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The certainty of uncertainty

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The certainty of uncertainty

As a consultant, I interact daily with a number of businesses and business owners. Each business has specific needs and requirements pertaining to its current operations. Lately as I interact, however, there is a common thread running through each operation, a common concern about the current and future business climate.

The economic climate we are currently experiencing is taking a toll on many businesses and owners. The overriding theme I would call “uncertainty.”

The length and depth of the economic downturn, the seemingly unpredictable duration, along with conflicting viewpoints and a serious stalemate in Washington, D.C., has business owners very concerned. How to improve the economy has become a huge campaign issue in this campaign year, and I’m seeing the results of the struggle firsthand.

I have deep personal convictions and concerns for the independent tire dealers who are all affected by this widespread uncertainty. Businessman Steve Wynn is quoted as saying, “No one has any idea what’s next ... the uncertainty of the business climate in America is frightening, frightening to everybody, and it’s delaying the recovery.”

House Speaker John Boehner said, “Listen, I think what’s best for the economy and to create jobs is to extend all of the current tax rates for all Americans. It begins to reduce uncertainty. And for small businesspeople, they can look up and begin to plan.”

Again, I sense the weariness and uncertainty in our industry. As Wynn says, it’s frightening, and it’s also discomforting; it restricts expansion and impedes growth. As Boehner says, a decision on tax rates (one way or the other) would assist small businesses to plan, which is a step in the right direction; planning precedes performance.

Health of the industry

Taxes and stalemates are real issues; add to that the uncertainty of the healthcare bill where it’s nearly impossible to determine the full effects even if all the facts are known.

Right, wrong or indifferent, the issues are huge and the uncertainty is real. Add to this the fluctuations in gasoline prices, driving habits, repeated price hikes on tires, along with tariff issues on imported tires from China, and tire dealers are faced with uncertainty from many directions.

I ran across a quote from Lee Iacocca, and I think it’s a good one to consider as a small business owner. Iacocca said, “So what do we do? Anything, something, so long as we just don’t sit there. If we screw up, start over. Try something else. If we wait until we’ve satisfied all the uncertainty, it may be too late.”

To Iacocca’s point, earlier this week I had the opportunity to do some phone skills training with a successful independent tire dealer who asked me to train his counter sales team and his lead service technicians.

Training meetings after hours can be tough, especially after a long day at work (and over 100 degree Fahrenheit heat for a week), but these guys were ready to listen and learn.

After a purposeful, two-hour, training meeting, I was driving home in the dark for over an hour. I was reflecting on the meeting, which seemed unusually productive. It hit me that in the midst of so much uncertainty, these professionals were certain that doing a better job with a professional presentation on the phone would affect their business positively.

It’s as though they were saying, “We must do something, and we are certain this will help!”

A little certainty in the midst of uncertainty!

The next morning I phoned the stores that had been trained. Each of my phone calls was answered perfectly, no excuses, no mistakes; they simply answered the phone properly and professionally. I could feel the increased confidence coming through the phone.

I’m certainly not sure when Washington legislators are going to get their act together. I’m not sure when the economy is going to make a significant and sustained turn for the better. But I agree with Iacocca, we must try something!

Better phone skills will assist in the process of converting callers to customers and turning phone activity into results.

Converting callers to customers is the function of every business every day, I’m certain of it!

Do something you are certain will improve your service and improve your business; it certainly can’t hurt.    ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at




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