“Reactive people are often affected by their physical environment. If the weather is good, they feel good. If it isn’t, it affects their attitude and their performance. Proactive people can carry their own weather with them.” ~Stephen Covey

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Proactive– acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes

Reactive– done in response to a problem or situation: reacting to problems when they occur instead of doing something to prevent them

Last week in the mail, I received a Hurricane Preparedness Checklist from my local government officials.  Hurricane season is just starting across the United States and lasts for 6 months, and they want us to be prepared in case of an emergency.

Included on the checklist are basic items to have on hand if a hurricane (or other emergency) strikes: Flashlights and fresh batteries, large containers of bottled water, a 3-day supply of dried or canned food (don’t forget the manual can opener), battery operated radio or TV, enough prescription medication, emergency evacuation plan, etc. You get the idea. Be prepared-just like the Boy Scouts tell us. It’s called being proactive.

Yet every year, much to my amazement, people wait until the hurricane is about to strike or worse, has already hit and done its massive damage, before thinking about what they now need to do. Depending on the severity of the storm, power may be out, downed trees may be blocking roadways, or flooding may have occurred.  Stores may not be open. Now is not the time to be thinking about getting survival supplies. It’s called being reactive.

In much the same way, businesses need to be proactive and get ahead of the problem, as opposed to being reactive.  Businesses will not survive for very long if their modus operandi is to wait until problems happen before looking at ways to identify, correct and prevent them from recurring.  And that is the most important part: preventing them from happening again.

We all understand that sometimes problems arise.  Your customers will remain loyal to you if you acknowledge and rectify the problem in a timely manner, and make the necessary changes to ensure it’s corrected for the long term. Nothing infuriates a customer more than having the same problem occur repeatedly.

Having a reactive approach can cost you time and money, especially if your competitors are serving their customers in a proactive way. According to an article in Forbes Magazine, author Adrian Swinscoe cites research by Enkata that demonstrates that a proactive customer service strategy can:

  • Reduce inbound customer service call volumes by between 20 to 30 percent over a 12 month period
  • Lower call center operating costs by as much as 25 percent
  • Has a positive effect on customer retention, boosting it by 3 to 5 percent

There are times when everyone and every business must be reactive. There’s nothing wrong with that. You cannot foresee every little thing that may happen. But you can choose how you will react to being reactive. (I hope that makes sense). You can choose language such as “I can’t”, “We don’t do it that way,” or “It’s not my responsibility.” Or you can choose positive language such as “I will,” “I can” or “I want to.”

Being proactive means anticipating problems, thinking on your feet and empowering your employees to take care of problems right away. Remember:

  • Proactive means being in control
  • Reactive means being controlled

It is a choice.  It’s part of the corporate culture. Don’t wait for the hurricane to hit before having a well thought out plan in place.

Paul Rutter is a customer loyalty, repeat business and customer service expert, a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and business author. He has had the unique opportunity to live with his customers and co-workers for months at a time traveling the world, and shares his experiences with land based businesses. For more information on More Than Perfect® Service, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com, follow him on Twitter on @RealPaulRutter or visit him on Facebook/PaulRutterSpeaks.

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