Posts Tagged ‘time’

13 Foolproof Steps To Delivering Superior Customer Service

June 25, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

If a goal of your company is to increase the sales, business cash flow and net worth for shareholders, then superior customer service has to be at the center of everything you do.

Your business can have cutting edge technology at the best price.  The structure and funding of your company can allow you to scale the enterprise quickly.  Your business plan can be the envy of venture capitalists and angel investors.  Your start-up may have been listed last year on the Inc. Magazine’s Top 500 fastest growing companies. 

In spite of that, if your customer service is not the best it can be then nothing else matters.  Your company will lose marketshare.

In speaking with companies of all sizes from many various industry groups, I find most saying that the difference in their own company from the competition is their customer service.  Really?  I find myself wondering if these companies really know what superior customer means.

From the corner office to the front lines it is time for all companies to step back from the day-to-day operations and ask themselves what superior customer service means, what does it look like, and how do they deliver that unique trait to their customers.

Here are 13 foolproof steps to delivering superior customer service.  Ask yourself if your company is doing the following:

  1. Listening To Your Customer:  It all begins here.  You may think that you have the world’s best value proposition, product, service,and employees.  But does your customer or prospect agree?  Ongoing feedback on how your company is doing is critical and the only opinion that counts belongs to your customer. Feedback may be from a customer forum on your website, a live person taking calls or some other method .  Review the information discovered at a meeting of top management.  A characteristic I have noticed of successful companies is that the customer is discussed frequently at management meetings.  Unfortunately that does not happen enough in most companies.  The simplest and most effective feedback process I have ever seen belongs to Nordstrom department stores.  They have a half page with horizontal lines.  Across the top it says “I would like to hear from you”.  Thats it.  As a result, Nordstrom gets their customer’s top of mind opinion without being distracted by a series of survey questions.  The comments may be positive or negative but I am sure management reads every one of them.
  2. Timeliness Of Replies:  None of us has enough time in our day to get done what needs to get accomplished.  Your customer is the same way.  When they ask a question, request a quote or have a problem you must respond as quickly as possible even if you do not have the answer.  Anything less screams to your customer that they are not a priority to you.  With email and voice mail available, there is no excuse for not getting back as soon as possible.  Have a process in place to measure the timeliness of replies.
  3. Maintain A Good Reputation:  Is your business the first one the consumer thinks of when they need a solution to a problem or need a desire fulfilled?  If you are a restaurant, are you the first choice where to dine for the weekend?  Are you the plumber at the top of everyone’s list when a leak occurs?  A good reputation is not just a result of superior customer service.  Your mother was right about reputation.  Make sure you maintain a good reputation whether it is on consumer forums, with the Better Business Bureau, or at the corner coffee shop in the morning.
  4. Always Be Professional:  No one has to do business with your company.  Show respect in everything you do.  Make sure all employees act and look like they want to earn your customer’s business.  The business environment is no place  for bad language, off-color jokes or an arrogant attitude.  It is  not a secret that people want to do business with other people they like and respect.  The most expensive advertising campaign can be off set by one  employee needlessly making a prospect feel uncomfortable.
  5. Stay  In Touch:  Don’t be like the insurance agent I once had.  The only time I saw him was when it was time for the renewal.  Especially in business to business relationship,  an occasional phone call asking how sales are going is appreciated.  Even better is if you can refer a prospect to your client that might turn into a sale.  Nurture the relationship.  It will pay big dividends.
  6. Show You Are A Team:  Have you had an experience with a company where you wondered if one department within  a company even knew that another department existed?  Or, someone could not help because “that is not my job.”  A reflection of a well run company that delivers superior customer is a consistency throughout the organization in meeting the needs and wishes of every customer.  Make sure your line of communication and processes are in place and there is a synergistic approach to serving the customer.
  7. Don’t Rationalize:  No one is perfect, especially businesses.  Mistakes happen.  When they do occur, admit it and put in place a solution that will make the customer satisfied.  Most customers are understanding.  They just do not want to battle for a solution when the fault is not theres.
  8. Don’t Prejudge:  Every customer, every client, every prospect should be treated as if it’s the only one the company will ever have.  Some of the finest restaurants in America do a great job of making sure each visitor has an unforgettable experience.  That is why some of these establishments have been around for 50 years or more.  Too often, in some businesses, the way a prospect dresses or the size of the company dictates the quality of service given.  Don’t ever let the culture of your company go in this direction.
  9. Does The Business Give Back To The Community:  Superior service does not stop at the doorstep of the customer.  Contributing to the improvement in the daily life of a customer and its employees is indirectly an example of superior service.  Donating services or dollars to worthy causes that helps the community will be recognized and appreciated by both customers and prospects alike.  Many a business has lost out on a sale because a prospect remembered that a competitor contributed to a local worthy cause.  Think of this as customer service and not a line item called “donation expense” on a financial statement.
  10. Are You There For Your Customer In Tough Times:  As individuals and businesses, we all go through tough periods in our lives.  Only then do we really know who our friends are.  You may have a client who unexpectedly loses their largest customer, has a catastrophic fire or suffers the untimely loss of a key executive.  Helping out may be nothing more than extending payment terms for a period of time to help your customer’s cash flow.  I have even seen a company loan an executive to help the client transition through a loss of management.  Gestures like this are never forgotten.
  11. Is Your Product Or Service Easy To Use:  Was the solution to your customer’s problem created by engineers with no thought given to the end-user?  The problem gets solved but a PhD is required to get through the instruction manual.  Superior customer service dictates that usage of the product should be effortless.  I recently reviewed a new CRM system that was promoted as being the latest and best way to manage the interactions with customers and prospects.  It worked.  I could not understand how to use it, so I passed on buying it.  Keep it simple and your customer will be asking how they can buy more of what you are offering.
  12. Do Something Unexpected:  Sometimes superior customer service happens when someone goes out of their way to satisfy the customer by doing something totally unexpected.  This one event may solidify the customer relationship for life.  I know.  It happened to me.  I took my Lexus into the dealership for a routine service and told them I needed it back that night since we were driving to visit my son at college 700 miles away.  That evening they apologized and said the car was not ready since a part had to be ordered.  All of their loaner cars were being used.  I expressed my concern that I needed my car since we were going to be gone 5 days.  The service manager said, “No problem,” handed the keys to a new Lexus setting in the showroom and said “See you in a week..”  That was superior customer service and totally unexpected.  I don’t know how many cars I have indirectly sold by repeatedly telling that story.  Does your company have similar experiences?  If not, why not?
  13. Take Time To Educate Your Customer:  Your customer is incredibly busy and yet needs to keep up to speed with the changes in their industry.  Your company can perform a valuable service by having an ongoing education program directed to your customer.  It can be in the form of webinars, podcasts or e-newsletters featuring key topics of interest with experts in your specialty.  This is added value to the customer relationship that will be appreciated.       

