There’s a saying in life that I’ve taken quite a shine to over the years… “the path of the least resistance”. Of course, that’s not to suggest I’m in any way lazy; but when it comes to getting from A to C, I always prefer to go via B rather than meander past X, Y and Z.
So when my electricity meter died last week, my immediate thought was getting it fixed quickly and with minimal inconvenience.
Foolishly, I turned to the telephone as my first port of call… and was greeted by an automated greeting breaking the news of an extensive wait time ahead. Acknowledging the fact that I needed my electricity supply back in action some time before the tennis started at Wimbledon, I hung up and reviewed my options. Feel free to picture me adorned in scientist goggles, armed with a felt tip pen and performing complex equations on a white board. Alas, the truth was rather more sedate and simply involved me popping online to the supplier’s website.
It was at that point I noticed they had a “chat with an operator” option. Aha, I thought… the universe has presented to me my path of least resistance! Indeed, within 5 minutes, I’d explained my problem and secured an engineer visit for a specified time later that afternoon. By the end of the day, my electricity was back on and the problem was solved – all after, a quick 5 minutes of painless interaction.
This episode led me to think about my own experiences as a service provider. Even though we may be desperately passionate about providing an exemplary customer service, it can be all too easy to get caught up with organising the bunting and fireworks, while we forget to bake the birthday cake… and it’s often this well intentioned meander from our core business driver that leads us away from being “path of the least resistance” for our customers.
From previous experience with the company above, their customer telephone service is actually second to none. While we will all agree that this is a fantastic attribute… the truth is that they’d overlooked the core fact that their customers couldn’t actually get through to their call handlers in order to receive this fantastic service.
Their saving grace was, of course, that they did provide that path of the least resistance; albeit via alternative means.
So my question for you today is this: does your service delivery present a 'path of least resistance' for your customers… or is it the service delivery equivalent of a mystery bus tour; taking your customers from London to Norwich, via Anglesey?
According to those who know their business numbers, of the 4.5 million small businesses in the UK, around 50% will fail to make it past year 1, while 90% will cease trading within the next few years. Many of these will be good little businesses with a niche market, excellent early sales, and a small but committed team ready and willing to work ever harder for success.
So what goes wrong?
What happens within these 4 million-plus boutique businesses that strangles their growth, when 450,000 others successfully avoid the pitfalls to become growing and profitable enterprises?
Well, natural disasters do happen, investors do pull out, and margin’s can certainly dwindle...but more often than not it is the usual suspect - self sabotage which is the cause of business demise.
Like the 7 deadly sins, so many of us just seem unable to avoid it, and are sadly oblivious to the harm it is doing to our business...until it’s way too late.
One of the best ways to sabotage your own business is to spend no time at all getting to know who your customers really are and understanding what makes them tick...what motivates them.
The most successful businesses big and small know their customers intimately, and have them at the centre of every decision, every service change, every new product. Companies like Virgin, Disney, Apple and more recently Metro Bank, were all founded on the belief that the customer’s experience is everything, and they do what they need to do, to make that experience, not only the best it can be...but special.
In a small business it's too easy to get so tied up in the day to day of business survival, that you focus only on your side of the equation:
What do we want to sell to our customers?
How are we going to tell them what we have?
Where will we sell our products?
How do we want them to pay us? ...and so on.
We really need to turn this right on its head and ask what our customers want from us...
What need are we satisfying?
What problem are we solving?
Are we selling the right products and services to meet their need?
Are we where they need us to be...on the internet...on the high street?
How can we make it easy for them to do business with us?
If we plot their ‘journey’ through our business, where are the gaps?
What blocks have we put in their way...what silly rules or policies?
We have to step inside their shoes...into their thought process, and design our offer around them. And we can’t just do this once and think that it’s done either! We must review the customer’s position at least annually, if we are to keep up with their changing needs.
Just like pop queen Madonna has done over the decades, we must stay fresh and relevant to our customers to maintain our close relationship.
Top tip: Spend a few hours thinking about your customers, and building a detailed picture of them. Ask yourself questions like...who are they? ...what do they look like?...where do they live? ...what do they drive? ...do they drive?
What do your ideal customers wish they had more of?
What do they wish they had less of?
What are the top 3 problems they have that you are able to help them with?
You will be amazed at the insights you get just from this one brainstorm. Even more if you do this exercise with your team.
