By: THOR

What are your compelling reasons?

This past week, I’ve had several conversations revolving around why people don’t buy, why people stop buying, how we can get them to use what they bought and how we can get them to switch to our product instead of a competitor’s.

These conversations all have the same foundation: Giving people a compelling reason to change.

Whether we’re talking about buying, changing what they use, or using what they’ve bought, people need compelling reasons to change what they’re doing – even if they’re not doing anything.

Without compelling reasons – buying and implementing is much harder

It seems obvious that making it easier to buy is important, yet some businesses do their best to make it hard to give them your money.

However, buying isn’t the only obstacle to overcome. That’s why I’ve told the software setup story as many times as anyone would listen.

Selling them is one thing, getting them to use, adopt, implement it is quite another – and in fact, it’s more important than the sale over the long term.

If you don’t care what they do after they buy your stuff, it’s an indication that your business model is broken, even if you’re selling that stuff like crazy right now. Someday, that will change. When it does, how will your current business model work?

If you aren’t focusing on making sure they implement what they buy, your business model might not be broken, but your management of it is. You wouldn’t plant a crop and never watering or weed it, so why would you make a sale and then make no effort to cultivate the use of what you sold them?

That’s what the software setup story addresses and as you can read, I’ve been there.

What’s their point of view?

One of the things that fails business owners most often is assuming that their clientele is just like them. To be sure, there some cases where that’s true, but in others – it’s simply wrong.

The danger in this is that people buy, implement and change things for reasons who may not have considered, or for reasons that are meaningless to you. If that reason is the primary driver in decision making for your market and you miss it because their reason means nothing to you, closing a sale could be quite an uphill climb.

Even if you’re shy, you have to ask questions.

What are the obstacles to change? In many cases, they might want to change but think they don’t have the time to retrain their people, adjust their internal business processes and deal with yet another change. Solving that requires your value proposition to be clear, compelling and long-lasting.

What are the real reasons they might change? What truly causes the pain they feel? What keeps them up at night? What makes them worry about their future? Why is changing worth it at all if the outcome is the same? Same reports, same Excel spreadsheets, same profit?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re going to struggle to sell to them even if you have exactly what they need and want to take away their pain.

I don’t sell things that make the pain go away

If you aren’t making someone’s business pain go away, your clients are probably some portion of the general public. You might want someone to buy your cosmetics, or perhaps you’d like them to give your dry cleaners a chance vs. them continuing to use the one they use now.

Think about the risk people take when they change from Maybelline to Bare Minerals or from One-Hour-Martinizing to Joe’s Hometown Cleaners.

How do you currently communicate that trying your stuff is so easy and so risk free that if it doesn’t work out, they lose nothing?

Once you’ve done a great job of taking risk off their plate, you still have the task of proving the value of switching.  How are you doing that these days? Put yourself in their place.

Imagine a bank asks you to switch to their bank from the one you currently use – the one where your direct deposit goes and where your bill pay stuff is all setup and working smoothly.

Or consider switching from Windows to Mac or iPhone to Android.

Now you understand how they feel when you ask them to switch.

 

 

By: Pete

Earning Return Business, Part Four: Confidence

In our last three conversations about earning return business, we tap danced around something that is at the core of getting people to repeatedly come back to your business without a second thought of going somewhere else – Confidence.

Confidence is personal

As their confidence rises, people have this interesting way of insisting that others use their go-to business. You’ve probably had this happen to you. You’ll mention that you need a new dentist, or are going to buy a truck, put your family up at a local B & B, or want to get a fence built and someone you know will be positively rabid in their insistence that you use their favorite business for that purchase.

Some take it very personally. If you choose a business other than the one they recommended and have a less than ideal experience, you’re likely to hear about it until you share your good experience with their favorite vendor the next time you have that need.

This happens for several reasons:

  • They feel an obligation to you as a friend or family member and want you to have a good experience. In short, they want to do something nice for you.
  • They want that business to stick around, so the more people they send to the business, the better.
  • When a business knows you are sending them clients, they tend to treat you a little bit differently. We all enjoy that feeling of being treated a little bit special, much like the response Norm hears when he walks into Cheers.

