Learning from what happens

Last week Michele Martin experienced how Enterprise Car Rental provides exceptional customer service. She then learned that Enterprise provides NO formal training in customer service. Their exceptional approach to service is learned on the job, learned by doing it, and learned from what happens.

This is also true for the entrepreneurs I mentor. They have no formal training in their endeavors. All it takes for them to learn from what happens is some clean structure. With a framework for making sense of setbacks and successes, we all quickly learn to be more effective. What happens to us provides the feedback we need to refine our approach, change our mind or switch intentions.

One entrepreneur deals with many customers who cannot make up their minds. Their indecisiveness is fueled by his giving them more options and choices to consider. The freedom he provides mixes with the customers' powerlessness to create an irresolvable situation. This appears as a set-up for him to dominate the conversation, to tell the customer what to decide and to "dish out some dirty structure".

Last week he realized that each customer shows up initially with a dream. Their wishful thinking has created a picture of what they want. It's usually unrealistic, but it provides the basis for the customer to feel powerful and decisive. When the customers' dream is accepted and understood, the indecisiveness disappears. So this entrepreneur has learned from what happens to initially support the customers' fantasy of what will be useful and satisfying.

This lesson functions as clean structure. In the future, he can assess what happened to the customer's decisiveness in terms of what he did with their dream. He can make "midcourse corrections" when he sees indecisiveness creeping into the conversation. Rather than madly searching for the option they really want, he can simply restore his understanding of what they wanted in the first place. He can get back to the place where they feel powerful and decisive.

There was no class he took on customer decisiveness. This is something he learned on the job, learned by doing it, and learned from what happens.


  1. Tom, I like your "clean structures" discussion. Even more, what I think is interesting about the example here is that your entrepreneur has realized that everyone comes in with a dream that must be understood, accepted and to the extent possible, supported. I think that we all have a picture of what we want in any interaction, even if we haven't really articulated it to ourselves. One of the values that can be provided in virtually any situation, including learning, sales, etc., is helping individuals really understand this dream they have and how to go about making it happen.

    Thanks for sharing this--it pushes me along in some thinking I've been doing on how to support customers.

  2. Thanks Michele

    Picturing customers as "having a dream" is less than one week old for us. I'm anxious to watch it unfold. I suspect, like you, that it has the potential for enhancing relationships, showing respect and making sales. It also ties into empowerment from a couple weeks ago.