When your business offers superior customer service you are really telling the customer that you genuinely care about their company and them personally.  It allows your business to better understand your customer and deepen the relationship.  You will find price becomes secondary.  The satisfied customer will become the best marketing tool you have.

Make sure “superior customer service” is more than just words.

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Make A Personal To Do List To Increase Productivity

June 16, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Have you ever gone home at the end of the day and wondered why nothing got accomplished?  Sometimes it seems like our time is consumed with urgent but not important tasks that don’t contribute to increasing sales, profit, cash flow or the net worth of the company.

We have all been there.  So, what do you do? 

It’s not really anything magical.  I go back to creating lists of the most important things that have to be done today to move the company forward.  It is nothing more than setting priorities on how you will spend your day.  It is important for me that I rank top to bottom the order in which I want projects accomplished.  As I finish an item I make sure to cross it off the list.  Not only does it make me feel good but it shows how much progress I am making getting through that day’s list.

When issues come up during the day that are not on my list, I make sure to delegate those to a manager and then follow-up later to make sure everything turned out well.

If you want or need a more structured approach to laying out your day the best source is Stephen Covey’s book First Things First.  You can read more about it here.

A successful CEO or owner must be productive and setting priorities using daily lists is one tool to achieve that goal.  Use this tip the next time and that ride home will be more enjoyable.

Top 10 Tips To A Better Business Meeting

June 11, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group 

One of the best ways to increase business cash flow is to improve productivity in the day-to-day operations of your company.

Unfortunately, for most businesses one of the least productive events is the meeting.  We all attend meetings.  Some of us have multiple meetings every day.  I believe it is safe to say that most of us would agree that a lot of our meetings are unproductive.  An unproductive disorganized meeting is a waste of time.  And time is money.