Don’t underestimate that last one. Loyalty of this nature is easy to build with the right kind of attention and is invaluable.

Building loyalty with pizza

My wife and I often have a dinner date night on Friday and more often than not, we’ll find ourselves having pizza. There’s a lot of good pizza where we live, so the choice isn’t easy.

Despite all the great choices, we more often than not end up at a restaurant called “The Back Room”, mostly because of barkeep Zak. When Zak was young, he swam with our boys during summer swim league. Yet that history isn’t why we go there.

After a long work week, we usually sit in the TV lounge area at the end of the Back Room’s bar. Because we’ve been there enough times, Zak automatically brings us one of the rotators he’s sure we’ll like (and he takes the time to tell us about it) after ordering our favorite pizza (which isn’t on the menu) and salads – never forgetting our preferred substitutions from prior visits.

Zak has learned that we’re creatures of habit when we come to the Back Room and we’ve learned to have confidence that he will take care of us and remember what we like.

Earning return business via confidence

The more confidence clients have in you and your company’s ability to deliver what they want, when they want it, at the quality level they’ve paid for – the more likely it is they’ll keep coming back.

Confidence comes from a number of different places, but at its root, it’s about your clients’ peace of mind and friction-free experience.

Whether they’re  good or bad, I’ll bet you can think of little things that happened during recent interaction with businesses that affected your confidence in them. The trick is figuring out what those little things are for your business and your clientele.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to instill that peace of mind, here’s a few examples:

  • A Realtor who provides a refrigerator checklist to her clients to prove her mettle by listing in advance the things that she may have to handle for the clients during a home transaction. This sends the confidence-building message “they will not surprise us”.
  • A software company that documents the minute details of their in-house source management, build, testing and deployment process for their clients, raising confidence in the quality of releases that are publicly available to them.
  • Once a rarity, now many restaurants frame their city/county health inspection for all clients to see. Ever see a framed “C” or “D” grade?
  • “Pre-owned” certifications for cars that indicate what has been checked prior to putting the car on the market.
  • Banks that don’t have a deposit cutoff at 3:00 PM.

To a good business, these things seem obvious. No matter how obvious, the key is taking the next step.

How do you build your clients’ confidence?

By: RBerteig

Earning Return Business, part three

In the last year, we’ve experienced the joy of moving. Twice.

Yes, twice on purpose.

Apparently our lives are in such dire need of adventure that one move wasn’t enough.

Census you asked

Why do I bring up these moves?

According to U.S. Census data from 2010, Americans move about 12 times in their lives – and younger generations are trending toward moving even more often.

Moving is not an inexpensive or easy affair. It can stress families heavily at a time when they are already under substantial pressure. Since we do it about a dozen times in our lives, it would seem obvious that there’s lots of incentive to create an experience that encourages repeat business and good word of mouth.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

U-Haul vs. Penske

I’ve rented from Penske once, 16 years ago. I had to drive their truck from Missoula to Cheyenne to return it. In retrospect, this was not the most time and cost efficient plan, but a prior U-Haul experience had me avoiding them.

Despite the crazy return location, I’d rent from them again tomorrow – if they had a local store in the places I was moving from and moving to. Why? 16 years later, I still have good vibes from that move, the rig I received and how they handled the process on both ends.

I’ve since used U-Haul twice. As they were 16 years ago, the trucks are spartan in features, still use gas (less power, lower mileage) rather than diesel and often give you the idea that you’re the last person to drive it before they sell it off.

I’ve used them twice is because they were the only local choice at both ends of a move.

Confidence earns repeat business

Despite my issues with their trucks, the people who work for U-Haul  (and their dealers) have proven to be friendly and service-oriented.

As with many other large businesses, there are roses and thorns with each experience, and once in a while you’re fortunate to meet unique people who set the standard for everyone else you deal with in a particular market, such as Hungry Horse Montana’s Kasey Faulk and her crew.

The thorns usually relate to little issues that point to management’s attention to detail. A recent example is the truck I picked up. The windshield appeared that it hadn’t been cleaned. It was covered with bugs.

