Our minds can play dirty tricks on us

Seven dirty tricks that our minds can play on us when it comes to our business.

 “Digital disruption makes a nice headline,” said an insurance executive, responding to a news report that insurance agents are being “squeezed” by the Internet. “The realities of the insurance business are a bit more complex than that,” he said, assuring insurance agents that digital is no threat to their business.

We like to think that what we do is impervious to disruptive forces. But the tipping points come and the longstanding pillars begin to crumble. Some try to hold on for dear life.

 Somehow or other, we believe we can beat the odds, that the storm will miss us, it’s others who will be affected, but we’ll be safe. Here are seven dirty tricks our minds play on us, and what we can do about them:

1. Customers for life. This is one of most seductive ideas in business — and for good reason: we want to believe it. But no matter what we do, how hard we try, or how much we focus on meeting customer expectations, customers aren’t forever, they have a life expectancy. For one reason or another, they leave and there’s no way to avoid it, no matter what we do.

With changing needs and situations, it’s unrealistic to think that we can keep customers indefinitely. But what’s even worse, the idea of “customers for life” dulls to the task of prospecting, or more properly, an active replacement program.

2. Some things just aren’t that important. At least that’s what we think. It’s easy to remember all the good things we do for customers, helping them out when they’re in a jam, extending credit, taking more time with them than necessary. And we expect them to appreciate our efforts. Not necessarily.

Customers never forget small things. When a sign for a drycleaner was going up on a store, a woman rushed up to company president. “I’ll never go there,” she yelled. “Ten years ago, you people lost my favorite blouse.” It’s a story she has undoubtedly repeated many times.

Negative experiences are indelibly imprinted on customers’ minds, unless we’re sensitive enough to stop and address the complaint quickly to their satisfaction.

3. Falling in love with what we do. Aren’t we supposed to love what we do? At least that’s what the gurus tell us. “Be passionate,” they say. Perhaps, but former IBM and Apple head, Louis V. Gerstner, offers caution. “Organizations tend to fall in love with their existing products and processes,” he says. “People get caught up in the status quo. When someone says, we may have to change, there is real resistance.”

We want to keep on doing things our way. Because it seems safer, we reject anything and anyone who challenges it. We never seem to learn that it’s the curious who thrive. 

4. Understanding customers. “We know what our customers want. Many of them have been around for years.” Such responses are often rather smug and off-putting, as if you’ve crossed the line, going where you’re not welcome. It’s an attitude in businesses that have been around for years and view themselves as well-oiled machines. 

Joseph Jaffe of OnlineSpin notes that these companies and brands have stopped asking questions, including questioning themselves. He suggests that start-ups have the advantage because they’re more curious and test new ideas, which keeps the focus on the customer. When we think we know our customers, this may be a sign that our minds are playing a dirty trick on us. 

5. Thinking positively. Optimism is the quality that gets universal applause in business. A “we can do anything” attitude is revered and rewarded. It rouses us to action and drives away doubts. Some researchers say that a positive attitude helps reduce stress, enhances coping skills, and lengthens lifespan.

So, what’s not to like about positive thinking. Just this. “Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it,” says Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D., a New York University psychology professor. When it comes to reaching a goal, a better approach combines a positive attitude with recognizing the obstacles that stand in the way of getting there. Too often, those in marketing and sales fail because they see only the upside.

6. Doing enough for customers. Our minds seem well-trained to put the brakes on us. “That’s far enough,” they tell us, which is often evident when it comes to customer care. “How much more can we do? They’re pushing us now,” say owners and managers. 

While the mind may say, “Slow down,” the customers want faster. Overnight delivery doesn’t cut it; free shipping is nearly the norm. The commercial says the quirky ducks pays claims in four days. That wasn’t good enough for the AFLAC CEO, who announced one-day payment for qualifying claims. “Coffee runs” are over, at least at Starbucks.

There’s a better way for the business mind to work. “Recognition of the status quo in the past and the success we’ve had in the past, is not an entitlement,” says Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz 

7. Missed opportunities. Missing the target can be fatal in business. Yet, it happens far too often. It happened to Burger King with its ill-fated “Satisfries. Amazon dialed the wrong number with Fire Phone. And, evidently, there was no target for Google Glass, least when it came to market. 

It happens all the time. A recent study by Epsilon and The Luxury Institutes found that luxury brands lose 50% of their top customers each year by failing to identify correctly their demographic and economic profile and neglect creating a personalized experience for them.

Hard to believe? Our minds tell us we’re on the right track, that we’ve got a winner, and that we’ve hit a home run. Unfortunately, we don’t even know we’ve been tricked. And it all results in costly and embarrassing missed opportunities. 

To avoid the dangers of our minds playing dirty tricks on us, it’s better to ask one question before leaping into action: “What could possibly go wrong and what don’t I know for sure?”

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759

or johnrgraham.com.

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