How are local businesses and communities going to survive if all of our purchasing power is directed at online suppliers? When we buy locally, roughly twice as much money stays in the local economy, because those businesses pay employees, collect sales tax, and hire local professional services. Buying from a local chain or franchise doesn't have quite the same economic impact, but still, more money is circulating in the local economy than if you went online for your purchase.
So how does local enterprises compete? They have to add value. Value comes from relationship, customer service, selection, convenience, affordability, quality, customization or uniqueness, and experience. Increasingly, though, online suppliers offer relationship (remembering past purchases, sharing others' vendor and product ratings, suggesting items based on previous choices). Customer service functions have improved with instant chat, free returns, and reusable packaging. E-tailers often offer a broader selection of products (they NEVER have my size at the shoe store!). And what can be more convenient than order from the comfort of your own home in those fuzzy slippers? Online suppliers are often more affordable, in that it is easier to comparison shop. User ratings give you more confidence about quality, although research shows that varies by type of product being purchased.
I have introduced the concept of Lean Consumption in prior posts: give customers what they want, when and where they want it. Don't create inconvenience (i.e., waste) for customers to make you more efficient internally. It is hard to find a better example of providing a lean consumption customer experience than amazon.com's one-click shopping (with free shipping, if you have amazon Prime). Relationship? Customer service? Selection? Convenience? Affordability? Check, check, check, check and check.
This leaves conscientious consumers like me in a bit of a bind. Frankly, I want to buy locally, and intentionally patronize restaurants that are independently-owned. But shopping is a different story. Case in point: I recently won a gift certificate to a local boutique. It was not one I had been to before, so I was excited to try it out. When I walked in, no one greeted me. As I walked around the shop, noone asked if I was looking for anything in particular. There were three or four people working there, but they were too busy talking with one another. I finally saw something I liked, but there was no price tag. So I interrupted them to inquire. They asked the manager, who spoke to them, not me. There was no sales pitch, or an offer to match an accessory with a blouse. No questions about how I found out about the store, what styles and colors I prefer, no offer of a drink of water. And of course, they didn't have a shirt I liked in my size. I finally ended up using the gift certificate, but I can assure you, I will never step foot in that store again.
Even if you do not run a retail operation, this is still a cautionary tale. Studies show that dissatisfied customers are likely to tell 10 or so people about their bad experience. That is if they even stay to have a bad experience -- many who are dissatisfied walk away.
What should you do? Get feedback from past and existing customers. Not just a "thumbs up or down" on a service request, but person-to-person feedback. Track and analyze complaints. Make it easy to do business with you.
And try to shop local.
I hope you can learn from others' mistakes, particularly mine.
It wasn't until my late thirties that I even realized I was making this mistake. After all, if your boss asks you to do something, you do it. And being the overachieving and anxious-to-please person that I am, I would jump into whatever it was with both feet. (I once worked for someone who said that when he gave me something to do, I treated it as a "mission from God.")
Don't get me wrong; I have a deeply held value that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.
But what is it's not worth doing? Sometimes, the request comes from a passing thought or a vague idea. And if you going charging off with a vague idea, there's a good chance that you are wasting your time. So before you take something on, make sure that you clarify expectations. Even if your boss, or the client, or a fellow board member -- whoever the sponsor is -- isn't clear on what is expected.
Start with putting some thoughts together and discuss it with the sponsor. Here are the things I cover, at a minimum:
Scope helps you to define how much effort will be involved to produce the necessary deliverables. Am I developing a plan, or implementing it? Am I doing a pilot test with one target group in one office, or will it be broader than that? Can it take three months, given my current workload, or am I to drop everything else and finish it in three weeks?
The primary objective determines the sponsor's expectations. I might launch a new service that produces $25,000 in new revenues, and think I have done a great job! But if the boss was expecting $50,000, and we never discussed the primary objective, then I have failed.
SATISFACTION = EXPECTATIONS / RESULTS
From a career management standpoint, failure is bad. And even if you gave it your best effort, working in the wrong direction or aiming for unrealistic expectations, it is your mistake. It used to be my mistake.
Before you jump, ask "how high?"
A theme in this blog and my life's work is the importance of intention.
But resolutions made because it's the beginning of the year are next to worthless -- even with the best of intentions. Resolutions largely relate to will-power, which is exhaustible. I would argue that good management practices apply to you as well as to your organization, and organizations don't have New Year's resolutions.
The idea of intention is both bigger and smaller than a resolution. It is bigger, because it starts with a goal that you can envision. The goal has to be a bit of a stretch, but something that you can really picture. And I would be remiss if I didn't remind you that it should be defined with a measure and a timeframe. Write it down. Make it your screen saver. You must remain mindful of it to be intentional about it.
