Do your people understand how customers use your product?

do you know how your customer uses your productYes, I’m a bit old fashioned in one area – reading the newspaper in hard copy. There is something satisfying about sitting down and feeling the paper and smelling the print that you can’t get online. Recently, the delivery person changed. All of a sudden, the paper started coming rolled tightly. Presumably the approach made it easier to toss the paper. I’m all for driving efficiencies, as long as they don’t create a new problem. In this case it did. The paper was so tightly rolled, that it would curl back on itself when attempting to read it. My guess is the delivery person had never tried to read a paper after it had been rolled like that. The focus was on delivering the papers as quickly as possible.

Changes in business happen all the time. Sometimes the impact of the change is fully thought through, other times it is not or there are unintended consequences. A critical element in making change is ensuring that the product or service still meets the needs of the customer. A first step to doing that is ensuring your people understand the needs of the customer and how the product or service is used. How are you making sure that your customers needs don’t get lost in the shuffle?

Are you getting the behavior you desire or the behavior you reward?

Are you getting the behavior you wantIt was the most recent round of attempts to confirm appointments. Dentists, doctors, hair salons, restaurants, etc. The forms of contact vary. Postcards, emails, texts, phone calls. They keep coming until you actively confirm your appointment. And if you don’t, your appointment will be canceled. I’ve been told the level of not showing up for appointments/reservations has reached new heights. Businesses now invest money in technology to get you to confirm your appointment, or in people making calls and following up to make sure you are coming. You now need to spend your time to confirm an appointment (rather than calling if you need to cancel). Your time and that of the company you intend to do business with is now consumed because the people who don’t show up aren’t penalized. The business loses revenue due to a person not showing up, and higher administrative costs focused on trying to get people to confirm appointments. And the behaviors of the offenders don’t change because there is no penalty for behaving badly.

There is a local restaurant that has two seatings for dinner. It is small, so important that seats are not open because the hit to revenue would be significant. They implemented a policy that requires a credit card to be provided when you make the reservation. It holds your spot. And if you don’t show up, the charge is nearly $100. Guess what. They don’t have a problem with people showing up for their reservations.

In business and in life, you teach people how to treat you. If you desire certain behaviors and you get them, reward it. If you don’t get the behaviors you desire, design a mechanism that corrects the behaviors you do not want in a targeted fashion such that only those who are offenders are addressed. When you get it right, you’ll start seeing the behaviors you desire. How are you getting the behaviors you desire in your business?

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there

just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't thereIt was the wee hours of the morning and a heavy storm rolled in. Wind pounded the side of the house and the rain was coming down. And then I heard it. Tink. Tink. Tink. The sound of water dripping in the bathroom. Water was clearly coming in through a vent from the roof and flowing through the fan in the ceiling. A few days later the roof repair folks came out to confirm my suspicion.

While he was investigating, I put my dog in the garage. After he left, I opened the garage door to let her into the house. She was running full speed until she hit the threshold and froze in her tracks. She started sniffing the air, then went to the front door and picked up the scent. She tracked it all the way up the stairs, into the bathroom and then to the laundry room (attic access). From time to time she paused. It was the exact path the man took. I certainly couldn’t see or smell where the man had walked, but she could even though she had no specific training in tracking scents.

Just like the trail of scent exists even though I couldn’t see it, things go on in business every day that are not necessarily visible. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there, it just means you may not see it. Maybe it is a person that works in the background and makes sure that things happen. Or the person that keeps their finger on the pulse of customer needs and finds a way to keep them pleased. Things just seem to work because there are people in the background making it happen. You don’t necessarily see it happen without looking for it. How do you keep your eyes open for things in your business that you may not see?

Are you diverting people without notice?

are you diverting peopleThe economy is coming back. You read about it in the papers, see it on the news. It really becomes apparent when you experience it in the form of increased traffic and construction. Driving to an appointment recently met me with two unexpected adventures in the form of road closures. While many times there are signs down the road indicating a closure is ahead, in both cases, there were no signs. In the first case, the closure was temporary as construction was being performed on the road and flaggers would periodically let people through. The second closure was for an extended period of time. Looking ahead two blocks, I was able to see the closure and make a turn down the appropriate one-way street. Had I not seen it, I would have been on an adventure going the opposite direction.

In the grand scheme of things, the adventure was not a big deal. It was 15 extra minutes. I plan for the unknowns – something will come up, I just don’t know what it will be. But many people do not. And in business, the diversions down different paths and adding difficulties into the lives of your people or your customers in an unexpected way can strain the relationships. If only once, it may not be a big deal. But if people are diverted from the objective regularly, you may lose them. How are you making sure you don’t divert people without notice?

Did you ask?