Here are 10 ways to improve the meetings in your company:

  1. Hold fewer meetings.  Can a weekly meeting be held every other week instead?  Can 2 meetings be consolidated into one?  If 2 meetings per week could be eliminated that were attended by 5 individuals, that would free up over 500 man hours per year.  Could those hours be put to better use?  Don’t get in the habit of holding a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting.
  2. Distribute an agenda prior to each meeting.  The agenda needs to clearly identify each topic to be discussed.  List the time allocated to the topic and who is responsible for leading the discussion on the topic.  This assigns accountability for a portion of the meeting to different participants.  It also allows others to prepare questions or comments on the topics to be discussed. 
  3. Have a set starting time and a set ending time.  This is mandatory and allows everyone to organize their day around the meeting.  Nothing kills morale quicker than drawn out meetings.  The overriding message that comes out of long meetings is that the company is disorganized.  A characteristic of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden that all his players and coaches appreciated was that practices would start and end on time.  If he could do it so can you.  If you only take away one suggestion on improving your meetings let it be this one.
  4. Identify who needs to be at the meeting and eliminate everyone else.  Do you really need assistants or multiple managers from the same department in attendance?  I have found one positive result of smaller meetings is more active participation by those in attendance.
  5. The chair of the meeting  should spend the last few minutes summarizing the takeaways from the meeting.  This communicates that there really was a purpose to the meeting and allows those in attendance to deliver a consistent message back to those in their departments.  Without an organized summary the chair runs the risk of each participant communicating their own interpretations of what transpired.  To reinforce the importance of the conclusions coming out of the meeting, a follow-up email summarizing the key points should be distributed to all participants within 24 hours of the conclusion of the meeting.
  6. As part of the summary,  assign responsibility for specific actions at the end of the meeting.  This designates accountability to certain individuals and reinforces that the purpose of the meeting is to achieve results.  It also creates an expectation that the person assigned the action is to report their steps taken at the next meeting.  Future meeting agendas are also created by doing this.
  7. Everyone should review notes and summaries from prior meetings and come prepared to contribute.  An effective meeting should be a two-way street.  If a participant is not prepared and silently sits there then why do they need to be at the meeting?
  8. All electronic devices need to be turned off or eliminated.  The priority must be on the agenda and presenter.  There should be no texting to the person across the table editorializing about the comments just made.  The chair of the meeting must enforce what should be a hard and fast rule.
  9. The chair needs to make sure all attendees participate in the meeting.  First of all, everyone’s contribution is needed for the agenda to be successful.  Secondly, if participants know they will be called upon to contribute it will maintain everyone’s focus and assure the energy level is high.
  10. A completely different type of meeting may be held that is different from those discussed above.  If there is a small group that needs to meet daily at the beginning of a shift, consider holding a stand up meeting.  This type is literally held standing up (no chairs allowed).  It is informal but still needs structure.  Generally, a quick snapshot of 3 topics are covered: 1) a quick review of yesterday’s results, 2) any goals set for today, and 3) any pressing issues.  If a major issue comes up then finish addressing it after this meeting is finished.  The length should be 5-10 minutes and always finish on a high energy note.  I used this approach with a small group in a manufacturing plant and it was extremely successful in increasing output.  At once we saw hourly factory workers taking ownership of the results of their shift.   

If you need to increase the business  cash flow of your company start by holding more productive meetings.

The result will be a more energized, focused, and appreciative employee group.

Outsourcing Can Save Time And Increase Business Cash Flow

June 3, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

If your company is not considering outsourcing some of your everyday business  functions then you are missing out on a golden opportunity to increase your business cash flow.   

Most individuals outsource many of their personal activities and don’t think twice about it.  You can have someone else fill the cavities in your teeth, repair the engine in your car, or even make coffee for you every morning.  Hello Starbucks!  Think of the opportunities to outsource important daily functions in your company such as payroll, cleaning, accounting, IT, invoice billing and processing, human resources, areas of marketing such as public relations, web design, pay-per-click, SEO, media buying and even the call center.  One important area that has been getting outsourced for some time is the manufacturing of products and component parts.

Is it really worth considering for your company?

The benefits are many and the savings  bring more cash into the company to help drive marketshare of the all important core products.  Here are just a few of the benefits:

