“How is everything going for you?”

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

This question has been hammered into the DNA of everyone who’s ever worked with customers and clients. Why? So that the company can make sure its customers are satisfied. And uncover more opportunities to sell.

But that phrase has become essentially as ineffective at ensuring customer satisfaction as the phrase “How are you?” is at learning anything meaningful about your friend.

When someone asks how you are, you say “Fine, thanks!” In order to get the real answer you have to dig deeper. Something along the lines of, “Everything been going okay for you lately at work/with the family, etc?”

Similarly, when a customer service representative says “Is there anything else I can help you with?” we automatically say “No.” Unless we were already planning on speaking up about something else. That question has become very bad at actually getting useful information out of customers or uncovering other areas in which clients can be helped.

Here also, we should be digging a little deeper. “Can you tell me how everything has been going with your relationship with us?” “Is there anything we can be doing differently that would help you?” “How’s your experience been with us in the last year?”

Customer surveys are a decent shortcut. But they’re just that–a shortcut–and your customer knows it. Having that conversation yourself with your customer builds more rapport and trust. Your customer feels valued, heard, and genuinely cared for.

Imagine you have a large client who regularly depends on your company for a vital service. Let’s say the client has become frustrated with a lack of promptness from your team, and it has become a big enough problem that they’ve started considering other companies to use. Finally, with no warning, they make the phone call to close out their account. You’re shocked and insist you’ll do anything to help them. But it’s too late. They wouldn’t be ending their relationship if they hadn’t already set up a new relationship with a different company to take your place. And since they’ve got that up and running, you don’t have much going for you. It doesn’t mean the relationship absolutely can’t be salvaged, but you are at a serious disadvantage.

This scenario applies to almost any business. If someone needs a bank account, they don’t close their accounts until they’ve found a replacement. If someone needs an equipment supplier, they don’t end their relationship until they’ve found a supplier they think will serve them better. If someone needs a Human Resources management system, they won’t deactivate their current system until they’ve got the replacement set up and ready to go.

That means waiting till customers bring up their concerns can put you at a huge disadvantage.

What if you and your whole team were always proactive to check in with your clients? Not “Anything else?” or “How are you?” Instead, legitimately checking in–like “What have we been doing well for you lately, and what has been causing problems for you?” or “How can we serve you even better?”

Some customers wear their hearts on their sleeves. But others don’t. And if you want to keep those customers, you have to get them to open up to you before it’s too late.

I do this and and I’ve seen my own team members try it, and I can tell you it’s a game changer for sure.

3 Questions I Ask On the Balcony

Isn’t it funny how we usually know exactly what our opinion is when someone else tells us about their problems–that we can tell them exactly “what I would do if I were you”–but when we find ourselves in those same situations, we feel completely lost?

It’s because when you’re emotionally involved in a situation, things never seem as simple or as black and white. In the heat of the moment, they seem a lot trickier than they might really be.

One time when I was extremely stressed out about a situation at work, feeling frustrated and lost, my wife pointed something out to me. When I start to worry too much–or start to panic–I actually stop thinking the way I normally do. Adrenaline and fear don’t help me think clearly. They help me run, they help me fight, they help me freak out. But they don’t help me think clearly.

When all hell breaks loose, you need to stop. Stop. Stop and step away. Calm your nerves. Stop fighting. Stop talking. Stop acting under the direction of your panicking, adrenaline-filled brain.

Easier said than done.

Sometimes it can take days to work on switching from passionate panicking to calm, reasonable analysis.

But you need to get there. For your own sake, and for the sake of everyone involved in whatever screwed up situation you’re trying to fix.

Harvard Negotiation Project’s William Ury, in his awesome book The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, describes this as “going to the balcony.” After all, your worst enemy in a conflict is yourself, he says. So step away, disengage, go to the balcony–a quiet place, separated from the conflict. Calm down, and think for a while.


When I have to go to the balcony, contemplating these 3 questions helps me assess calmly and rationally how to handle a difficult situation.

1. What really caused this situation?

Be honest. Was it me? Was it them? Was it a combination? (Hint–it’s always both sides.)

Should I really be feeling guilty? Should I be feeling like I’m being unfair? Like I’m making too big a deal out of things? Like I’m being disloyal? Or should I cut myself some slack? After all, their behavior wasn’t up to me.

Am I trying to solve it with the same behavior patterns or communication that got us here?

Did I support this? Were my hands tied? How did it get this far? Should I have spoken up sooner?

Questions like these give us insight that will help us next time and help us determine what might help and what absolutely will not help this time around.

At this stage remember to have compassion for yourself and for others. Don’t blame everything on yourself, and don’t easily assign the worst motives to others. Being negative or hopeless about yourself or others in the situation will absolutely discourage you from trying to fix anything.

2. What long term effects could my different actions cause for everyone involved?

If I choose not to back down, will that really make the future healthier for everyone? Maybe it will! But I need to ask it.

If I take a bullet, will that actually protect the people I’m trying to protect?

If I focus on standing up for myself and my own integrity, will that benefit me down the road?

If I choose to overlook a disease on our team, prefer not to talk about it, what happens to the rest of my team members a year from now?

When we’re freaking out, we’re usually looking for a way to feel better today. But the effects of our decisions will almost always have changed drastically by a year or two later. What feels good today might leave an even bigger mess later for everyone involved. Letting yourself be the scapegoat for someone else’s misconduct leaves others to suffer the same fate later.

