The 3 Worst Pieces of Business Advice I’ve Ever Received

nicky smith ceo of carolina digital phone office

Anyone who knows me in my personal or professional life knows that I’m an incurable optimist. This doesn’t mean that I don’t face problems and challenges head-on, because I certainly do. And it also doesn’t mean that I “sugar coat” truth, facts or reality. Sometimes things aren’t good. And occasionally, they’re downright bad. But it does mean that I believe in focusing on the positives, and as the old and wise saying goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

And so, it may come as a surprise that a self-described optimist like me would want to share some of the worst business advice that I’ve ever received. But that’s precisely what I’m about to do. Not because I want to make anyone feel miserable. Rather, because I want people to be aware, since these radioactive recommendations can at first blush seem to be sensible and insightful. But I assure you that in my experience they’re quite the opposite, and can lead to enormous regret. Shall we begin?

1. When it comes to customer satisfaction, never try and over deliver.

The thinking behind this terrible advice is the fear that delighting customers creates a standard of expectation that cannot be maintained without adding costs. As such, it’s better to focus on meeting agreed upon commitments and objectives: no more, and no less.

This is so fatally flawed, that I don’t even know where to begin! Exceeding customer expectations and giving them as many reasons as possible to transition from ordinary customers into raving fans and inspired brand ambassadors should be at the heart of every business, and frankly, at the heart of every employee regardless of whether they’re the CEO or the intern. After all, businesses exist to service customers, not the other way around.

Now, does it cost a little more to delight customers? Yes, sometimes it does. But over time, the return on investment is astonishing. And what’s more, it feels great to know that your company, or your individual actions, have made a lasting positive impact. You cannot engineer this kind of feeling. It is a byproduct of offering exceptional service that goes above and beyond.

2. Do what you love.

OK, hold on a moment. I know what you’re thinking, and respectfully, you’re wrong. Please allow me to explain.

Many people, and especially younger folks who are just starting their careers, spend an enormous amount of time, effort, and money trying to find an occupation or calling that they love. Unfortunately, they rarely reach their lofty goal. And even if they do, the love affair doesn’t last for long. Sooner or later, something or someone unpleasant enters the scene, and they’re back to search mode.

If this cycle sounds familiar, then here is my recommendation: instead of striving to do what you love, focus your efforts and energies into loving what you do! Even if you aren’t currently thrilled with your boss, colleagues or work situation (or if you downright hate it), dig deep and bring a high level of excellence, care and attention to your tasks and interactions.

Once you start doing this, two astonishing things will happen. The first thing, is that you’ll start to do your job much better, feel far less tension and unhappiness, and probably have a positive influence on the people around you. The second thing is that by giving your tasks (yes, even the tedious ones) your very best, you will start to truly grasp what you love and why. You can then use these insights to shape and guide your career, whether in the same company, with another company, or perhaps in your own company. In other words, you can indeed do what you love, but only if you first love what you do!

3. You have to offer the lowest prices to survive.

This bad advice has been around for so long, that it has attained mythical status. In fact, some people don’t even see it as advice. They assume that it is a fundamental truth that must be accepted. Ironically, following this advice is a race to the bottom, and then ultimately to the dustbin of business history.

Yes, regardless of whether a business sells coffee or cloud telephone systems (as mine does), customers want, expect and deserve value. But quality customers, which are the kinds that all businesses should covet and attract, never obsessively insist on paying the lowest price. Research by the International Council of Shopping Centers found that 73 percent of customers have spent more money to do business with a company that delivers great service, and research by Deloitte found that customers are likely to spend 140 percent more after a positive experience.

The Bottom Line

It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, the trio of terrible advice highlighted above is worth enough asphalt to lay down an interstate freeway system. They may sound and seem wise, but they are anything but. What matters most is taking care of customers better than your competitors, loving what you do and giving every task your care and attention, and remembering that a competitive price is just one piece of the puzzle and not the entire thing. Follow that path, and you can be assured that your career, and your life, will be full of success. Heck, you may even become an incurable optimist like me.

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