For more help in overcoming self sabotage, contact Marianne Page Limited at email@example.com
D'you know when something is just so blindingly obvious, but you just can't see it because you're looking in the wrong direction..?!
You're so 'fixed' about what you're doing because you've spent 12 months and most of your savings working on your plan, developing yourself, developing your website and your marketing stuff and your service proposal. Building a structure of beauty and complexity to mask your lack of confidence that what you have to offer will actually sell...
And then you spend just two hours with a business Yoda who tears down your complicated structure, rips the blinkers off your eyes, and shows you just how simple your business really is, and more importantly, just how valuable the knowledge you take for granted, is to other people. It's enlightening...with a capital E.
It reminds me of the story of the man who charged the business owner £1 million for coming to his factory, hitting the one nut that got the main engine going again, and then leaving. When the owner questioned the charge, the man told him...you had other people try and fail to get the engine going and you were losing millions every day it was out. I charged you £1 for hitting the nut, and £999 for knowing which nut to hit.
We all 'know which nut to hit' in our particular sphere of expertise...but do we have the self belief to charge what it's worth?
Belief in our skills and knowledge is vital. Just because we find something easy to do, doesn’t mean it's not valuable. It’s probably easy for us because we've worked hard to develop the skill and invested time and money in making it easy.
My particular 'nut' is systems and service...that's what I've done all my working life, it's what I'm really good at, and it's what I'm now having a blast helping other people with. And that's the key...if what you do can genuinely help someone else...make their life easier, give them more time, more control, more profit...then charge what you are worth, and they will happily pay.
"There comes a time in everyone's life where you must decide your worth. You may lose yourself waiting on the rest of the world to do it for you."
I know that now...and I hope you do too!
I was thinking about accountability today, probably on the back of having just completed my annual accounts and tax return - although I have to admit I’d never twigged that the words accounts and accountability were two peas from the same pod (I know...I know...)!
But more so because my accountant, aka my super hero, had asked me to sign a waiver saying that while she had done all the donkey work, at the end of the day I’d be the one responsible if there was an error and the tax man came knocking. In other words I would be ‘to blame’...because I guess that’s what accountability is really all about isn’t it...who’s to blame, who’s answerable, who’s liable?
Mistakes don’t seem to happen these days...or rather few seem willing to accept that mistakes and accidents do happen (certainly not Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs!) ...and there always has to be someone to blame, punish and of course, get money out of...
In the service industry, this has led to ridiculous policies being thought up, stupid signs being put up, and employees being told to shut up, just in case there may be any error or issue that will leave the business liable.
Customer Service departments have become very cynical about those who take the time to complain or give feedback, in the apparent belief that their customers are just trying to pull a fast one. And at the coal face, there is just no trust anymore as I discovered myself at Christmas when I asked to take advantage of a well promoted offer from Fenwicks to price match their competitors. Twenty minutes later, after a call and a visit had been made to the other store, I got my price match of £3.50...and that from the lady working the counter who was so frustrated by her manager’s lack of trust, that she chose to be accountable herself, and gave me the reduction.
In the business world and public sector, employees are regularly reminded of the need for accountability. Huge amounts of both time and money are spent in defining roles and responsibilities and determining who is accountable for what. The idea being that if you know who is accountable then you can either punish or reward as required...but of course it’s not always that black and white. As one senior manager of a public sector body is heard to have said,"If you work hard and get good results here, you'll be rewarded; and if you don't work hard and get mediocre results, you'll also be rewarded."
The truth is that people work hard to avoid accountability, and there is a lot of truth in the old saying, ‘Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.’ The fear of failure, and the blame associated with it drives people to become very creative in seeking to avoid it...often blaming others (see Tesco’s latest ‘outing’ of their horsemeat supplier) or circumstances beyond their control (does ‘wrong type of leaves on the line’ ring any bells?)
Politicians and bankers are Jedi Masters at this.
At the end of the day, we are all personally accountable for the things we do and say...nobody ‘makes us do it’...and we are not ‘victims’ here. But it’s also true that things do happen that are outside of our control...sometimes outside of anyone’s control...and we just need to recognise and accept them. A little trust and forgiveness would not go amiss either.
On that note, and as I’ve just sent off my tax return, it seems fitting that I finish this blog with a little prayer...
“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference. “
Marianne is the author of three books, and is currently working on her fourth, whilst regularly writing her blog, we hope you enjoy it :-)