never when things are going smoothly? Congratulations. That is exactly how you want it to be.
Although I am a better than average swimmer I am comforted when I see a lifeguard present and on alert. I don’t remember ever approaching one to “shoot the breeze.” In most cases, lifeguards are only summoned when something goes wrong, and usually without advance notice. Then, a highly trained professional springs into action with an efficient, thorough and polished display of expertise — and without an attitude.
The same analogy pertains to firefighters. They are on active duty for long and often boring shifts. And like the lifeguard, they are only asked to participate when there is a problem. But once a problem surfaces, they too respond with great alacrity, and never appear disinterested or put out.
Firefighters are professionals who are comfortable with the associated stresses, frustrations and demands placed on them from the public . . . for this is what they have been trained to do. They do not appear to resent having to watch over us, while remaining prepared and braced for an unexpected emergency. For the most part, firefighters take great pride in “watching and waiting” for the opportunity to be of service.
The common denominator is that lifeguards and firefighters clearly understand the purpose for their existence. Their job is to help when help is required.
So what does all this have to do with you and your career? Just about everything. You, too, are in the business of helping people. Nothing more and nothing less. Think of your role as that of a lifeguard or firefighter . . . to offer your talents, skills and experience in time of need . . . whenever called upon.
Being the one clients and prospects call on when the going gets tough — what I call being the “Fixer” — is a compliment of the highest order, and how you perform when called upon will determine whether you win clients and prospects over for life or whether your tenure with them will be relatively fleeting. That performance boils down to two dimensions: (i) your attitude when the “fire alarm” is pulled, and (ii) whether you actually put out the fire or just hose it down a little, while your prospect/client slowly chokes on the smoke you are blowing his way.
Drop Those Cards And Slide Down That Pole
When a prospect comes to a service provider with a problem, the sad reality in many businesses is that he often is given the feeling that he is bothering that provider . . . that he is rocking the provider’s comfort zone and perhaps should apologize for taking Mr. Busy away from what he was doing. Often, the “fire” comes in the form of a complaint, the need for last minute or rush service, or some other special requirement. The attitude your firm conveys to the person pulling the alarm is critical. (Try calling in to your company with a couple of complaints and get a sense of the vibes you receive over the phone.)
Give me the individual who is eager to assist in time of difficulty. These are the people I want.
I often start my marketing seminars with this slide:
“There is nothing in the world as accessible as people, professors and consultants who are ready to give advice.”
This quote supports the axiom that talk is cheap. Yet talk is often what prospects or clients get when they have a problem, or what employees get when they come to the higher-ups with company or customer problems — real problems which inhibit their ability to get the job done. Committees are formed, memos are sent, “I’ll look into that is uttered” — all to no avail.
Will you or your firm just talk the talk, or can you walk the walk? You should assess how prepared you and your firm are to handle customer emergencies. Think of it like the firefighter’s dry run to test response time when the bell goes off. You want to test response time and quality. Your system should enable you or your firm to respond to all complaints and special requests — written, e-mail, and telephonic — within a set period of time (preferably on the spot).
If you have a company employee handling complaints or special requests, be sure that employee is thoroughly schooled in the appropriate response to most common problems he or she is likely to encounter. Also, be sure the employee has the requisite authority to make on-the-spot customer service decisions to fix whatever went wrong or provide what is needed. (This is perhaps one of the most common failures in business today.) Again, test run your system by making a few requests and complaints in the guise of a customer. You’ll know within three tries whether or not your team members are fixers.
Finally, if necessary always be prepared to step in yourself. Remember, being a fixer means not only helping your prospects and clients, but also fixing what needs on my Rolodex.
Talkin’ Or Walkin’?
to be fixed to enable the people in your firm to provide the highest level of performance and customer service.
Here’s a great example that I personally witnessed early in my working career while employed in an electronics manufacturing plant in Bloomfield, New Jersey. The name of the company was GORDOS, which means “fat” in Spanish. (I don’t want you to spend the next hour wondering where a stupid name like GORDOS came from, so let me nip that one in the bud. We manufactured tungar bulbs for film projection equipment which appeared rather fat. One of our largest customers hailed from South America, and they used to ask for the “fat” bulb — the “gordos bulb.” The owner thought that GORDOS was a pretty neat sounding six letter word — probably after a few cold ones.)
The president was escorting a group of Japanese guests through the plant one day showing how switches were manufactured in America. The manufacturing process involved open flame burners and the shop floor often got very hot in the summer. A new ceiling recently had been hung which prevented the old-styled, swing-out windows from opening. No cool summer breezes were passing over our very talented, but hot operators.
Well, on this scorching hot, August afternoon, one of the more out-going operators approached the president and informed him that it was virtually impossible to work under such conditions. The Pres, in sincere concern for the well being of his people and in full agreement, suggested that the floor foreman follow protocol and contact the maintenance department to remedy the problem.
Two weeks later Pres was once again passing through the area. Lo and behold, the same operator approached and said, “Mr. Big Shot, I thought you were going to do something about this heat?” Mr. Big responded, “Are you telling me that the maintenance department didn’t fix it yet?”
“Does it feel fixed to you?” shot back this very street-smart, shoot-from-the- hip employee who was probably thinking that unemployment was better than slow roasting.
“Well he is going to wish he had,” the Pres said. With that, he wrapped his hand in an old towel, picked up a hammer, and proceeded to bash out each and every window . . . first on one side of the room and then on the other.
You could have heard a pin drop after the last shroud of shattered glass hit the old warped wooden floor. The operators didn’t know whether to laugh, cheer, or run for the old freight elevator screaming. The Pres unwrapped his hand, calmly placed the hammer back down on the work bench, approached the shop spokesperson of cool, and said, “Now, you have cross ventilation, and the maintenance guy has a little project to sort out.”
True story! This guy meant business. He realized that no one was more important to his organization than his employees. He knew what was right and fair, and he had given the proper department the first opportunity to deal with the problem. After that failed, he took control and fixed the problem himself. No red tape. No bogus excuses. No phony baloney. Just plain, simple old fashion ACTION. The lesson: When you come across a problem, fix it and get on with your life. You’ll earn the admiration of all your co-workers and clients.
You can bet your last dollar that everyone on the shop floor that day is still telling this story (as I am nearly twenty years later). You can also bet that whenever the President asked these very same employees to go the extra mile for the good of the organization, they gave him a fair shake, a little more respect, and lots more effort.
By the way, just so you don’t get the impression that the Pres coddled the employees, particularly the sales staff, let me share this motivational line which was frequently heard in the hallway whenever the president walked by the regional sales manager:
“Hey, Angelo! Why don’t you try selling something so you can tell me what it feels like?”
Ahh . . . the sweet sound of gentle motivational persuasion. Ain’t it grand?!