Thing is, the bugs weren’t whole like someone hadn’t touched the windshield at all. Instead, it looked like they’d been “sort of” cleaned but hadn’t finished the job.  I suspect U-Haul has someone clean the windshields in every truck at check-in time (or before it goes out), but that they don’t have their people hop in the truck to check their work when the cleaning is done or when the truck is rented.

Yes, these are little things

Little things. Trivial things. But they make you wonder about the attention paid to other little things, like oil, lube, u-joints and wheel bearings.

You see, after you’ve paid a crew to load a truck, the last thing you want to do is find yourself stranded in the middle of Eden on a broiling hot day in the sun.

Actually, that’s the next to last thing you want.

The last thing you want is to have to unload the truck and load your stuff onto its replacement – particularly if it was loaded by a crew as good as Kasey’s. You don’t really want to do that even if it wasn’t loaded by her crew.

Fortunately this wasn’t part of our experience and there was no mechanical issue on either trip, despite the ill-cared-for appearance of the rig.

Earning return business requires creating the right memories

While nothing went wrong for us, these kinds of things are on your clients’ minds when they ponder coming back to you.

  • Have they cleaned the truck / bedspread / bathrooms since the last time I was here?
  • Am I going to have to deal with grease on this and that and that again?
  • Will the tub be dirty again?
  • Will they track in dirt and not clean up the sawdust and drywall dust again?
  • Is that guy behind the counter going to ogle my daughter again?

If these are the memories you’re creating, how likely is it that they’ll return?

Depend on being the best game in town, not the only one.

By: Vinoth Chandar

Leaders honor their words

Recently, someone in a position of trust and honor was found to have published someone else’s work without attribution.

The situation was made worse by their affiliation with an organization whose reputation for trust and honor is sacrosanct.

Plagiarism and/or unattributed quotes happen. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, sometimes not. Sometimes, there are excuses and denial.

Coming clean about our mistakes

We’re not perfect beings. All of us make mistakes, no matter what our handlers, customer support people, PR representatives and spokespeople say.

When we make mistakes, the reasons are fairly consistent. We’re under deadline pressure and/or circumstances distract us and alter our behavior, even if for a short while – and it often seems like those circumstances, distractions and pressures occur at the worst possible time.

In response, our fight or flight kicks in, and we buckle down and crank out the email, document, work product or service.

Yesterday, one of these situations happened to me. After four days of intense meetings and business travel in the middle of a family move, followed by a hectic morning of back to back appointments, I had to lead a conference call. I was not as prepared for it as I would have liked. While the call went OK, I knew that it could have been better.

While this probably didn’t break the trust of those involved, it could have even though the parts where I was less prepared than I wanted to be might only have been detected by a few of those involved. The problem is that this could have created a small crack in their trust in my ability to deliver.

At this point, I had a choice. Pretend nothing happened or acknowledge it and make amends by putting some space in my calendar for prep before the next meeting so that it doesn’t happen again. Choose your solution carefully.

Commitment vs. Ego

When we’re “caught” in a situation like this, the cause may no longer exist, whether it was legitimate or an excuse. By the time the mistake goes public, the cause might not make any sense at all.

This is why your ego has to take a back seat and let your commitment to the people involved take over. Our egos are frequently the cause of conflicts, whitewashes and “cover ups”.

Ego spawns thoughts like “They cant be right because that means I’m wrong.”

Commitment must ALWAYS take precedence over ego.

If you’re a comrade of someone in an organization based on trust and honor and they choose themselves over the organization in a matter of trust and honor, how does that make you feel?

While it may be politically unsound for an elected official to admit a mistake, explain the situation and take steps to make amends, it’s equally ignorant to pretend nothing happened.

This isn’t pleading not guilty to something you didn’t do. It’s lying about something that happened long ago when you were perhaps young(er), less than 100% (even temporarily) and/or affected by then current circumstances. We like to pretend that circumstances don’t matter and that we’re perfect. They matter and we aren’t. We’re human.

When someone spins your mistake, it’s their lie. It becomes yours when you fail to call out their lie. It’s as easy as “Wait a minute, that’s not what’s going on here. Let me explain.