Did you ask?A recent conversation focused on a group that was trying to expand its membership base. It was fairly narrowly focused, and the goal was to target a specific demographic. Target after target was declining the opportunity to join. And the members were not sure why. Was there truly a desire to expand? For some yes, but for others, no – they were happy with the current composition. Likely, this was conveyed when guests/target members attended.

The bigger issue was nothing changed to welcome the target demographic. Individuals were invited to attend events that were unintentionally designed to turn them off. No-one had ever asked the target individuals about their interests. And there was no intention to do so.

Whether growing in a new market, or in an existing market, understanding what is valued is critical to gaining traction. Simply asking what is valued goes a long way to delivering a product or service that is valued by the market. How do you gain insight into what key constituents value?

Going the extra mile

going the extra mileIt was an afternoon flight. And it was going to be a long week, so I paid a little more to get an upgrade. It was too late for lunch, and too early for dinner, so I didn’t expect anything in the way of food service.   To my surprise, they were serving a salad, garlic bread and a brownie. While I wasn’t hungry, the chocolate caught my attention. With my wheat allergy, I have to be careful, so I asked if it was gluten free. And to my disappointment, it was not. Oh well.

I quickly moved on to an intriguing conversation with my seat mate. About an hour later the flight attendant circled back with two mini chocolate bars – one for me and one for my seat mate. It was a little thing, but she made my day! She didn’t have to, but she went the extra mile to provide excellent customer service. Alaska Airlines prides themselves on their customer service. It is particularly impressive when the stated values align with actions and experiences. And in this case it did. How do you go the extra mile for the folks in and around your business?

p.s. I did write to Alaska about the experience!

Acting Quickly

act quicklyIt was a quick trip to Trader Joe’s to pick up half a dozen items. Walking across the parking lot, plotting my path, there was a wallet with a $20 bill peaking out right in the middle of the walkway. I picked it up thinking how panicked I would be if I lost mine in this day and age. Without opening it, I left it with the front desk thinking the person may still be in the store. Five minutes later, I was at the cashier.   And to my surprise, he asked if I lost my wallet. Wow! They had quickly notified all the cashiers within the space of a few minutes to try to reconnect the person with the wallet. What a great example of quickly adjusting to new circumstances in a way that is not disruptive to the ongoing operations. How are you able to act quickly as circumstances change in your world?

The Possibility of Being Wrong

possibility of being wrongWe all make mistakes at one time or another – even if we are sure we did everything right. Recently, I was involved in a situation where a package was sent to me that I didn’t receive. I was sure I didn’t have it, and the person that delivered it was sure that I did.

So how was the issue resolved? The person doing the delivery went through step by step to figure out where the package went. As it turns out, he delivered the package to the wrong place by accident. The person who got it didn’t pay attention and kept it. Ultimately, it was retrieved and returned to me.

At points along the way, I became concerned that the effort to resolve the situation wasn’t being taken seriously, that there was a view I had it and didn’t pay attention when I got it. The assumption was, I had made the mistake and not the folks who had delivered the package. It could have just as easily been me who made the mistake in the whole adventure. But in this case, it wasn’t.

Part of exceptional service is not casting blame, but allowing for the possibility of being wrong or making a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes at some point. Jumping to a conclusion on who is to blame isn’t helpful or productive. Figuring out why the mistake happened and making sure it doesn’t happen again does. At the end of the day, the customer will remember how the situation was handled as much as the final resolution. How do you allow for the possibility of being wrong?

Showing Up

showing upYears ago, a conversation grew around getting involved in an industry association. Money had been going out the door for years with no seeming return. After a few calls and discussions, the value provided was quite high. The problem was, people had changed in the company I worked for, connections were lost, and no one was showing up. Once we got involved – and started showing up – the relationship grew and blossomed. There was huge value involved on both sides. But, it took a bit of showing up on both sides to develop the relationship and see the importance on both ends.

Whether it is in business or in life, showing up is critical to forming and maintaining relationships. It involves being present – not just physically, but intellectually. In fact, you don’t always need to be physically present as long as a connection is maintained in a way that satisfies all parties. How are you showing up?

A Lasting Impression

make a lasting impressionNine years ago, I was working on my MBA. The mergers and acquisitions class was about to start and we were all excited because a classmate was able to convince the CEO of his company to teach the class. This was the CEO of a public company, on boards of other public companies and was on the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. In addition, he was involved in several ongoing mergers and acquisitions. Not a busy guy at all!

As each of us walked into the room for our first class, he greeted us by name. All 50 of us. There were no nametags, no name cards. He had clearly taken the time to look at the class photo book and learned each of our names and faces. I was impressed!

It has been nearly a decade and that experience is a hallmark for me in the impression and impact simply learning a name can have on the receiving end. While I aspire to be as good with names as Jim Hackett, I have a long way to go. What kind of impression do you want to make with others?