  1. Less space to rent or own.
  2. Can eliminate office furniture and work stations.
  3. Can reduce the number of computers, monitors and printers
  4. Forget the telephone on that desk that no longer exists.
  5. Less hiring, interviewing and training expenses and the time that goes with it.
  6. No employee benefit cost needed for outsourced employees.
  7. Fewer people problems for your top managers to deal with which means they have more time to focus on increasing sales to your best customers. 
  8. Savings can be channeled into testing new marketing strategies to bring on additional customers.
  9. The company will have flexibility to expand or contract an outsourced function as business conditions dictate. This is a critical benefit in these uncertain times.
  10. Speed of execution.  Having specialists who live the outsourced function daily should assure that what needs to get accomplished is done more efficiently and quickly than managing it inside the company.  When I outsourced manufacturing I found that we got the finished product to the end customer 7 days faster than before.  That dramatically increased customer satisfaction and improved cash flow.
  11. Your company can build a strategic alliance with your outsource partner.  This can allow you to stay more current on technology and new processes than if you went it alone.  The partner  may even introduce you to a new customer.
  12. Quality level  of the outsourced function improves.  We already mentioned speed but when you combine more speed with better quality the company gains a competitive edge when outsourcing.  This edge includes increased  reliability and credibility in the eyes of your customer which allows the company to ask a higher price for its products. The result is more sales and increased gross margin.
  13. Outsourcing allows your management team to concentrate more on all aspects of customer service.  While this area is outsourced in many companies, I prefer to take the savings from outsourcing other functions and improve this critical function into a core competency.
  14. It can reduce the fixed cost of equipment that has to be acquired to stay current with technology, especially in the area of manufacturing.    

Like everything else in your business, the management team must constantly measure the results of outsourcing a specific area or function to make sure the expected  return on investment is being realized.  Some owners and CEOs outsource a function and forget about it. It is important to understand that outsourcing becomes another area of the company that needs to be managed in order to assure success.

Has your company had success outsourcing?  I would like to hear about your experiences.

Save Time And Cash With A Few Good Performance Measurements

May 27, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Next to more sales and more cash most owners and managers would list a desire for more time in their day.

How does an owner keep track of what is happening in the company when he or she is consumed with meetings, addressing emergencies and fulfilling commitments outside the office?

It is a challenge to say the least!

I have found there are a few measures of performance I can access daily and weekly that quickly tells me if things are going as planned.  These measures almost act as early warning signals that a small problem may be about to become an all encompassing issue the whole management team will have to address.  I refer to them as “How are we doing” metrics.

Every manager and every company is different.  I encourage you to identify a few key metrics that will work for you and your business.  My suggestion, however, is to not overdue the number of measurements you are tracking.  If you are having to dedicate staff to just preparing a few indicators for your review then you are probably looking at too many.

The measurements should be easily accessible and help you improve the company.  If they cannot aid in increasing sales or cash flow then maybe you can review that data later.

Over the last 20 years there has been a mini industry created in performance measurements.  Many PhDs and consultants have made a career in marketing  “Balanced Scorecards”, “Strategy Maps” and other indicators of productivity.  I find most of them interesting but often too costly to prepare and sometimes ignored by management teams.  If you use these and they work for your company then by all means you should continue.

The measurements I use appear to be obvious ones but that is OK.  They have worked for me.  Maybe they might work for you:

Cash Report:  This is a daily report that  shows the bank balance, deposits made, payments transmitted and ending balance or float.  I never want to be surprised on cash, whether it’s coming or going.

Daily Sales:  I know my sales plan and this tells me if we are tracking to hit it.  If it is a company that issues leads daily I will want to know conversion rate.  If there are multiple locations, product lines, or divisions I will want to know if all of them are tracking to hit their monthly sales goals.

Accounts Receivable Aging:  I want to see this weekly and determine who owes us money and if the  amount is increasing.  In my opinion, we deserve to be paid for the quality work we did and I am very aggressive in wanting to be paid on time.  I will also do a mental calculation of days of sales outstanding.

Accounts Payable Report:  I want to see this weekly and compare the balance owed against cash on hand, jobs moving through the system and new sales being generated.  In the event I get a call from the CEO of my top supplier, I always want to know what we owe and if we are current.

Marketing Percent to Net Sales:  This is normally a monthly report that tells me if we are overspending to create sales.  Many companies have gone out of business from spending too much in this area.  If sales are trailing the plan dramatically during the month I may cut back some area of marketing before the month is over.

These are the key performance measurements I stay on top of.  There are many other reports that I will review from time to time such as Revenue per Employee, Revenue per Visitor on a website and, of course, monthly financials.  But these 5 performance measures are important to me.  You may have different ones that work for your business.

Regardless what metric you use there are 3 important elements to keep in mind with each report:

  1. Establish a beginning baseline from which to measure results.  All measurements need a starting point.
  2. Always look at  trend over time of any performance measurement.  Are the current results just a blip or is there a pattern occurring?  Some management teams like to illustrate trends with a graph for impact.
  3. Take action.  Unless the results were a blip then, at a minimum, you need to ask more questions or look at additional data.  Is there a problem with pricing, a promotion, or a key account?  Are there quality issues preventing collection of money due?  Information is only good if you do something with it.

A few good performance measurements can save time, increase your personal productivity and improve cash flow and profit.

Make sure they exist in your company and are used.