Archive for Business

Up in smoke

This isn’t the first time I have written about the cost to small (and large) business of cigarette smokers.  These can be your own staff, or it could be smokers near your premises who you are tolerating.

Unless you are in the cigarette business, smokers cost your business money and yet there seems to be a reluctance on the part of many businesses to offer employees assitance to quit this destructive habit.

Some of the costs to business are very quantifiable, whilst others are a little more difficult but nonetheless, they are still there.

In recent weeks I have encountered three situations where the business owners bottom lines were directly impacted by smokers.

1.  At a hairdressers, the stylist was clearly a smoker, she may not have realised it but she stank!  I had booked in for a couple of services, but after the stylist completed the first service and returned to me, it was obvious that she had been outside smoking – she smelled even worse than before – there was no way I could sit there and let her do any further work on me – and I asked her to dry my hair off and I left.  This cost the owner more than $150 in turnover, and it occurs to me that if it happened once, how many other clients were equally turned off by the stylist. The sad thing is that I see hairdressers and other beauty industry workers smoking at shopping centres all over the country, so this is not isolated to just my salon.

2. Standing at the takeaway bar of a CBD cafe, I noticed a distinct cigarette smell, it was as though I was standing next to someone puffing away – the smell and the smoke was permeating the takeaway area.  The operator had set up tables outside for smokers, but they were so close to the door, that the prevailing breeze blew it all inside.  Again, this was having an impact on business as I was not the only one to leave without purchasing.  The simple solution is to reconfigure the layout of the outside seating so that smoke doesn’t drift inside.

3. I noticed one particular employee sitting outside the office building smoking on an hourly basis – my day involved a series of short meetings in and out of the building and each time I left the building the same person was puffing away.  This is not a new building and lift service and waiting times is sometimes slow.  I estimated that this person worked less than 45 minutes in every hour. In other words he was paid for 25% more work than he actually did.

It is everyone’s right to do what they wish to their body however this should be the individual’s cost, not the employers.  My challenge to all small businesses is – take a step back, and look around and if you employ smokers, make sure that you really understand what they cost you, offering Corporate quit smoking programs may be a far less expensive option for both you and the employee.

 

 

When you have lemons, make lemonade!

The measure of how well a business is managed and how important customer service is to the business becomes apparent, not in the good times when things are going well, but rather in those moments of truth when things go off the rails.

It doesn’t matter how they go off the rails, what is important it that they do and how the management or the leadership takes ownership and deals with it.

Accepting that things will go wrong, no business is perfect is the first step and I see businesses fail this too many times.  For some, the prevailing attitude is we don’t make mistakes, it must either be the customer’s fault or someone else’s, it couldn’t possibly be ours.  The flip side of this is however for some businesses,  a source of competitive advantage and when done well, will easily move a disgruntled customer to a fan.  The door is open for those courageous businesses to walk through.

I recently experienced two very different situations, one where something went wrong but where the service retrieval was outstanding and the other incident that just reinforced my opinion of the organisation.

It doesn’t matter whether the business is a solopreneur or a huge public entity, the concept of owning up to the issue and accepting responsibility is a critical step for any business.

This was evident in the first situation I experienced – the publisher of a book I have contributed to could easily have taken the easy route and blamed the printer or some other party for the error that occurred.  He didn’t, he responded immediately and put plans in place to rectify the situation and also offered a further bonus.  I am now a raving fan of Kizzi at Mithra Publishing, and will look for opportunities to either participate in their projects or endorse them.

This is in stark contrast to the experience I had following a slip and rather undignified fall adjacent to a City Rail station.  The areas is controlled by City Rail, and the slip was a result of debris on the floor, and yet the ownership of the situation by station staff was appalling.  Notes taken on the back of a piece of paper, no cleaner called to clean up the mess, and then told any further enquiries or updates on my injuries were to be made to a phone number that starts with 13.  The station staff member then proceeded to tell me from this point forward it had nothing to do with them.  I can only imagine what sort of effort it would take to get through to someone who might know something about the incident.   Clearly there are legal implications in this issue and clearly staff have been told not to admit liability and I understand this, but there are ways to retrieve the situation by treating the customer as a person, not something to be made to go away as quickly as possible.  City Rail has a little way to go on this regard – perhaps a little bit of training in service retrieval rather than avoidance could help to overcome some of the negative public perceptions that exist around public transport.