Why this matters to business leaders

Consider the question that a failure to “Let me explain” provokes about your decision making ability, regardless of anything you’ve done in the past.

The damage occurs when you choose ego over commitment because it tells everyone that your commitment as a leader to them and the organization is less important than your individual wants and needs.

It tells everyone that you can’t be trusted. Ever tried to regain trust of family? Constituents? Employees? Clients? The public? It’s terribly difficult.

When the lie is about the tiniest little thing, it sends a message: It tells your staff you’ll lie about anything. Trust is fragile. Your staff needs to be able to trust and believe in you, and you need this of them.

Put yourself in their place: How hard would you work for someone you can’t trust?

Never forget you’re a leader first (commitment) and an individual second (ego).

By: Gilles Gonthier

Groundhog Day with Ooompa Loompas

Recently, I had a series of “Groundhog Day” experiences with multiple vendors in the same market, in the same market area, while seeking the same product that all of them sell.

Of course, they’re competitors, though some of them may be owned by the same people or corporation. I didn’t look that hard, but I doubt that’s the case.

What I found most interesting about this situation is that they were identical in almost every possible way. If you switched the logo, phone number, business name and address between each of them, you’d find it difficult to figure out which was which. Nothing about any of them appeared to stand out from the others.

Long-time readers might assume that I would find this appalling. They’d be right.

So that there is no doubt about how I feel about this situation, let me make it clear: Being exactly like every other business in your market is a dangerous concoction of idiotic, risky, lazy and so on.

Yes, there are situations that require that some things are pretty much identical from business to business. Regulatory requirements are a good example. Even though regulations might control some behavior in your market, they do not require you to become yet another Oompa Loompa.

You get the idea that I find it not only appalling but not too smart. Let’s talk about why.

Why being a clone is bad

Oompa Loompas are identical. While they presumably do good work, they produce the same results as every other Oompa Loompa. Why would someone choose your Oompa Loompa business over the identical one down the street?

If you’re all the same, what usually tips them in your favor is price.

Yet if everyone is doing things the same way, their overhead is going to be pretty consistent from business to business. With the exception of negotiation skills with vendors and the profit margin you choose when setting prices, what’s left to alter? Not much.

Of course, there will be pressure to price similarly, since there’s no difference between business A and business B. Welcome to the vicious circle.

Why not being a clone is good

When you’re not one of the Oompa Loompas, there’s always pressure to conform. Perhaps unspoken, perhaps not.

Pressure looks and sounds like: Work like us. Have a sign like us. Wear the same type of uniforms we wear. Offer the same delivery we offer. Don’t deliver, because we don’t. Provide the same level of service we provide. Don’t provide what we don’t provide. Advertise like we do. Sell like we do. Price like we do.

In industries where this is really rampant, it sounds like this: Get our industry certification because it says you do everything exactly like we do – and don’t change a thing after the fact because we’ll yank your Clone Stamp of Approval (CSoA).

While the CSoA badge is attractive and shiny while remaining artistically conservative enough that the CSoA committee somehow agreed long enough to sign off on it, you should think about how being a clone makes you feel and how it resonates with the reason you have a business in the first place.

Consider why you risked everything to start your business.

  • Was it because you had a better idea?
  • Was it because you wanted to serve people in a better way?
  • Was it because you thought so differently about the market?
  • Was it because you felt the clientele in that market were under served?
  • Or….Was it so you could march in lock step with all the other clones?

I seriously doubt the last one was anyone’s choice. Most business owners aren’t built that way, so how does this situation happen?

How it happens

Earlier, I mentioned “idiotic, risky, lazy”, describing behavior, not people. These behaviors can be active or passive. My experience and suspicion says there’s a mix of active and passive lazy going on here, perhaps mixed with a touch of fear.

At some point, I hope you decide that it’s riskier to be a clone than it is to stop being one. At that point, all that’s left is to overcome the fear of leaving Cloneville.

Moving out of Cloneville

How do you get out of Cloneville?

Think about what’s important to your clientele. What makes things easier, faster, smoother and more productive for them? Fix one thing at a time. Repeat.