3. What kind of person do I want to be in this situation?

Who do you really want to be? Your integrity is one thing others can’t take away from you. And if you give up your integrity, you will absolutely regret it later.

Do you want to be weak? Too sensitive? Angry? Uncontrolled? Passive-aggressive? Cowardly? Hurtful? Insensitive? Positive? Pessimistic? Afraid? Honest? Bold?

Thinking about your options with these values in mind can give you a lot of insight.

Stop thinking: “Should I really hurt so-and-so this way?” Start thinking, “Am I being honest or wise?”

Stop thinking, “What will this person think of me?” Start thinking, “Am I an honest person?”

Choosing today to be the person you want to be means that a year from now, no matter what happened, you look back and feel good about yourself instead of looking back and feeling guilty and disappointed in yourself.


What other questions can you ask? Think about it… write some down… save them in an envelope that says “For next time I’m freaking out.”

However you get from panic mode to a level-headed perspective, commit yourself now to get there every time you find yourself in a sticky situation.

Remember the advice of the writer Ambrose Bierce: “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Full blown adrenaline doesn’t solve conflicts. Take a deep breath.



“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” – Ambrose Bierce

Everything else

There are always 2 categories:

  • What you’re focusing on right now
  • Everything else

Category #1 always looks bigger and seems to matter more.

But category #2 will always be bigger, and there are almost always lots of things in category #2 that matter a lot more.


When you’re focused on a stress at work, you still have a loving spouse to hang out with as soon as you get home. And maybe that explains why you work through the stress.

When you’re focused on an expensive car repair bill, there are people all around the world that don’t have a car, and there is an understanding landlord who might give you an extra couple weeks on rent this month.

When you’re focused on your craving, there is still a closet full of workout gear you bought when you were in a more inspired mood.

When you’re focused on one high maintenance, impossible-to-please client, all your other clients are still there feeling grateful and well served.

When you’re focusing on what you failed at this year, there are still lots of ways you grew and things you accomplished.

When you’re focusing on that piano you still haven’t been able to buy, there’s a big mall down the street with a grand piano free for you to come and play.

When you’re focusing on what might go wrong with the presentation you’re about to give, there are still the hours of preparation you put in and thoughtful people interested to hear what you have to share.

When you’re focused on an insensitive thing your spouse said, there’s still a whole big relationship full of happy memories and friendship that you’re not focusing on.


Remember to take a step back and change focus now and then. Especially when the thing you’re focusing on seems too big.

Synergy, or not being too full of yourself

I’ve learned lately to see myself the same way I diagnose other people in professional settings: “He thinks that way because…”

Each one of us is different, unique, and brings our own strengths to the table. Each one of us also has our own blind spots.

None of us see the world completely objectively–certainly not in specific situations in which we have vested interest or emotional involvement. We have no problem assenting to that idea. But then when we approach and act on a real world situation, we tend to overlook it.

“He thinks that way because… he doesn’t think about long-term consequences. I need him to understand things like I do.”

This last year I’ve really come to understand and appreciate that just as often, they’re thinking about me, too: “He thinks that way because… he’s unable to see all the alternatives–he’s too linear,” or some other thought pattern.

And it’s not bad. I have had a unique life full of ups and downs and hard work that I am proud of. It has helped make me who I am, and I am confident in what I think and do. But my life has also blinded me from certain truths and ideas. It has biased me against some possibilities and methods.

My co-worker or friend or spouse (etc) has had a different life that might have specially shaped them to have a little different perspective in this area, a little more confidence in that area, and a little more alertness in another area.

Our two minds together own more experience and perspective and capability than my mind or his or hers. On one condition: That we communicate about our different opinions, concerns, perspectives, misgivings, motivations, etc.

If we just keep quiet in hopeless resignation–“they’ll never understand!”–we rob each other of the wisdom we could have shared.

I don’t know it all or have all the answers and I’m not always right. But neither are you. Let’s talk–argue (nicely)–discuss–brainstorm–question–share. If we can genuinely embrace each other’s different perspectives, learn from each other, and allow ourselves to be balanced out by each other–then we’re far better off than if we were just on our own.

If we don’t exercise that attitude, we’d be better off alone. Strength in numbers doesn’t work if there’s not also humility and communication.

Synergy: “The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”

Leaders, Treat Your People Well Because…

Research overwhelmingly supports the theory that giving your people the very best treatment is good for your bottom line. Investing more in making your people happy bears great returns long term.

So we treat our people well because that way we will be richer. And there is nothing wrong with that.

May I just suggest the idea that we should also treat people well just because they are people?!

“[Managers must realize] the almost sacredness of their responsibility for the lives of so many people. [Managers’ fundamental task is] providing the enabling conditions for people to lead the most enriching lives they can.” – Bill O’Brien, Former President of Hanover Insurance

I feel there is a necessary disclaimer: Treating people well doesn’t mean being a pushover. As a leader, you can give someone the worst news (e.g. “I don’t think this job is a good fit for you”) and still be treating them well. (In fact it helps that the best business decisions seem to align with the long term health of everyone involved.)

Treating people well means genuinely caring about them, prioritizing their needs and desires, doing what you can to help them, and always giving them respect. And if you’re only doing that when it’s expedient, then it’s not real care. And you can’t hide that from your people forever.


“The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” – Samuel Johnson