Beyond the management mask

I came across a great blog by Geoffrey James @ Sales_Force and in this blog Geoffrey was talking about the 10 Things Employees Really Need to Hear from You – a discussion that highlighted the things that make a significant difference to the morale (and the performance) of your business.

I believe that improved morale leads to performance and I am firmly of the view that there is a direct correlation between business outcomes and morale.  People drive performance, not systems or processes – after all if you don’t have an engaged workforce using the systems, the systems are not likely to produce results.

Geoffrey James describes how he came across a book by Todd Parkin who identified 14 phrases that really improved morale if they came from a manager, and he then took the ten that stood out the most to him.

I agree with Geoffrey James choices, so have listed them below and added some comments as to why I agree:

1. “I need your help”

Admitting that you don’t know everything and embracing your vulnerability will win more respect than if you pretend you know when you don’t – employees see through this.  I have worked with a client who saw admitting not knowing as a weakness and who adopted a “my way or the highway” approach as a means of deflecting questions about things they knew nothing about – the outcomes this person was getting were not good, and even more concerning was the lack of respect the team demonstrated behind the leader’s back.  The team was fragmented and had no shared view and this was impacting performance.  Once the client accepted that asking for help was not a weakness, team morale improved considerably and with it, productivity and results.

2. “What do you need from me?”

In some environments, especially ones where the organizational structure is rigid and the culture strongly aligned with this, employees may not feel comfortable asking for what they need.  This is more likely to be found in a workforce where there is a baby boomer skew – this generation will tend to defer to higher authority and not challenge or question whereas younger workers will be more outspoken.

Therefore in these situations, taking time out to ask employees if they need anything you extend permission for them to make requests – this does not mean they get it, but it gives you, the manager, an opportunity to work with the employee to find an alternate solution.

3. “I noticed what you did”

This is a huge morale booster.  Noticing the little things that keep the business or the team going.  The photocopier doesn’t automatically fill itself, someone does that.  In most offices that will be someone with a strong “S” profile (refer Extended DISC profiling and my other services) who is the carer of the team – saying thank you and taking time to notice these people in an appropriate manner goes a long way.  Be mindful however that this style does not like to be made the centre of attention, so make sure that your acknowledgement is done appropriately.

4. “Thank you”

Say thank you – everyone likes to hear positive feedback, so look for ways to give it.

5. “Hey, everyone – listen to what Joe just accomplished”

Everyone loves to receive recognition, so give it.  You will find that this feeds on itself and overtime there will be more and more opportunities to celebrate wins.

6. “What would you like to do here”

Over time business changes, customers change, and needs change, so why not keep job descriptions a little fluid and allow your staff to grow with your business – have your staff got development plans that look to not only their present role, but roles they aspire to.

7. “I have bad news”

Share the bad news – far better the employees hear it from you than from an external source or through watercooler gossip.  It may be tough news, but your honesty will pay off – you may not stop the watercooler discussions entirely but you will minimise them and this will minimise the productivity loss.

8. “What do you think?”

Employees are people and are not robots or cogs in a machine.  By engaging them in discussion and eliciting their thoughts, they will become much more engaged with you and the direction you want to take the business.

9. “That’s ok – we all make mistakes”

Holding lengthy interrogations into mistakes that end up with blame being laid does not serve the business – understanding what happened and learning from it does, but yelling, lecturing or subjecting employees to long winded lambastings will not move your business forward.  It will probably have an impact on productivity, creativity and innovation, certainly in the short term, and if lambasting is part of  your style, it will impact retention and also  productivity.

10. “I know you can do it”

Empower your people, give them the authority to make decisions and step up – I have worked with a client who was experiencing very poor performance from their team, and when we looked at the team in action, it became clear that the manager had created a fear based culture where team members were too afraid to step up because they didn’t want to deal with what happened if they made a mistake – therefore in their view it was easier not to make a decision and to do nothing.  Once we addressed the root cause of the performance, trained staff and let them know it was ok to step up and they were able to feel supported, performance improved considerably.

There are no doubt quite a few other steps that you as a manager can take, but for me the common theme is that by treating employees firstly as people, showing respect and by adopting the philosophy that your employees are a valuable resource you underpin your business performance.

