Out With the Old & In With the New

With 2017 swiftly coming to an end and 2018 planning well underway, it is inevitable to spend time reflecting on both the positives and negatives of the past year. As with the close of any year, this reflection is typically what drives people to create New Year’s resolutions. While many focus on personal resolutions such as going to the gym more, eating healthier, etc., professional resolutions are often overlooked, or worse yet, never even considered. People may think company-established goals for the New Year will suffice, but how many people would ever settle for leaving their personal objectives in someone else’s hands? Use 2018 as an opportunity to better yourself both personally and professionally. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some professional resolutions you might want to consider. Resolve to Pay More Attention to Your Customers One of the biggest pitfalls that companies fall into while developing new programs and products is creating something based on what they think customers want. Meanwhile, no one ever took the time to find out if that matches up with what their customers actually want. The easiest way to figure out what will draw new customers and retain existing customers is to simply ask them. Start the New Year off with a customer satisfaction survey and ask basics like: “What did our company do well/poorly this past year?” “Why did you originally choose to work with our company?” “What could we do to improve in 2018?” “What new products/services could we offer that would be beneficial to you?” Surveys can provide valuable insight into new products or programs that should be considered in the coming year. They can also help shine a light on issues that you may not have known existed. This will allow you to develop a plan to tackle parts of your job or company that need immediate attention. Most importantly, surveys show your customers that they matter to your business and their opinions are valued. Resolve to Scope Out Your Competition When was the last time you compared work with a peer or, at the very least, asked for objective input on a project? Most likely it was not anytime recently. Why? Because it can often be difficult to see any faults in your work when you are so heavily invested in a project. Over time, it can be easy to get into a professional rut. You develop a case of work blinders where it seems like your products are the best they can possibly be, but in reality you are getting walloped by your competition. Much like the first resolution, scoping out your competition comes down to the importance of getting an outside perspective to determine how you can improve your products or programs. Be your own harshest critic and compare what you are doing with other big players in your space. The best-case (read “highly improbable”) scenario is that there is absolutely nothing you could possibly improve upon and everything stays status quo in 2018. More likely, though, you will find several areas that need improvement and you can figure out how to make those advancements happen in the New Year. Your competition isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So why not start using it to your advantage? Resolve to Give New Technology a Try Plain and simple, you can probably simplify the way you are currently handling at least one part of your job and improve efficiency with software or a piece of technology. With the amount of technology currently available, the thought of trying to find the perfect tech tool may seem like a daunting task, but it shouldn’t be. The best place to start is to think about your current job responsibilities and figure out which tasks take up the majority of your time. From there, it should be easy to identify the major pain points that exist in your most time-consuming tasks. Then, it’s all a matter of researching what technology exists to eliminate those pain points. If you are still afraid of picking the wrong technology, fear not. Depending on what you are looking for, free versions of a great deal of software tools are now available that give the user unlimited access to basic functionality. This allows you to use certain features of the tool and develop a basic understanding of it without spending a dime. Typically you will only have to pay to access more advanced features and at that point you should know if the software is a good fit or not. If you find a tool where this is not an option, more often than not, you may be able to access a limited free trial, or at the very least, an in-depth demo that will let you see if it has the functionality you are looking for. Finally, if all else fails, talk to peers in your field. Chances are, you are not the first person to experience whatever pain point you’re trying to resolve. When a person finds a tool that improves his or her way of doing something, the person is usually more than happy to talk about it. So ask around. Someone may be able to suggest the magic piece of technology you have been looking for all along. Resolve to Go Back to Basics Going back to basics may seem counter-intuitive to the last resolution, but the truth is technology can’t do it all, and it’s not always the right solution to every problem. Unfortunately, every innovative new idea isn’t always going to play out as you had hoped, and sometimes less is more. It is important to remember some basic fundamentals while you’re launching new initiatives in the New Year. If you were meeting with a client who only spoke Spanish, you wouldn’t speak to him in English and hope he understood what you were saying. Good communication is key, and the way you communicate matters. Be straightforward and transparent with your customers. You never want to surprise people at the last minute because you tiptoed around an important detail or neglected to tell them in the first place. It is also important to be available to your customers through numerous channels of communication (email, phone, face-to-face meetings, etc.). Allow people to connect with you in the method they are most comfortable with. If you were to use email as your sole method of communication because you felt it is more convenient, most customers wouldn’t mind. However, it isn’t worth losing out on customers who prefer to have their questions answered over the phone or face-to-face just to save some time. And that leads to another basic, but often neglected, concept: Customer service is key. The bottom line is, people are willing to pay more for great customer service. A 2013 survey, conducted by Dimensional Research, found that 62 percent of B2B and 42 percent of B2C customers purchased more after a good experience, while 66 percent and 52 percent, respectively, stopped making purchases after a bad experience. Also keep in mind that if there is one thing that people remember more than great customer service, it is awful customer service. In the same survey, 95 percent of respondents told a friend, co-worker or family member after having a bad customer service experience, compared to 87 percent who said they shared a story of their good customer service experience. One of the easiest ways to lure customers away from your competition is to provide better customer service. Resolve to Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone Although this sounds more like a personal New Year’s resolution, it’s equally relevant in a professional setting. It is important to be willing to go outside your professional comfort zone in order to grow in your field. Many people find attending networking events and conferences intimidating. Think of it this way though, even attending just one event gives you the ability to make face-to-face connections with people you may not normally have a chance to speak with. Building a robust professional network is a great way to gain new insight into your industry and access new opportunities. Creating and publishing content is another nerve-wracking task. It can be stressful to think about the sheer number of people who will read what you have written and critique it in some way. The benefit of getting your name out in the industry is worth the stress, though. Plus, it can be satisfying knowing that people are learning more about your business because of something you wrote. Maybe you are afraid of public speaking. There are numerous organizations, like Toastmasters International, that specialize in helping their members with public speaking. Never turn down the opportunity to speak as an authority on a topic. Doing so creates a level of credibility that may otherwise be difficult to achieve. If you aren’t comfortable diving in head-first, try volunteering for a project that may not be the norm for you. It could be the first step to bigger and better things. Now, Stick to Your Resolutions! Be careful not to fall into the trap of pushing your resolutions to the back of your mind and letting them fall by the wayside. Setting monthly or even quarterly goals for each resolution is a simple and effective way to keep yourself on track. This also allows you to keep tabs on your progress to see just how far you’ve come since the start of the year. Just like with personal New Year’s resolutions, professional resolutions only work when you stick to them. This article originally appeared in the November/December 2016 Private Lender Magazine & was updated for the new year.