Anyone who has ever had a dog can tell you they’ve learned a lot from their furry friend: an appreciation for the simple things in life; the comfort of a good hug; the beauty of afternoon naps; the value of good friends; the power of unconditional love. But our pups can also teach us a few lessons that translate into the business world:
1. Ignore your limitations. My dog, Mr. Toodles (aka Toody), has a never-ending supply of energy. He loves to chase after the ball and has been known to massacre a stuffed toy or two. (The poor cow never saw it coming!) He is also blind -- but don’t tell him that.
Since the day he was abandoned on the streets of Newark, N.J., Toody has fought to stay in the game. He hasn’t let hunger, loneliness or lack of eyesight keep him from doing what he has to do to survive. He doesn’t cry about it. He just goes on.
All businesses have limitations. We don’t have unlimited budgets or personnel; there are only so many hours in each day; and although technology is pretty advanced, it’s not perfect. Don’t let that stop you. Focus on your advantages and keep fighting to stay in the game.
2. No news is not good news. When Toody is too quiet, I can be sure he is doing something he shouldn't be doing. The same goes for your customers. If your customers are not talking to you, are not interacting with you, are not complaining to you, you could sit back and put your feet up and think everything is rosy. Or you could be smart. Your customers (and prospective customers) are talking about your company – they’re just not talking to you about your company. If you aren’t actively providing value and keeping up communication, your dog is going to go play in someone else’s yard.
3. Be open to communication – in whatever form it takes. When Toody is anxious, he compulsively licks his nose. When he’s happy, he wags his tail. When he knows he has done something wrong (which is almost every day), he curls up in a ball.
In the “old days,” if your customers had an issue, they would call you. Social media has changed the game. Your customers now have so many more ways to talk to you – and about you. Don’t fear social media; own it. If your customers are on Twitter, be on Twitter. If they are on Facebook, be on Facebook. It doesn’t matter how you communicate with them, just communicate with them.
4. Show people you are happy to see them. The best part of my day is when I come home from work and Toody is waiting and anxious to kiss his mommy. I can see the pure joy emanating from him. Who wouldn’t love that?
Everyone wants to feel loved and appreciated – your co-workers, your managers, your customers. People feel great when you show them you’re happy to see them -- even if you only just saw them the day before.
5. Embrace the differences. Toody, a Toy Poodle, weighs in at 9 pounds and loves to play. His “cousin” Luna, a Labrador Retriever, tips the scales at 90 pounds and loves to cuddle. While Luna is content to lie on the couch all day long, Toody doesn’t like to sit still. Yet these two very different dogs coexist peacefully (well, as peacefully as two dogs can coexist).
No one does business in exactly the same way. Some customers like to talk by phone; others like to communicate by email. Some need lots of hand-holding; others like to be left alone. Customer service is not one-size-fits-all. You must adapt to your customers’ needs.
6. Patience pays off. When I first adopted Toody, he was scared of everything – my upstairs neighbors, people passing by the window, anyone walking in the house. While some things do still make him nervous, he has come a long way from the frightened pup from six months ago.
If you believe in your product/company/service, stick with it. Fight for it. If you provide something valuable to your customers, they will stick with you.
7. Don’t forget to have fun. There will always be work to do. Sometimes you just have to take a minute and play.