By: Thomas Rousing

Earning return business, part two

Last time, I shared a story about how Best Buy avoided losing my family’s phone business (and perhaps all our business) by bending the rules a little on an insurance claim that had gotten in the weeds thanks to a combination of errors on our part and theirs.

This week, car rentals. We recently drove 1300+ miles to see my mom and rented a car for the trip. Most of the adventure occurred during the rental car pickup, of course.

Deliver what you promise, unless you can’t

I reserved a small, high-mileage car for the trip. My evil plan was to rent a car whose difference in gas mileage would more or less cover the rental, while giving us a chance to check out the car.

While talking on the phone to the local guy at the  rental place, I was assured that they have one in stock. Naturally, when I got there a few hours later, they didn’t have the car I reserved. This isn’t uncommon when reservations are made online and far in advance at an airport, but when you call the local outlet and ask the “Do you have what I reserved?” question – you expect to get it. Turned out, they had so few cars that they ended up making me wait 45 minutes while they tried to clean up their “mule” (shuttle car).

The car I got was a lower mileage car than we wanted, though not terribly low, and it wasn’t the one we wanted to evaluate for purchase, so it ended up being a less productive rental than we’d hoped.

They were wise enough to end the pickup experience on a positive note by defusing the frustration of a 45 minute wait by waiving the fuel charges and saying “Bring it back as empty as you can.”  If you’re calculating the cost of defusing situations like this in your business, keep in mind that the fuel charge savings of at most $30 isn’t what defuses the situation. Owning up to the inconvenience, apologizing and making an effort to ease the annoyance is where the situation is turned around.

Owning up is part of earning return business

With some clients, owning up, apologizing and putting $30 on the table won’t be enough. That’s why it’s critical to train your staff and give them the authority (and boundaries) to resolve situations like this without forcing the client to hear them restate policy, wait for permission to escalate the issue, wait for a response from corporate, etc. Making your clientele wait another 45 minutes and getting them on the phone with the corporate call center will make things worse, not better. That’s why last week’s BB situation worked – there was no waiting.

Waiving the fuel charge meant more than not worrying about the fuel – it meant not making an extra stop before returning the car. Little things…

Little lies are still lies

On the negative side, there was a token apology for not having the reserved car we’d talked about, and of course, no action on that. However, I understand that things happen and you can’t give someone a car you don’t have (the car didn’t come back on time from the prior renter).

In your business, this is where you take the opportunity to make things better, not worse. For example, they could have retrieved the same make/model car from the airport (30 miles away), or suggested that I go there and pick up that car to save time and then comp the airport parking of my car. They didn’t offer either.

When I asked why they operate differently from the airport, such as charging us for a day when they are closed, I got the excuse that local rental locations “work differently” than the airport location because “we’re a different company”. Of course both use the same reservation systems, corporate branding and pricing.  But they’re different.

Train the excuses out of your staff

Not long ago I heard someone say “Excuses are a lie wrapped in a reason.”

In your internal training, you’ve got to repeatedly reinforce that things like this are unacceptable discussion points.  They aren’t malicious, but they become part of your story because you’ve told them 100 or 1000 times. Each one is a paper cut on your culture and your reputation, and eventually – those cuts bleed.

By: Walmart

Earning return business

When you make client service decisions, do you weigh the cost of losing the client in your decision?

I’m talking about the hard cost of losing that client, not the often fuzzy, sometimes made up, and frequently inaccurate cost of a loss, that usually includes the 10-20 people (on average) that an unhappy client will tell after a poor experience – even if it’s their fault. While that does tend to happen, it’s this unhappy client I’m focused on, not their friends, family and coworkers. That’s the one you’re almost sure to lose in a badly handled situation.

What will it cost you if that person never comes back? Not their friends, not someone who reads what they say on Facebook, but them.

Let me describe a recent adventure at Best Buy to give you some context.

Best Buy?

A couple of months before the iPhone 5S came out last year, Best Buy (BB) had an offer to upgrade from an iPhone 4 to a 5 at no cost. The only catch, which I didn’t view as a catch, was that we had to renew our cell contract with Verizon.

