A tale of two stories

I know two people who went through a tough experience two decades ago.

One of them told themselves the story of hope after the experience. They resolved to look for growth from the pain, seek forward momentum, and find excuses to spread love.

The other told themselves the story of pain. They resolved to remember the pain, look back to reflect on the perceived injustice, and find excuses to be hurt and spread hurt.

There’s a powerful, life-changing even, learning here about the power of the stories we tell ourselves. But, the more interesting learning comes from observing the power of seeing folks live these stories over a long period of time.

Like everything we choose to do on a daily basis, the impact of these stories compounds. Despite more challenges they’ve had to face, the person who told themselves the story of hope has become the most positive people I’ve met over time. The challenges they’ve faced have only strengthened their resolve to find hope, love, and possibility.

Alas, the person who told themselves the story of pain is at the other end of the spectrum.

There are some stories we tell ourselves everyday. It pays to be aware of their compounding impact on our attitude over time.

And, if they aren’t working for us, then it may be time to change them.

Can do

I was faced with a small situation recently where I got a reasonable request in a constrained situation.

In normal course, the request would have been easy to get done. But, current conditions made things hard.  My initial thought was to write out an excuse note detailing why it isn’t possible.

But, I paused and asked around instead. Initial prognosis – not good.

Wrote up that excuse note.

I think of myself as persistent. So, I asked around some more. Still no alternatives.

Completed that excuse note. I’m about to press send and then I stop. Have I really tried?

This time, I chat with a couple of folks who are just brimming with a can do attitude – one I’m clearly lacking at this point given my half hearted attempts at solving the problem. They rapidly think through solutions. That inspires me to ask around some more. And, this time, against all odds, we found someone who could replicate what we were looking for.

Problem solved. I removed the excuse email and shared the solution.

I was reflecting on that experience and took away a couple of lessons.

First, even if we had failed, I know from experience that it would have been well worth our effort. This is the often unacknowledged benefit of attempting something whose results are far from guaranteed. These journeys are worth it for the creativity and camaraderie they inspire.

Second, I was deeply inspired by the can do attitude of a couple of folks through the process. The odds didn’t look good but they attempted to spin up solutions anyway. And, that built the kind of momentum that was necessary to solve the problem. We are the average of the folks we spend our time with. Make sure these are folks who possess a can do attitude.

It is these folk who understand the nature of life’s most interesting problems. They all appear un-solvable.

Until they are.

Customer retention

For most subscription services, customer retention is the holy grail. Retaining a customer is cheaper than acquiring a new one. In addition, retention increases your chances of getting referrals. It is, mostly, a no brainer.

So, how do we actually go about retaining customers? While there are multiple levers, there are two that likely drive most returns. One of them is the obvious one – make sure the product or service is valuable. If there is a lot of value relative to what we are paying, we will stay.

And, the second key lever is customer service. If you have outstanding customer service, you do two things at once. First, through customer service interactions, you constantly surface additional value that we are probably not aware of. Second, you make sure we never leave in a fit of anger or frustration.

Now, the fact here is that value matters more than customer service in most cases. Comcast charged me an extra $10 on my bill for 4 straight months. I called their customer service 5 times in the process and was told, every time, that the problem was solved (until it eventually was). However, they do deliver a solid internet connection. And, besides, given their near monopoly where I’m at, they become more valuable. But, am I a loyal Comcast customer? Absolutely not.

On the other hand, the chances that you will get me to switch from either American Express, Audible or In Motion Hosting is very very low. They check the “deliver value” box comfortably. But, they outdo themselves in their customer service. In Motion Hosting, my hosting provider, is exemplary in this regard. I know they are an email away. I am sure they will be helpful. And, I also know that they’ll do so with cheer. They have made sure I will never leave.

The human analogy for a fantastic customer retention strategy is to think of competence and attitude. It helps a ton to be competent. In many cases, even if you have a bad attitude, if you are only among five other sought after rocket scientists on the planet, you will do just fine. However, layer in a great attitude and you will be indispensable.

Attitude toward discomfort

Many lives and attitudes are designed to avoid discomfort. Avoidance isn’t all that hard if you develop an attitude that seeks to avoid problems and treat discomfort as a bad thing.

However, that approach goes against the principle of mindfulness. To solve problems, we must spend time with them. Discomfort, typically, is one of the best indicators of potential problems. I say “potential problems” because the feeling uncomfortable doesn’t guarantee a problem and we mustn’t treat it as such. Instead, the feeling should be used to dig deeper and seek an understanding of the situation and ourselves. Discomfort, in effect, is an indication that further analysis is required.

This approach – dig deeper and analyze whenever you experience discomfort – can sound like paranoia. It is. Changing Andy Grove’s famous book title, I’d say – “Only the paranoid thrive.” Extreme emotions dull our awareness of the subtle indicators that help us be more mindful of what is going on around us. Understanding what makes us uncomfortable helps us make better decisions.

And, if that isn’t enough, the habit of being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a big contributor to happiness. Attempting to avoid it only prolongs the feeling and that, in turn, ends up playing havoc with our ability to let go of difficulty.

By helping us stay present and happy, our attitude toward discomfort goes a long way in predicting our quality of life.