 

How much are you leaving on the table?

This is not a new theme for me, but is one that I feel very strongly about .

I am saddened when I see businesses investing so much in their websites, and other marketing activities, and yet when a customer steps up and genuinely asks a question they go unanswered.

What do I mean, I hear you ask?

I am talking about websites that provide a page where customers or potential customers can make contact via a “contact us” screen.  The number of businesses that I have contracted via this method over the past year only to have zero answer has me flabbergasted.  My queries have been specific, clearly asking for further information, or in one case an indicative quote – I was a hot lead!  My latest was to a business that was promoting their expertise in copy writing – I had money in my pocket to spend but the silence has been deafening and I have taken my money elsewhere.

So my challenge to all business owners who include “contact us” screens that are linked to email – either monitor the incoming emails – make it someone’s job or remove the screen from your website.  Not having an online contact option is far better than not responding, it might make the initial contact a bit harder for the client, but it is better than being ignored.

 

 

Asking your way to effective relationships

I came across a great book today that tackled the age old issue of communication in a refreshingly different way.

In Humble Inquiry by Edgar H Schein, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, I found a really refreshing slant on how to improve relationships – irrespective of whether they are in a personal context of a business context – the same rules apply.

Schein introduces the notion of asking versus telling, and this really made me stop and think.  Think about my own style, and also the styles I have experienced in both my corporate life and my personal life.  It gave me pause to think about how I felt when I was talked to or told, rather than being asked.  He makes the point that when we are told something we already know, or talked at, it is a put down and this in my view does not point to the basis of solid relationships.

It is easy to see where the telling style comes from .

In our society, and especially in business, knowing has value and telling for many is a way of getting that knowing on the table.  Asking signals weakness and vulnerability – not something that is usually perceived as a way of operating in the highly competitive business environment.  However, vulnerability is exactly what is required to build strong relationships.  Bringing an attitude of interest and curiosity to the table, and showing a genuine desire to build a relationship invokes a helping response on the part of the other party – precisely what is required for a collaborative relationship.  This sets up a self generating cycle.

Our society is one of time poverty – it is one where task completion often sits ahead of relationships.  Schein points out that there are cultures that are high relationship where culturally building trust is intrinsic to getting the job done, but these people often face impatience because building trust and relationships takes time.  Building trust is seen as just taking too long in environments where there are performance measures in place that reward task completion and penalise non-completion in the short term.

Relationships are essential to good communication – and there can be no argument that good communication is the cornerstone of getting things done.  Schein talks about how the higher the level of trust that exists, the better the task completion, especially in highly complex interdependent tasks.  And if we stop and think, many tasks in 21st Century business context are complex and interdependent.  The example he gives to demonstrate how we work better on tasks with people we know and trust, is the military.  In military environments, close bonds are formed between members.  Each  team member realises that their lives may depend on the bond and the trust developed.

So in business where getting things done is a measure of performance, Catch 22 is set up.  Tasks need to be done, but they are dependent on relationships, but relationships take time which means tasks don’t get done while time is being spent on the relationship.  What to do about it?  How to balance the two apparently conflicting needs?

The first step is for those in positions of leadership or “superiority” to provide an environment where subordinates can feel free to ask questions, and then develop the sensory acuity and behavioural flexibility that leads from the front, actively demonstrating a commitment to a culture of learning and tolerance.  Each individual is different, however there are some steps that can help move an individual from a “teller” to a genuinely curious “asker” and the first is to listen to yourself and ask yourself just how curious you are in your conversations – do you tell more than you ask?  What does this ratio honestly look like?

As Schein concludes, the ultimate challenge is for you to discover when you should not succumb to telling but take charge by asking.

 

 

 

Simple steps to driving sales by enchanting your customers

Great service is just plain good business, and the great news is that it doesn’t have to cost the earth to implement a customer enchantment culture.

Great customer service happens one moment at a time, and it is when these moments build one on the other, that you develop a quality customer service platform, and  more than that, begin to see dollars starting to flow.

The real question for me is: “If delighting customers is about little things, done consistently, one customer at a time, why is the service in some Australian food & beverage outlets lacking?”

Is there a culture emerging where customers are seen as a commodity – that is, there are more where the last one came from?  Might work at the Easter Show, or sports events where customer choice is limited, but in CBDs and shopping centres, definitely not.

