Originally posted – Jun 05, 2013
The absolute best time to improve yourself – and your habits – is the present. Why wait?
Here’s a sobering thought: at this very moment, you’re the youngest you’ll ever be and the oldest you’ve ever been. So, like I said, why wait?
How you run your self-service laundry business is a direct function of your repetitive business behaviors; in other words, your habits. We all have them. Some are good, and some likely are not.
Psychologists define a habit as the automatic link between a stimulus and a response. It’s actually any regularly repeated behavior that requires little or no thought and is learned rather than something we’re born with. They are initiated by response-producing cues.
For example, habits are a part of any of your activities – from socializing to sports to business to driving to parenting. Habits are developed by reinforcement and repetition. They are, according to noted psychologist William James, “actually useful for conserving higher mental processes for more important and demanding tasks, but on the other hand they do promote behavioral inflexibility.”
Since there are about 40,000 or so self-service laundries in the United States, it’s fair to conclude that there are literally hundreds of thousands of independent, automatic, habit-pattern decisions made each day within the industry by the totality of individual owners, which directly affect the overall success of the thousands of laundries. Interesting, huh?
And, with effort, bad habits can be replaced. Yes, it’s harder to do than developing new ones, but it’s done all the time. The list is endless, as are the industries set up to assist you in doing so. For example, if you have a habit of snacking on too much candy, it can be replaced by substituting healthier options, such as fruits or vegetables. Or, as psychologists say, “you can separate yourself from the problem stimulus.”
The best approach is to develop new habits of a positive nature that will improve your well-being, your personal happiness and your business success.
With that said, here are seven new habits you can develop that will put some excitement, creativity and variety into your life (business and otherwise), as well as very likely enhancing your overall success and essentially making you more effective in all you do:
Habit No. 1: Listen Very Carefully
No, I mean really listen, without mainly thinking only about what you’re going to say once the other person stops talking. Not many people have this habit, but it’s one that’s well worth developing.
Our world has become so impersonal that people often feel neglected or lonely because they feel they are simply not listened to, even when surrounded by or in the close company of others.
The common greeting of “How are you?” doesn’t seem to mean much these days in terms of sincerity. When people greet me with that question, I often get the impression that they either don’t care how I respond or don’t even listen to what I am saying. I’ll bet you’ve also had that experience many times.
Sometimes I’m tempted to test this theory by responding with, “I’m still feeling under the weather due to my recent fall from a 25-foot ladder,” and then seeing if they say anything other than, “Great. Glad to hear that. Have a nice day.”
So, work hard to develop the habit of being a good (better yet, great) listener, and people will notice and respond accordingly. This will dramatically improve your relationships with customers and employees, because it’s a rare habit indeed. Make a habit of letting others finish their sentences.
The last time I checked, psychiatrists and psychologists are quite busy these days because so many people are looking for someone to truly listen to them.
Dr. Lyman Steil, a professor at the University of Minnesota and founder of the International Listening Association (yes, there actually is such a group), often relates this humorous story in his lectures to illustrate how most people just don’t really listen:
Three English gentlemen are riding on a train, sitting comfortably in the dining car. The first one breaks the silence, looking out the window and asking, “Is this Wembley?” The second gentleman glances at his watch and replies, “No, it’s Thursday.” After a brief moment, the third nods and says, “So am I. Let’s have a Scotch and soda.”
Habit No. 2: Don’t Make Your Customers Work Hard
In my coin laundry development seminars, I often say that the minute your customers find themselves working harder than you, the laundry owner, that’s the beginning of the end of your business. It’s just a matter of time.
Look at the word “business,” and you will see that the letter “U” comes before the letter “I,” meaning that the customer must come first and always be given priority status over the business owner.
Therefore, make it a habit to be sure that all aspects of your laundry are designed to please the customer – not you. Your job is to make the lives of your customers easier. Their happiness must come first.
So, create the habit of putting yourself second.
Habit No. 3: Close Your Eyes
When we open our eyes, we see reality; we see things as they exist – and we react accordingly. I’m suggesting you develop the new habit of not limiting your vision to simply seeing things as they are.
Here’s the twist: take some time each day to close your eyes. When you do, you have the ability to see things the way you want them to be. You can envision a glorious future, a new marketing program, better days ahead – and your personal and business worlds as you would like them to be.
It’s invigorating, refreshing, stimulating, exciting, relaxing and therapeutic. And it can lead to some very creative thoughts, which often can be translated into action.
Try it. You’ll like it. In fact, make a habit of it.
Habit No. 4: Think Mutual Exclusivity
This one is very cool. The simplistic definition of mutual exclusivity is that one thing has nothing to do with another.
Here’s an example: the conversation you had with a customer about a problem has nothing to do with the next conversation you have with a different customer.
