Stop looking for answers
Are you missing out on huge opportunities because you’re not asking the right questions? As business owners, we are always looking for answers, but I think we have it wrong. Asking the right questions is the true path for taking your business to the next level.
Steve Forbes was genius at thinking up the right questions. If you remember the question asked back when Microsoft and Mac was battling it out the 90’s. The question people always asked was if the customers would like “an open system (Microsoft) that would allow numerous manufacturers and software designers to work and add to the platform”, or “a closed operating system like Apple that controlled everything”. When you ask that question, most people, including me, were confident that an open system was far superior, and it came as no surprise that Microsoft took over the marked. However, one genius, Steve Forbes, was asking the totally different question: “do you want a fragmented computer or would you like an integrated one?”. When phrase it light that, the answer is totally different and the result become the most profitable company in the world, and Steve is now considered one of the true inventors of all time.
The cost of asking the wrong question
Many years ago, I had this idea for a completely automated doctors answering service built on voice messaging technologies. It would work much better and cost far less than the traditional operator based answering services. I thought it was a great idea, so I asked a few doctors what they thought. They put it like this “when one of my patients is in pain, would they like to speak to a computer or with a human being?”. Of course, everybody (including me) answers that they prefer a human being. Because of asking this question, and the obvious answer, I decided to back off and not launch our automated doctors answering service. Obviously, replacing the traditional phone operator with an automated solution was never going to work…
Several years later, I noticed that we had a half a dozen or so doctors using our automated messaging service. When I took a closer look at how we had designed the service for them, it was very similar to the doctors answering service I thought about several years earlier. I asked the doctors why they used us instead of an operator based service. The answer was a long string on all the problems they had with with the live services including wrong doctor called at night, delayed or missed notifications, rude operators, etc., etc. They also told me that they loved our service setups and their patients were much happier since the doctors switched to No More Phone Tag.
The right question
Knowing that at least some doctors and patients liked our automated answering service better, got me thinking. Instead of falling into the trap of the easy path question about patients wanting to talk to humans or machines, I decided to look at what really mattered. I changed the question to “what do patients want when they call their doctor’s office after hours?”. Suddenly, the answers were totally different. If it’s urgent, the patients don’t want to talk to a call center person. They want to talk to their doctor, and with our service they reach the doctor much quicker. If it’s not urgent, the patients once again don’t want to talk to a call center operator. All they want is to either leave a non-urgent message or get info about open hours, etc. A customized automated service makes that quicker and easier for the caller. Finally, when I asked what the doctors wanted from their service, their answer was also very different “I want my patients to see me as responsive and professional, I want to make sure that I only get called for the correct issues, I never want to miss an important message, and I want the service be consistent and accurate”. In reality, the traditional operator based services sooner or later fall short on all three of those areas while a well designed automated service delivers exactly what the doctors want.
Had I taken the time to really look for the right questions back when I first thought about the automated medical answering service, far more doctors and patients around the nation would have been spared the ongoing frustrations with operator based services, and No More Phone Tag would have been much bigger than we are today. However, we’re doing our very best to spread the word now.
How to ask the right questions
Now, if you take a look at your own business, what are the questions you’re not asking? Instead of asking if you have the right employees for particular areas of your company, maybe you should ask if you need a better system to run that area? Remember that a system is not just a “manual” on how to do something, it also needs to have built in reporting and follow up processes. Instead of asking how to get more customers, ask yourself which customers that you need to fire? Getting rid of those time, energy, and resource thieves may be the thing that takes your business to the next level. Instead of asking yourself how you will ever be able to “put out all the fires”, ask yourself “how you can afford to not focus on strategic work?” Most of us business owners are for natural reasons gravitating towards tactical work (putting out fires). However, true greatness comes when you put an emphasis on strategic work. Instead of just working, working, working, ask yourself how great your business would be if you dedicated one hour each day for personal and business growth.
Finally, forget your business and take a look at yourself. It’s time to ask the really important questions. What’s the purpose of your life? How do you want your life to look, feel, be in 10 or 20 years? These questions are hard, but if you work on them every day (use a process) for one or two weeks, you’ll be able to find out what you really want. Then, you can start planning for how your business will help you get some of the things you really want in life!