I am going out on a limb here, I don’t believe my expectations of what is quality service is unrealistic. I base this on recent exposure to food operators who are in reasonable locations, with reasonable foot traffic, but  failing to meet rent and other commitments, or who are scraping by working for minimum wage because there is nothing left after everyone else gets paid.

Experience and observations suggest that there is a bit of the commodity thinking going on. Rather than launch into what’s missing, I’d rather focus on simple steps that can be put in place in any food business, irrespective of size, location or market positioning.

SIMPLE STEPS:

  • Make sure windows are set & attractive with food offer well before peak trading periods, so staff can focus on serving customers rather than fussing with the window. Make sure the product is labeled & priced correctly so that the customer has information to make quick decisions. Value the customer’s time.
  • Teach staff to be aware of customers – if working preparing packaging or other “busyness” behind the counter, develop the ability to notice customers, stop the busyness – it is not as important as serving a customer.
  • Lead from the front – show staff how you want customers to be treated in your business
  • Smile and look the customer in the eye
  • Clear tables quickly.  The message dirty uncleared table sends is not one that says we value you and your business
  • Make sure staff know the product and can talk positively about it
  • Clean uniforms, neat presentation of all staff says I care about myself and I am serious about giving you a quality experience
  • Fix little details in your shop like wobbly tables
  • Offer a small unexpected surprise from time to time – delight the customer
  • If you get it wrong, apologise, don’t argue.  Accept responsibility and make sure staff are empowered to solve customer problems.

My challenge to you is to think about what other little moments of truth you can introduce into your business that will delight your customers and bring them back to your door time and again.

Right Staff – The Starting Point to Good Service

There is a lot of discussion about the value of good service, and innumerable training programs to assist business owners and customer facing staff deliver a quality customer experience, and yet the experience, especially in the retail space, of the average Australian customer falls short.  When compared to the experience of the average US shopper, Australian consumers are missing out.

So what is missing? And why would a high “D” behavioural style  act totally out of character stand in line to pay for goods in a US store without complaint, or be prepared to wait in line to a table at a restaurant.

There are no doubt many explanations; however, a key reason is that service  which really engages a customer, and brings them back time and again, goes beyond words and parrot like niceties learned in a training seminar. Service which begins from the moment the customer sets foot in the store and which continues until the customer exits.

One of the most powerful tools a customer facing employee can develop is the ability to relate to the customer.  By learning to read a customer and adjust behaviour, language and demeanour accordingly you create more than superficial connections.

As an example, I recently encountered a store greeter in an Australian big box retailer, who was saying the right things.  Things such as “hello, how are you?”, and yet was totally ineffective and largely ignored by patrons entering the store.  As I observed this, I compared it to recent US experiences where a completely different scene played out.  So what was different?

The Australian greeter just wasn’t connecting with people – her eyes and eye patterns were incongruent with her words, her tone was flat and her body language all suggested that she was doing what she was told, but really didn’t want to be there.

In most US environments, the store greeter was a natural “I” style – a style which generally likes to connect with people and is outgoing and inclusive and the experience continued throughout the visit to the store or restaurant.  Each step in the sales process, staff introduced themselves, made me feel through their tone, body language and words that I was the most important person in the store.

There is a real opportunity for Australian retailers and restaurateurs to adopt a strategy of differentiation based on service and it doesn’t have to cost huge dollars to implement.  It all starts at the recruitment phase – hire the right people with the right behavioural style for the job.  By becoming more discerning in the recruitment phase, and backing this up with ongoing communications and some basic NLP training, Australian business owners can drive competitive advantage and dollars to the bottom line,

One simple and relatively inexpensive way of becoming more discerning in recruitment of your staff and to make sure your staff are a right fit with your customer and have the ability to engage your customer is through using profiling tools such as EDISC.  The assessment takes only a few minutes to complete and yet provides a indepth analysis of just how your potential staff member will relate to your customers and if the potential recruit will add value to your business.

3 More Things Successful People Do

Again it doesn’t matter if we are talking about business situations, or personal or sporting contexts, there are some common themes that pop up.
As Anthony Robbins said once in a training I was at, “Success leaves clues”, so it makes sense to become a success sleuth and follow them. That is if we want the same results as successful people.