We’re happy to reward their early investment in Montana cell infrastructure by remaining with them, at least until they give us a reason not to. As such, renewing was a zero friction event. More like a two free phones event.

BB has a different device insurance than Verizon and we felt the coverage was better, so we put BB insurance on our phones. The one part of Verizon we aren’t a fan of is the corporate stores, so handling all warranty/damage claims in BB seemed like a much better idea. Little did we know…

Earning return business sometimes means bending the rules

My phone recently developed a loose charging socket, probably from me catching the cord on something too many times. Near the end, I had to get creative to get it to charge. So I go up to the nearest BB store and show it to them. The guy at the counter starts the replacement process and checks their records. He says our insurance was cancelled for non-payment.

Hmm. We dig further and find that our debit card number changed in February. We didn’t think about the connection when that change occurred, and they couldn’t charge the insurance to the old card, so the cancel was legit. Unwise, but legit. After a single email to get our attention – they cancelled it.  The email went to an account that gets a lot of spam and isn’t one that I monitor, so it was missed.

While still in the store, I ended up on the phone with the BB insurance guys. Staying mellow paid off, as the agent was willing and able to reinstate the insurance without paying back premiums, setup future payments with the new card number, tweak the email address and allow us to continue the warranty replacement process.

Yes. You read that right. They didn’t even charge the unpaid months in the past.

Preserve and Protect Lifetime Client Value

The potential lose-a-client error, in my mind, was them allowing the insurance to cancel after a simple email. Are you that willing to let a recurring charge client go away? Pick up the phone, people.  One email is not enough effort.

Here’s why: Had they denied the claim, which was clearly their right, I would probably never do phone business with BB again. If they handled it poorly enough, they could have lost all my BB business.

But that isn’t what happened.

Someone is presumably training the folks at BB insurance to think about the long term and what marketing people call LCV – lifetime client value.

The question you have to ask is “Is the incremental value worth the lost lifetime client value?”

In BB’s case: Is it worth the incremental replacement cost of a phone, minus the payment of insurance premiums, to keep a BB client? I think it is, particularly compared to the cost of losing a client, perhaps forever.

In my case, it could have added up to decades of purchases by my wife and I, and perhaps our kids. I suspect that would add up to more than an insurance company’s wholesale price of a refurbished iPhone 5.

Are you thinking about the incremental cost of the service you provide vs. the lifetime client value when training your staff? You should.

Accelerated change redefines your market

Last month, Harvard Business Review’s Brad Power wrote a short piece about something software people have known for years, even if they ignore it: The rate of change is accelerating.

http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/06/how-the-software-industry-redefines-product-management/

An excerpt from Power’s piece:

I spoke with Andy Singleton, CEO of Assembla, a firm that helps software development teams build software faster. He told me the story of Staples vs. Amazon. As you might expect, Staples has a big web application for online ordering. Multi-function teams build software enhancements that are rolled up into “releases” which are deployed every six weeks. The developers then pass the releases to the operations group, where the software is tested for three weeks to make sure the complete system is stable, for a total cycle of nine weeks. This approach would be considered by most IT experts as “best practice.”

“Best practice”? Not really, but let’s continue:

But Amazon has a completely different architecture and management process, which Singleton calls a “matrix of services.” Amazon has divided their big online ordering application into thousands of smaller “services.” For example, one service might display a web page, or get information about a product. A service development team maintains a small number of services, and releases changes as they become ready. Amazon will release a change about once every 11 seconds, adding up to about 8,000 changes per day. In the time it takes Staples to make one new release, Amazon has made 300,000 changes.

While this situation is old news to software businesses and even to some non-software businesses that develop their own software, the thing you need to be aware of is that this accelerated rate of change and implementation stretches far beyond software.

You may have heard the phrase “software is eating the world“. In many cases, that’s about software disrupting and improving businesses and sometimes eliminating jobs. It’s also about technology and accelerated change in businesses that haven’t traditionally depended on technology.

This rate of change is reaching into many other niches – some faster than others. The question isn’t “Will it touch yours?”, instead the question is “When?”

