Obviously all four shows are very different, but the message is exactly the same. To be a successful business owner/dog owner/parent: you need to be open to instruction on how to create a positive, structured environment so that your customers/employees/pets/kids can thrive. Watching these series it becomes quite apparent that the business owners/dog owners/parents who are obstinately stuck in the delusion that they know what they are doing while inflicting misery on their customers/employees/pets/kids end up in failure.So let me sum this up to you, small business owner: Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you're right. It's the business owner who knows there is always room for improvement that will set the right tone for success.
Here are a few guidelines to help you along.Strive For Loyal Customers
A loyal customer base determines the health of your business. Why? Because it costs you a lot less time/money/energy to keep a customer than it does to entice new customers.
Improving your customer service reduces customer turnover, decreases your overhead, increases your fan base, and provides opportunities for you to sell more and up-sell regardless of whether your company provides products, services or both.Loyal customers express their enthusiastic commitment to your brand in ways that are a tremendous asset. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth for your business: both positive and negative. No matter how many marketing options there are, nothing beats the opinion of a trusted peer.
Loyal customers continue to increasingly purchase with you. They refer your business to others. They are invested in your business and want it to succeed.
So, How Do I Gain A Loyal Customer Base?
(image courtesy of the socialworkplace.com)
The answer is simple: Happy (Loyal) Employees = Happy (Loyal) Customers
Just like my four reality television examples, it is up to you to create a positive, structured environment where both staff and customers know what to expect. It is up to you to infuse enthusiasm and pride into your business environment. Let's talk about how to do this.
Who Has the Greatest Effect on the Success of Your Business?
Don't assume it is you. More often than not, business owners or managers are not as involved in the day-to-day operations as they think they are and as they should be. Who are your customers interacting with the most? Those are the team members who are going to have the greatest impact on the success or failure of your business.
Your customers are going to align their opinion of your business with the opinion of your front line employees. If your front line employees are presenting a negative perspective to your customers then don't be surprised if customer retention is low.Happy Employees are employees who “drink the Kool-Aid”. They believe in your brand and have an emotional investment. They feel successful and fulfilled in their role (and so they are successful) in your business. Because of their enthusiasm and devotion, they are credible in the eyes of the customer. Happy employees want your business to flourish. They work together as a team and are willing to weather setbacks such as our economic downturn because they are committed.
Don't underestimate the power of loyal, happy employees. Their loyalty and happiness breeds loyal, happy customers.Your Staff
Your front line employees are your customers' principal point of contact. You must ensure that the customer experience is all it should be-and more. To ensure this, be sure you have:
-hired a team that reflects your brand's mission and has the skillset you value and need-developed and communicated a succinct standard of operating procedures and rules
-trained your staff and made it clear these procedures and rules are to be followed or there will be consequences-designed a concise program to monitor client retention, and develop an incentive system to reward team members for their good work
Never underestimate the power of clear communication and proper training. Once you have established a team of trustworthy, well-trained staff, empower front line employees with the means to manage customer relationship issues right when they arise. Because time lapse can be a major factor in customer dissatisfaction, employees should be allowed to tackle problems as they occur.Even if you are a small business with a limited budget, you can still create incentive programs for your staff members that will encourage them. Remember a happy, loyal staff means happy, loyal customers.
One major sign of a failing business is an unhappy staff. Employee turnover and disheartened, disgruntled employees indicate you are not doing what you should to value and compensate them fairly.You want your team to feel appreciated, even if you can only afford to do so on primarily a psychological level. Think of perks you can provide, ways you can offer them rewards for their hard work that won't break the bank. In actuality most of us are invested in the work we do because we find it rewarding. Financial rewards play second fiddle to a feeling of accomplishment. If you have orchestrated an environment of clear expectations and communication, and make it clear how much you value both your team and your customers, you are going to have a successful business.
Are you Listening? Happy employees and customers know their feedback is heard and their input is valued, so they feel encouraged to share ideas about how the business can improve while offering to do what they can to implement those ideas.Does your team feel safe communicating with you? Do they feel you will hear their input and concerns? Do your customers feel their feedback is valued? Do both your team and your customers have a welcome investment in the well-being of your company? If not, then it is high time to get off your high horse.
