As a long-time advisor to entrepreneurs and business owners, I rarely find someone who doesn’t proclaim that the business world is changing rapidly, with new technology, new customer expectations, and new cultures. Yet, I’m still frustrated by the number of business owners that haven’t updated their business-as-usual practices. In my mind, these are killing their businesses.
For example, I still find businesses asking you to print, sign, and return documents by mail in lieu of digital signatures or email. Others still routinely have phone hold queues for customer contact that can last up to an hour, with no alternative options. Yet in my talks with these executives, they are unaware of the issues, or have no idea how to change processes at the rate of change today.
If you are one of these owners who wants to do the right thing to survive and delight your customers, but doesn’t know where to start, I am here to recommend some best practices that I see successful companies, and many startups, who have focused on this issue. Here is my prioritized list of best practices that I recommend to get you back on track:
- Focus on building an engaged and empowered team. It takes a well-rounded and motivated team to run a competitive business today. These are your eyes and ears, in daily contact with customers, who are as committed to delighting customers as you are. They have to be energized and able to adapt as the market and competitors demand.
- Define stretch goals and challenge your team to deliver. Traditional mission statements are not enough. You need to communicate quantified and updates goals quarterly, including the metrics to assess progress and success. For buy-in and commitment, make sure the team has an integral role in setting goals and rewards.
- Optimize your customer feedback and listening channels. These days, customers expect to be able to build a relationship with a business through two-way communication. Make sure your channels are open and responsive, through social media, websites, and easy access to executives. Use experiments with them to evaluate potential changes.
- Track competitors and influencers for trends and ideas. Even if your performance has improved dramatically, other businesses may be moving faster or tracking closer to cultural changes and market trends. One of the biggest justifications for business-as-usual is ignoring competitors and not comparing your processes to industry best-of-breed.
- Foster a learning and change culture in employees. The best companies have found that it’s important to constantly prepare team members for moving to the next level, through mentoring and training, rather than trying to keep them in their current role. The alternative is that the best leave, and your average skill level and motivation go down.
- Plan to upgrade all processes without waiting for a crisis. Waiting for a crisis, like a revenue shortfall, or customer dissatisfaction, is a sure way to disaster. Competitors are looking for a soft spot to step in, and customers have instant access to better alternatives through friends and reviews on the Internet. Once gone, customers won’t be back.
- Disrupt your own solutions before someone else does. Too many businesses have their “cash cows,” which they refuse to touch with pricing or new features until it is too late to recover. Intel’s Andy Grove famously argued that chip technology doubled every 18 months, so he planned on replacing his products on that schedule, despite sales.
Business as usual is an easy habit to fall into, and a hard one to change once it is entrenched. If you establish these recommended best practices early, and apply the necessary discipline to keep them going, your chances of success are good. You will also find your business to be a lot more satisfying and self-sufficient. That’s a win-win for both you and your customers.