Consider Amazon

You might be thinking that Amazon is a relatively new company so it was easy for them to start off producing systems as Power’s piece described. Trouble is, that isn’t the case at all.

While Amazon Web Services (aka AWS – the cloud services side of Amazon) has been around since 2006, Amazon has been around since the mid ’90s. They had to remake themselves to pull this off – but they chose to do so before someone else forced it on them.

Three dimensions

A few years ago, if you were in the engineering prototyping business, you might have a turnaround of a few weeks to a month, depending on the type of pieces you prototype.

Then one day, a 3D printer showed up on a local doorstep. Without a massive capital expense, delay and shop build out, a local engineer could now start turning out prototypes your clients could touch and feel in hours or for larger items, a day or two.

Perhaps you can work with that person to partner on projects and you both win. If you don’t, who will?

You can have a 3D printer on your doorstep tomorrow. What makes you different from the lady down the street who owns one?

The choice

Today, you probably have a choice in the matter.

You can either determine what needs a remake or restructure and make those changes (and experiments) on your terms, or you can wait and let someone else determine the time frame and terms for you. Most of us would prefer not to have someone else calling the shots.

I know, you’re busy. You’ve got this fire and that fire to put out. You’ve got soccer games to get to. I get it. I have those too and so do many other business owners.

It might be hard to justify any sort of disruption, even in thought, if your business is humming along on all cylinders right now.  That’s exactly what the disruptive businesses want. Keep doing what you’ve always done, because it’s still working.

Meanwhile, someone out there is fighting the same fires, perhaps as their business hums along, and all the while, they’re restructuring their business for this new reality.

What if they’re in your market? What if you did it first?

Consistency drives word of mouth business

Last week, my wife and I went to a place we’d been looking forward to for some time.  Our 31st wedding anniversary dinner was the perfect occasion to try a new (to us) place, so we went to a local Cajun restaurant whose entree price ranking is $$ and name includes “Orleans”.

Long time readers know I rarely name poor performers. I’ve made note of the theme, price range and part of the name to set the expectation you’d expect to find there.

Expectations vs. Reality

The combination of Cajun, $$ and Orleans implied white tablecloths, a Bourbon Street vibe / atmosphere and good Louisiana cuisine prepared to order, perhaps with an emphasis on seafood.

The menu’s broad selection of Cajun seafood dishes nailed that, but expectation delivery faded from there. There was little to tie the ambiance to New Orleans. The table settings resembled something you’d find in a pizza joint. This created a bit of disconnect with the pricing, menu and the restaurant’s name – which implied fine Bourbon Street dining.

Despite arriving at about 7:00 pm on a Wednesday, the place was empty. Warning bells went off, but we figured we’d give it a shot anyway. After being seated, I noticed the floor was filthy. It seats 30-35 and on a busy night, I can see how the staff might not be able to get to the floor between turns. However, the dining area has a tile floor and the place was empty except for us, so finding it consistently dirty throughout the restaurant was pretty surprising.

The chef arrived at the restaurant at the same time we did. Rather than going to the kitchen, the chef sat down in the dining area with a couple of web site consultants and discussed the menu, photos and what should be changed on their site.

At no time during our visit did the chef enter the kitchen – including from the time we ordered to the time we received our food. Likewise, neither the waiter or cook staff approached the chef’s table for guidance. I suspect that the chef has their hand in their sauces and general guidance of the kitchen, but in a place this small in this price range, I expect direct chef involvement in the food and perhaps even a table visit on a slow night in an otherwise empty restaurant.

Instead, there was no welcome, no eye contact, no thank you and no time in the kitchen. Nothing from the chef.

Speaking of empty, it was quiet enough to hear the microwave beeping just before my wife’s étouffée arrived. Despite the microwave, the étouffée was surprisingly tasty and easily the best part of her meal. Oddly enough, the waiter discouraged her from ordering the entree, so she ordered a small cup to get a taste of it despite the waiter’s recommendation.

The inconsistency returned with my wife’s Shrimp Pontchartrain entree, which turned out to be a massive platter of heavily salted pasta / sauce with little sign of shrimp.  Meanwhile, my Catfish Tchoupitoulas was very good. I’d definitely order it again.