And just so you know: Listening means acting on staff input and customer feedback immediately, even if that means simply acknowledging that they have been heard. You can let them know solutions to problems are being carefully considered. And new business practices-if deemed necessary-should be implemented within a timely manner to demonstrate employees/customers are a valuable component of your business.Have a Piece of Humble Pie
Having been in various writers groups over the years I notice there is always at least one person who gets their feathers ruffled anytime a group member attempts to give feedback on their writing. Just like the business owners/dog owners/parents of the reality shows I mentioned in the beginning, I always know these writers are never going to reach their desired success. They insist on keeping their ears closed out of a misguided sense of pride and sentimentality. If they would simply step back from their “baby”, hear what the fellow writers have to say, and recognize the positive motivation behind providing feedback, they could fully develop and flourish.
The same goes for business owners. Yes, I know this business is your baby; that you have poured all your savings into it and sacrificed your personal life to make it happen. But being too closely involved tints your perspective. Allow others who don't have as much at stake to assess your business and be open to what they have to say.No one has all the answers, all the solutions. You will find floundering businesses tend to be led by owners/managers that are in one way or another denying their shortcomings (either through bullying staff and customers alike or by keeping their head in the sand or in the clouds or both).
These days through the internet businesses have instant access to what customers are saying about them (on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and the like). Treat these reviews as opportunities for learning and making changes as needed. Remember, someone devoted their personal time and energy to posting this, so respect their input. You should also have a clearly marked way in which both staff members (monthly meetings, for example) and customers (an email address or an old fashioned suggestion box) can provide feedback.Confidence versus Dictatorship
Remember a team needs a leader who can instill confidence while not storming about like a dictator. That is not confidence; that is overcompensation for insecurity. And an insecure leader is just as ineffective as a totalitarian bully. Hearing negative input about your business may rattle you a bit. But keep in mind it isn't personal when it's professional. Using this feedback to make positive change starts with you and trickles down the chain of command-starting with the front line employees.
Share the Power Let your staff know you need them and that your success is not possible without them. Your reaction to that statement may be, “Well, duh.” but when was the last time you accurately communicated this to your employees? Don't assume they know. Empower your team by sharing your mission with them and remind them that everything they do has a direct effect on the customer.It is amazing to me how often I will go into a business as a consultant and quickly learn (most often from the staff and not the owner) that no one knows what exactly they are supposed to be doing. Sure, they may have a job title and a general idea of what that entails, but have you ever spelled out for them what their duties are? More importantly, have you communicated what their role in the customer experience is? Think of it as a crop share: you are giving this person an acre of your land. Were you specific about how they should nurture the ground, what they should grow? Did you provide them with the tools they needed to plant and grow successfully? Did you review operating procedures, empowering them to immediately handle issues as they arise? In other words, is this person confident in the tasks laid before him? Is he secure in his role? Does he feel invested in the acre he is in charge of? Does he know that his success affects the success of the entire enterprise?
Set Realistic Targets for Your BusinessTime to do a bit of investigative research.
How is your business' performance in relation to your industry?How does your business' performance compare to your competitors?
How are you doing due to or despite the culture (external circumstances such as economy and community)?Once you have researched the answers to these questions you can then map-ideally with input from your team and your customers-a successful path for your business. It is important to be realistic in your goals. Setting insurmountable projections for your business creates a tone of disappointment, and disappointment breeds discontent. You want to enhance that positive, structured environment with goals that encourage your team and engage your customers.
In Summary I know I've put a lot on your plate. You may be realizing you have much to address about your attitude and the environment of your business in order to turn it around. An apology is a good place to start. Call a staff meeting. Tell your employees you are sorry for the way things have been going and that you want to change. Invite feedback and input. Work as a team to figure out how to implement these new ideas. Then go to your customers. Write them a letter telling them you want to provide the best service possible in your industry. Ask them to tell you how you can improve.Customers and Staff who feel you genuinely seek to please them, whose expectations are exceeded by your efforts, are more likely to commit to your brand.
For More Reading