Here’s another: your advertising results (assuming an appropriate advertisement) one week have nothing to do with your advertising results the next week.
Here’s a third: your attempt to acquire a specific commercial account that was met with rejection has nothing whatsoever to do with the response you will get on your next sales call to another potential customer.
And this may be the best example: just because a hitter in baseball struck out the last time at bat does not mean he will not hit a grand slam the next time up at the plate.
So, here’s the point: make a habit of not letting one experience carry over and influence the next similar experience. Many individuals do this, and it’s counterproductive. Don’t generalize from one interaction to another. Treat all human encounters in a fresh, energetic and open manner.
If you do, two things will happen. First, all subsequent interactions will be more productive for you, and secondly the individual you are interacting with will detect your open attitude and enthusiasm and respond accordingly.
Habit No. 5: Read the Obituaries
I’m serious. I do it every morning. Reading obituaries helps you to recognize the innocence in others and to become a more loving, thoughtful person.
In general, obituaries are well written and point out all of the wonderful qualities of the deceased, as well as their interests and accomplishments. It also describes their families and their loving relationships with family members.
It’s difficult to read most obituaries without ending up genuinely liking or admiring the person. And that’s the point. If you recognize the innocence of others, your dealings with them will be much more pleasant and productive. This applies to both business and personal relationships.
In business, we often get caught up in “defending our territories,” because most often our behavior is determined by its relationship with money. However, if we deal with others in a softer manner by viewing them as essentially innocent individuals who just happen to be in our business environment, the dialogue and interaction will be much more reasonable and humane.
If you develop a habit of approaching people with no preconceived defensive notions and with an open mind, you will find that your life will be much calmer, more productive and far less stressful.
Habit No. 6: Ad Lib
As humans, we love to act repetitiously. However, if we always act the same, we are very likely to not be very satisfied with the results of our actions.
The reason for this is the large diversity of people we interact with – meaning that, if you act the same way with everyone, you stand a large statistical chance of using the wrong approach a lot of the time.
Aside from ethnic and cultural diversity, there are various forms of personality diversity that you come across on a regular basis. For example, there are people who like to relate closely, there are folks who like to take charge, there are individuals who are highly intellectual and there are those who are very competitive.
Therefore, you need to develop the habit of being spontaneous and able to improvise your actions and reactions. Being “programmed” will not get you desired results on a predictable basis.
The best advice is to develop the “ad lib” approach. Hey, it provided a great career for Don Rickles.
Habit No. 7: Get Super Sensitive
People are extremely complex. So, the more sensitive you are to the signals they send out (or don’t) the better you can deal with and be accepted by them – and the more successful you will be overall.
All people have their own “operating style.” Some individuals are outgoing, some are quiet. Some people make their wishes known, and some just expect you to figure them out. Some are verbal, some are not. The combinations and permutations of human personality traits are infinite.
When you own a laundry, you deal with a wide variety of customer types. Of course, laundry customers tend to spend a good amount of time in their laundromats they patronize, so the laundry owners get to “know” them.
In fact, your customers often will confide in you, regarding their personal life and problems, so the more sensitive you are to them the more comfortable they will feel – and that’s also good for business.
The absolute best loyalty program for any self-service laundry is simply that your customers really like your laundry and that they also like you, the owner. That’s the magnificent dynamic duo that will enhance your success.
There are several ways to show sensitivity toward customers. You can ask about their kids or their families. Or you can show an interest in how they are getting along in their jobs or inquire about their health. The areas of concern are numerous and are greatly appreciated by most people.
Taking it a step further, being sensitive is good, but being selectively sensitive is great. Develop the habit of knowing what to say to whom, and when. What a skill that is. It also makes your business life a lot more interesting.
Here’s an interesting analogy:
In previous columns, I’ve mentioned that on Sundays I work in the emergency department of a large metropolitan Detroit hospital. We treat a wide diversity of patients with every illness and injury imaginable. What a terrific sensitivity learning experience that affords me!
All emergency patients are different. Some want attention, and some do not. Some are overtly afraid, and some simply are not. Some are in pain, and some are more comfortable. Some are optimistic, and some are depressed.
Over a period of years, I have developed sensitivity to the signals that patients “display,” which determines how I relate with them. When I first began working at the hospital, I often assumed that all of the patients wanted me to solve some sort of practical problem for them, such as arranging for something to eat or drink, or finding a nurse or doctor for them.
I was wrong.
In time and with experience, I learned something vitally important, especially when dealing with patients who are very sick or badly injured and are frightened and in need of comforting. The majority of them, I originally (incorrectly) assumed, were essentially saying, “Don’t just sit here with me, do something.” However, what they were really saying was, “Don’t do anything, just sit here with me.”
Knowing the difference is the art form – and that applies not only in the hospital, but in your self-service laundry as well.