When I blogged about time management, I mentioned that I have goals for every role I play in life: consultant, entrepreneur, author, teacher -- as well as family member, volunteer, friend, and individual. Jack Canfield suggests that you should have goals in the areas of finances, career, relationships, experiences, health and fitness, personal development, and contribution to the world at large. If you are overwhelmed by a lot of goals, then pick one to be your focus. Intentionally.
Then how is intention smaller than a resolution? Because month-by-month, you will take that goal and break it down into specific pieces (I call them monthly milestones) that help you sharpen your intention and move you closer to the goal. Then, week-by-week, you plan what specific steps you can take to achieve the milestone for that month.
Translating this for your organization, there should be a vision of a desired future state. You may define your vision in aspirational terms -- but it should also be defined with multiple measures and specific timeframes. From there, you develop strategies that will move you toward that vision.
Then what happens? Do the flip charts you've created on a retreat become a 20-page report that you revisit once/year? Or are you intentional about investing the resources needed to make it happen? Do you set milestones in monthly meetings? Are you measuring your progress at least quarterly? Where are the feedback loops that tell you an adjustment is needed?
Too busy? Jim Collins famously said, "good is the enemy of great." I suggest that a corollary is "busyness is the enemy of intention." If you do not have a standing meeting each month (many are weekly) to "touch base" or review financials or discuss customer orders or operational projects, I would be VERY surprised. Make time in these sessions to establish achievable monthly milestones and hold people -- including yourself -- accountable for meeting them.
Don't see that happening? Well then, you must not really want to achieve your goals and execute your strategies. They don't happen with resolve at a planning retreat. They happen with active, ongoing intention.
I was recently discussing Stephen Covey's metaphor of an Emotional Bank Account with some clients, explaining that one of the ways to make a "deposit" is to apologize sincerely. And I emphasized that saying, "I'm sorry you feel that way" does NOT count as a sincere apology!*
On a broader level, how does your organization respond to customer complaints? Are you just sorry they feel that way? Complaints are one of the most valuable sources of feedback a company can receive. Reportedly, a customer who has had a complaint satisfactorily resolved is more loyal than a customer who has never made a complaint. Certainly, complaints can alert you to opportunities for improvement, reduce the need for rework, and prompt ideas for innovation.
Very often, though, these complaints are not viewed in aggregate. People at the front line, dealing directly with customers, may be afraid of the repercussions of reporting a complaint, such as being blamed or viewed as inadequate. Another issue can be that the front line does not know how to report a complaint; there is no formal process in place. In rare instances, the front line is so empowered to act, that those employees can resolve the complaint quickly and completely, and therefore do not report it as a complaint (however, this still undermines the broader perspective, so similar issues can continue to arise).
As a case in point, a friend told me of an experience at a local bank. She was making a deposit to pay the current balance on an equity line account. The teller gave her the current balance, which was far higher (almost 20%!) than she expected. When she asked for clarification, the teller read the screen, but could not explain why some additional charges had been added on to the account. Instead, he gave her a phone number to call. And that was the end of his responsibility, apparently -- although I am sure that he was sorry that the customer was feeling that way -- frustrated. He did not report a complaint, bring it to a manager's attention, or take any initiative to fix the problem. (In case you were wondering, the "system" was wrong, because the originating banker did not set up the account correctly. It took multiple phone calls, several hours, and two trips to the bank to give them money!)
Did the teller learn anything from this situation? Did the loan officer learn of her mistake? Is management going to improve customer service? They essentially shifted the responsibility for fixing the problem to the customer.
As a result, I don't think my friend will be doing business with that bank much longer.
It is much more expensive to acquire a customer or client than to keep one. Are you using your complaints effectively, to maximize customer retention? It takes a few changes from the top:
When I was young, there was a public service commercial that said, "It's 8:00 -- do you know where your kids are?" (Or something like that.) So, it's Friday -- have you set your intentions and priorities for next week? If not, you are probably not ready, willing OR able to achieve them.
I am a big believer in being intentional. Sometimes that looks like living in the moment, sometimes it's being prepared for a meeting, sometimes it's setting aside time to work towards a goal -- fundamentally, it means looking at how you spend your time and energy.
Do you get to Friday afternoon and have more things on your todo list than you started with on Monday? Do you feel like you have been in a reactive mode, "putting out fires," or dealing with interruptions all week? Let me suggest a better way to spend your Friday afternoons:
So it's Friday afternoon -- do you know what your intentions and priorities are?
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