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According to Neroli Makim the author of “Your Inner Knowing: Unlocking The Secrets To Creative Success,” creativity is an elusive commodity that businesses are actively seeking as a characteristic in prospective employees.  Furthermore, as prospective future employees, we should realize that we have potential for being creative and unlock that potential to succeed in business.

In my line of work, creativity is not only sought after, it is a necessity.  Everyday we encounter obstacles and challenges that require ingenuity, imagination, and inventiveness.  During the course of my job, for example, I have to come up with solutions that fulfill the needs and desires of a customer by designing an adequate landscaping plan.  In addition, my job requires that I bid the job within a limited budget.  To do so, sometimes requires creative solutions such as negotiating material prices, etc.

Our landscape managers and employees have to use creativity on a daily basis to solve problems that arise on the job site.  For example, a simple task such as moving a boulder requires a great deal of creativity when machinery is not available.  A more complicated task such as drawing water from a creek or pond to irrigate requires a team of creative minds to find a great solution.

While I agree that all of us possess creativity, I’ve also witnessed that some people have greater access to it, while others have greater access to other quality traits.  Just as we all have the capacity to learn calculus or create beautiful paintings.  Therefore, it is our job as managers to find the best characteristics and traits in our employees and use our creativity to match our employees to the jobs that best match their traits.

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Today I read an article on the January 3rd, 2011 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek regarding Virgin America, the product of billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.  In November, the airline announced a profit of $7.5 million for the second quarter.  Although it is the first quarterly profit since it’s founding in 2004, the airline shows much promise.  Since its inception it has been plagued by an antiquated US law preventing majority ownership of foreign investors of US airlines and aggressive and oftencollusionary practices against the airline by its competitors.

However, even with the opposition Virgin Airlines shows promise because it has a clear vision.  This vision is stated by its “Don’t Fly Like Cattle” tagline.  That is, they have a different vision of what flying should be.  They believe flying should be a good experience, and flyers should be treated like customers instead of nuisances.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard about this airline.  Gary Zabranski, a producer of The Tasting Room with Tom Leykis, hailed the airline after flying Virgin American from LA to NY and American Airlines on the way back.  “Virgin America knows how it’s done,” Gary said as he explained that Virgin provides a television screen on every seat that includes a menu of items from which to order in addition to fast courteous service.  “I only saw the flight attendants once, when they gave me peanuts, on American Airlines,” he complained.

Customer service in flights?  What a novel concept.  I’m being sarcastic, but in today’s travel environment isn’t it refreshing that someone wants to make it a pleasant experience?  Virgin America has been awarded Condé Nast Traveler and Zagat awards the last three years for their excellent customer service. Their Airbus A319 and A320 planes are newer and more comfortable, they have upgraded lighting, they offer free Wi-Fi, and have glass walls between seating classes to make the planes feel less claustrophobic.

This airline is the vision of Sir Richard Branson.  He saw a need and decided that he could make a profit by fulfilling it.  That is the kind of leader I want to be.  I want to be able to inspire others with a vibrant vision and a passion for customer service.  Tell me, what kind of leader do you want to be?

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Many times in life we have faulty communication strategies.  We just can’t wait for a moment when we can start bombarding people with our thoughts and ideas.  In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey states that in order to have meaningful communication and truly understand what a person is saying we must develop “empathetic listening.”  That is, we must be able to almost feel what a person is communicating.

I tend to think of myself as a good listener.  However, this year I had been having some trouble closing deals.  For example, this summer I gave a landscaping bid to a customer only to find out a week later that she had given the bid to someone else.  When she explained that she had given her job to a different outfit, she said she had given the bid to them based on a different design.  I felt betrayed.  I wasn’t given a chance to give opinions or to offer a different design.

Moreover, when I initially surveyed the job, the customer seemed to know what she wanted, so took measurements and later gave her the bid.  I thought to myself how could she take a bid for a different design? She wasn’t fair. She didn’t compare apples to apples.  I wasn’t given the opportunity to offer a different design.

Then, I realized that maybe the other contractor had created the opportunity himself.  Maybe if I had probed, if I had asked the right questions, I had been given the job.  I wasn’t listening empathically.  I wasn’t seeking to understand.  I should have been seeking the purpose for her chosen design and challenged it, perhaps offered my own design.  I wasn’t listening empathetically.  As a result, I learned a valuable lesson in sales and customer service.

From that moment forward, I was looking for purpose, I seeking to understand, to listen empathetically.  This resulted in getting four out of six bids I gave this fall, which any landscaper will tell you is way above average.

 

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$199 for Existing Customers

$99 for New Customers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever been in the market for a new product or service, and found that your current provider offers a much better deal if you’re a new customer than an existing customer?  I recently bought a new smart phone from Sprint, my current provider, and was discouraged to find out that I’d be paying $100 more simply for being an existing customer.  The lowest price I found for my phone was about $200 at Radio Shack, while Amazon sells it for $100, with the condition that you must open a new line of service.

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I truly believe that retaining customers is much more important than getting new customers.  When potential customers decide to make their purchase with a different vendor, the cause may be attributed to a number of factors: marketing, pricing, quality, value, differentiation of products or services, etc.  When customers decide they no longer want to be your customer, it’s usually because they don’t feel valued as a customer.

That is to say, most customers will continue to purchase from you if they believe you offer better customer service and value them as customers.  Most customers will even pay a premium for your product or service if they find value in the relationship you’ve established.  More importantly, they will recommend you to their friends and family, which is likely to result in more sales to more loyal customers.

As far as my Sprint dilemma is concerned, I decided to stick with them for two more years, but only because my plan is $20 per month less than their competitors.  Therefore, switching services would be much more costly in the long-run. However, their “better pricing to new customers strategy” does not make me feel valued as a customer.  They have yet to gain my loyalty.

 

Daniel Anguiano

Entrepreneur, Professional Landscape Contractor, and Economics and Management Student

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