1. They Welcome Feedback

We all see what we want to see, especially when it comes to ourselves and our behavior. Successful people actively look for feedback – “the breakfast of champions” – and then take steps to implement the learning from this feedback.  They treat constructive feedback as a gift.

2. They Know They Don’t Have All The Answers

They have a curiosity – and a willingness to look at all angles, not just their own viewpoint.  They are comfortable knowing that they don’t need all the answers – just need to know who has the answers.  They don’t shut out others points of view.

3. They Take Calculated Risks

They are willing to take calculated risks – they trust their judgement.  This does not mean they leap headlong into ill-considered risks, but they weigh up the benefits and the downsides thoroughly and then make a decision.  The understand the worst case scenario and know whether or not they are prepared to live with that outcome should it occur.  They don’t procrastinate – they get on with things.

So where to from here? Sleuth and follow the clues on the road to success, or not?

 

3 Things Successful People Don’t Do

As I have been developing my Mind Powered Sports Performance program, I have been giving a lot of thought as to what the main differences are between those people who achieve their goals and those who don’t.  Doesn’t matter if we are talking about sport, or some other life aspect – the thread is the same one.

1. Successful People Don’t Sit on the Couch and Talk about Their Goals –  They Do Something

This sounds a little obvious, but it is a key – successful people take action. And lots of it – they do stuff!  Successful people know that their current activity determines their success tomorrow and beyond.  Sitting on the couch telling yourself (and others) that you want to achieve something, is not going to achieve anything.  I often hear people tell me they want to run in an event like City to Surf.  My response is “well that’s awesome.  Have you started running or training?”  The answer is often “no, but I’m going to start”.  Unfortunately, many don’t start – success requires you to do something and the bolder the action you take the greater the success is likely to be.

2. Successful People Don’t Indulge in Self-Pity

Successful people don’t dwell on how unfair life is or how they have bee mistreated. they take responsibility for their own actions and their own outcomes.  They understand that life may not always be fair (from their perspective), but they take instances where circumstances may be trying or challenging as learning experiences. They embrace these as opportunities to grow and learn and rather than indulge in “woe is me” thinking, they dust themselves off, and are off to the next thing.  They totally understand that they cannot change an event, but they can certainly change how the view it.

3.  They Don’t Waste Time Focusing on Things They Can’t Control

Steven Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talked about circles of influence and circles of concern.  Successful people understand the difference.  They don’t waste time complaining about things they can’t change – the weather, the traffic, airline departures – the understand these are usually beyond their control.  They also don’t spend time going over and over the same event or issue – they understand that the only thing that this will achieve is frustration, possibly increase their blood pressure – but it won’t change the situation.

So what are you doing or not doing?  Are your actions moving you towards your goals, or are you just treading water?  Remember, the old mantra – “if it is to be, its up to me”.

 

Passion Performs

I was reading a great blog recently by Tracy Simmonds, Co-founder of LeadPages and was delighted to read that she subscribed to the view that poorly performing teams are a function firstly of poor leadership – music to my ears.  Poor performance is the symptom, not the root cause.  Therefore solving the problem needs more than a bandaid solution.  It requires a fundamental change in thinking.

There are a number of components to this change, and one is the way a team comes together.

This  started me thinking about what a good leader needs to consider when firstly recruiting and then retaining team members.
I am assuming that the organisation has a strong positive culture where there is alignment between the leaderships values and the values of the organisation and each of the existing team members is aligned with this.  In other words, everyone is on the same bus.

Ensuring that new comers are a fit should not be left to guess work, nor should the process be just ticking the technical skills boxes. The cost of introducing a toxic employee into a team environment is catastrophic.  A toxic employee can very quickly erode gains made by the team in terms of productivity, and can very quickly cause the “wheels to fall off the bus” as quality employees leave.

One way of minimising the risk of this happening, and also ensuring that the new team member will be a solid fit and is personally aligned to the values within the organisation is to use profiling tools such as Extended DISC and compliment this with frameworks such as Values Pendulum (TM).

A good leader knows that profile of their team and also knows where if any gaps exist, and actively looks for the right person to fill that gap.  They avoid the common mistake of recruiting in their own image, but rather welcome diversity, and then have the behavioural flexibility to manage a diverse team.  In fact, they don’t manage – they lead and inspire – they provide the footing on which the team is able to shine.