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Automation customer retention Employee Training Improvement Productivity service Setting Expectations Small Business systems Technology

Filling cracks with automation and metrics

How many emails did you send last Tuesday? How many phone calls did you make last Thursday? How many things fell through the cracks last week or last month?

The first two are trivia until you start thinking about the time they consume compared to the return they produce.

The last one is the big one: tasks that fall in cracks, meaning you forgot to do something, or have someone else do something – like make a call to close a sale or follow up on a lead.

I’m guessing you have no idea how many things disappeared into cracks last week unless they’ve cost you business since that time. If they didn’t have a cost, does it matter? I think it does, but not for the reason you might think.

Metrics are lonely fellas

Metrics are great, until they aren’t. Their failing? Metrics tell you what happened and in some cases, what is happening, but they don’t tell you what to do next. By themselves, metrics can get lonely.

Automation can cure that by either telling you act on what’s happened (or is happening), or by doing it on your behalf with your advance permission.

You need to get metrics hitched up with automation, but not solely to get your metrics delivered regularly. While that’s certainly a very good idea, there’s more to the marriage of metrics and automation than prompt and consistent delivery.

There’s curing that crack problem.

Preventing cracks is better than fixing them

If you drive a diesel pickup, particularly one that’s chipped, tuned and so forth – you know what I mean. If you’re a tuner, you probably have an Edge or similar device monitoring exhaust temperatures and other engine information.

Those are metrics.

If you have an Edge or similar, you may even have it setup to tune your engine’s “brain” as engine metrics signal a need for something different.

The tuned diesel truck owner uses tools like this to prevent engine rebuilds while getting the best possible performance out of their truck. In a similar fashion, stock traders use automation to sell stocks when they hit stop loss points because they want to prevent portfolio rebuilds while getting the best possible performance from their investments.

Create a crack prevention system

Metric driven automation like that used by the stock trader and the tuned diesel owner can likewise keep our business fine tuned simply by making sure we’re aware of things that need to get done on a daily basis.

Simple but effective methods include making appointments for yourself and keeping reminder-enabled todo lists in your phone. Obvious? Sure, but they can be all but life saving when chaos finds its way into your week.

I use a few simple online tools to keep track of my work, but I’m always on a quest to find a way for them to nag me more intelligently. These tools help me remain responsible by making sure I get the right things done at the right time.

For example, after seven years, my Flathead Beacon editor knows he’s going to get this column from me every week, even if isn’t there on deadline day (five days before press day). When he gets to his desk on Monday (press day), he knows it’ll be there and it won’t require editing, except for rare occasions when my headline is a bit over the top.

Occasionally, 11pm Sunday arrives and the column isn’t finished. I have a reminder on my phone to tell me to get up 90 minutes early on Monday (ouch, right?) so I can get it published on time, allowing him to meet his commitments.

Here’s the crack prevention: Automation helps me meet my commitment, no matter how hectic life gets, no matter where I am. If the automation was fully data-driven, the reminder would only occur on Sundays when my column hasn’t yet been posted. Some situations will demand that level of data-driven automation. You don’t have to cut it as close as 11pm on the night before. Getting up 90 minutes early on Monday is my self-inflicted punishment / motivation not to let that happen.

Together, automation and metrics allow you to become more dependable as your business / volume grows, while still remaining independent. Don’t forget to show your team how to use automation to improve their performance.

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Business culture Customer service Employee Training Leadership Management Setting Expectations Small Business The Slight Edge

The magic triangle of small business

Take a look at any reality show business turnaround and the story is always the same: Quality, customer service, management.

It’s the magic triangle of small business, much less the formulaic basis of most business turnaround reality shows.

What’s a bit stunning is that people actually wait around for the reality show hero and their crew to show up before they take action to clean up the mess they’ve made – and even then, it’s orchestrated by the show. Sure, there’s some money and some not-so-good publicity involved, but most of the time, they’d be ahead financially and publicity-wise if they simply took care of business without waiting for the show people to arrive.

Think about what these people would do if they showed up at your business tomorrow.

They’d taste your food or try your product or service. They’d see how clean the place is. They’d monitor your service. They’d look at your books. They’d ride around with your delivery rigs.

Yes, these are the same things you should be doing in one way or another.

Management

Sometimes other things find their way into the success equation of a good small business, but they’re almost always rooted in the magic triangle. Some of these things are a part of management.

For example:

  • Cleanliness… is management.
  • Hiring…. is management.
  • Knowing your numbers…is management.
  • Knowing who your clientele is, and isn’t…is both management and marketing.
  • Focusing your marketing and client care on exactly the right people…is management.
  • Being focused on the quality of what you produce and sell is management, as is how you deliver it.

Quality

Think about the things you’ve seen in other businesses that made you angry, disappointed or made you wonder “Who’s running this place?” Consider the service you’ve complained about.

Is any of that happening at your business? How do you know? Have you called the last several customers you lost? Are you even aware who they are?

What about the last few new customers? Do you know who they are?

If you don’t know the last few you lost or the last few you got, it’s tough to check in with them and ask how things went. If you can’t do that, you’re probably guessing or assuming how things are going.

Is there a TV truck out front yet?

The phone

Think about the last time you were served well over the phone. Or about the last time you had a terrible phone experience with a business. Remember how you felt? Remember the “I’ll never use this business again” thought process – or something like it.

Now, with that thought cemented in your mind – are you sure that your business isn’t having those same kinds of issues with customer calls? Are you positive?

Have you called your business lately as a customer? Have you talked to anyone who has? If the answer to both questions is no, how do you know that your clients are being properly cared for by phone?

Try calling your accounting department and asking a question about an old invoice. Once the conversation is done, ask them to send you a copy of the invoice.  Do they refuse? Does the copy ever show up? These are the kinds of things that set customers off on a daily basis.

Call your sales and service departments as well. How does that go? Try being a “good customer” as well as a “bad” one. How does the experience change? Are they following your training? Speaking of, are they being trained?

Onboarding

What’s your new customer “onboarding” process like? Is it consistent? Does it set expectations for how things will go after that? Do you train them how to do business with you?

What’s your process like? Think about the process that other businesses have put you through, or used to welcome you into their “family”.

Which do you prefer? Yours, or theirs? If you prefer the ones you’ve experienced elsewhere, is there a reason why you haven’t adopted parts of their process and made them your own?

Pay attention to the magic triangle and everything that it touches. Don’t wait for the TV truck to pull up – it may not arrive soon enough.

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Business culture Customer relationships Customer service Employee Training Employees Leadership service Setting Expectations Small Business

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.