Quality and branding inconsistencies can damage any business – even if they don’t serve food.

Police your inconsistencies

Inconsistencies plague small business and can destroy repeat business, as well as word of mouth business. The more processes, systems and training you can put in place to root out these issues, the closer your business gets to marketing itself by reputation.

Our visit included a number of inconsistencies with the business’ pricing, name, menu and food.

The menu listed numerous chef and/or restaurant honors, yet the most recent award was four years old. The years without an award stood out as much as the period of years where consistent annual awards implied high quality. If you can’t show award consistency, don’t list the award years or list them as “Five time winner”. Meanwhile, address the inconsistencies that caused the wins to stop.

Whether you operate a three star restaurant or a tire shop, cleanliness is important. It’s a signal that a business cares and pays attention to details, while sending a message about the cleanliness of other parts of the business that you cannot see. Given the filthy condition of the dining area floor, would you expect the walk-in cooler, prep table or kitchen floor to be clean?

What inconsistencies can you address to increase repeat and word of mouth business?

By: Senorhorst Jahnsen

Busy business owners have no time for this

Last time, we spent a good bit of time talking about the need to help your staff perform their best work.

What about the stuff that no one would consider their best work, but is “work that must be done and since no one else is here to do it, I will.

Studies have been performed to determine what CEOs do during their work day – mostly to see what makes the great ones so special, productive and different from the average ones. One thing stands out: the average CEO says they only spend about 25% of their day doing what they feel is meaningful work.

Meaningful work did not include “pushing paper”, reading emails and attending meetings that they felt had no business attending.

Does that sound similar to your typical day as a business owner / manager? I believe business owners have no time for this.

Avoid strategic work

Management may unintentionally avoid strategic work by spending too much of their day doing low-value work – and often make it worse by doing it manually.

It starts by not seeking a better way to deal with tasks that we’ve always done a certain way because that’s the way we learned.

When business owners and managers make meeting arrangements or other appointments for themselves by playing phone or email tag with the other people involved vs. using a tool like Doodle that can resolve the “Sorry, I’m busy then but I can meet two hours later” problem automatically, rather than by repeatedly interrupting each person involved in the appointment.

You may also spend time opening mail, sweeping the shop and performing other low value tasks. No question, these tasks must be performed. However, are you the one who should be doing those things?

I don’t think so.

Business owners have no time

Is it not valuable to sweep the floor? To make sure the windows are clean? To open the mail? To drive to Costco to pickup a truckful of TP? To answer the phone professionally and be helpful to the caller?

Of course these things are valuable, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the one to actually perform those tasks. Your job is to make sure your systems assure that this work happens and your training makes sure it gets done the way you would do it so you have the time to focus on the CEO work that you and only you can do.

Devaluing it by saying the work is below you sends a dangerous message to your staff. It isn’t that this work is below you. In fact, if you think that, you should rethink it. It’s very dangerous to believe this work is below you, because you will eventually communicate that belief to your staff, explicitly or otherwise.

Below you isn’t the point.  The real issue is that in smaller businesses, you’re often the only one who can perform the business’ most valuable work.

Me and only me?

Exactly.

One of the ways that you can identify this work is by breaking down the work you do into two lists:

  • $10 an hour work
  • $100 an hour work

Put the work you do in a typical day / week / month into those two categories.

There’s probably work done at your place that’s between those spots, but we’re talking about the work YOU do.

Now that you have your list – look at all that stuff on the $10 an hour list. My guess is that all of it can be delegated.

Now look at the $100 an hour list. How much on that list can ONLY be done by you and no one else?

Make a new list, call it what you like – say a $25 an hour list. Everything that’s on the $100 an hour list that someone else can do to your satisfaction, even if it takes training, systems, etc – put it on that list.

What’s left on the $100 hour list should be the things that only you can do. Here’s the kicker… there’s probably a $500 or $1000 an hour list of things you should be doing but never get around to. Dangerous to let that work slide.

Review the lists regularly. Business changes and so does your work.

Next Stop?

Have your managers and senior staff take a look at this process and see what they should be working on vs. what they can delegate.