• Entrepreneur Business Tips: Part Three

    Date Posted: 01/07/2010 | By: Maureen

    Business Tips – Part Three (Tips 15-21)

    Tip #15 – Customers matter.

    I’ve just had another mediocre customer service experience. Sigh. I was at a small, locally owned coffee shop, (where I happen to know the owners), when the offense occurred. I might as well have been invisible given the service I received. The ‘barista’ chatted with her co-workers the entire time, and never once looked me in the eye or thanked me for my business. Full disclosure- I waitressed my way through college and have a deep, deep empathy for anyone behind a counter or slinging food and drink. I’ll give a tip to even the worst of servers, but I’ll think very, very hard before I’ll spend my money there again. I’ve been in their shoes and know how easy it is to create a pleasant, even memorable customer service experience.

    Label printing is no different. We were interviewing a new employees today (who I am confident will be a rock star) and we kept reiterating how much we love our customers, how we will do what it takes to make their experience with us easy, pleasant and hopefully fun. We asked him how he would handle certain situations and what he has done in the past to serve his customers. Right from the start, we placed the customer front and center.

    So, tips for making sure the customer matters and that the behavior of your employees reflects that belief:

    *Hire right. Ask for concrete examples of customer service in the past. Watch how they treat every person in your workplace- are they blowing some people off and fawning over others? Danger, danger! Have some role plays set up. Have a trial period etc etc

    *Ask for and use customer feedback on their experience working with you.

    *Train, train, train! on customer service. Have a book club, talk about your customer service values, use stories from people who have modeled what you’re looking for.

    *Recognize and reward behaviors you’re looking for. Say ‘thanks’ to an employee when a customer has been treated well. Share a little love – emotional, money, whatever to highlight great behaviors. At the beginning and end of each day have employees rate the level of service they delivered, and rate the team as well.

     

    Tip #16 – Court your banker.

    Never has your relationship with your banker been more important. There are all kind of examples out there right now of companies whose lines of credit have been reduced, called or denied. For small business owners, that’s akin to cutting off an arm and having no way of stopping the bleeding. Some of these cases may have turned out differently if the banker had been more informed of what was going down at the company. A banker friend of mine (who has been considering an ‘alias’ career given the popularity of bankers right now!) told me bankers hate surprises more than anything else. He’d rather know things are getting rocky and work through it early on than get the call that things are in dire straights. If he’s in early, he can act as an advisor and help get you resources to turn things around. If he’s in late, he has to play the heavy.

    Label printing, like most manufacturing, is a capital intensive business because of the equipment and inventory requirements. We have a goal of sitting down with our banker quarterly, at a minimum, to run through our numbers. We want to do two things in those meetings: educate our banker on the custom label printing industry and ‘sell’ them on how great a company and owners we are. If ever we hit a rough patch, we want them to understand how our business has grown, to know us as business owners and to understand how our business works. We’re not afraid of letting them buy lunch, either!

    Steps to take: *Pull your numbers together, including projections for 2010 and capital needs based on those projections. *Schedule quarterly meetings with your banker to run through your numbers *Prepare your ‘pitch’ and ‘education’ pieces so you can hit the goal of teaching them about your business and industry and selling them on you and your company.

    Tip #17 – Incentivize the right sales behaviors.

    Is your sales team selling your most profitable products/services, or are they selling what’s most profitable for them? Ideally, these are the same thing, but often times they’re not. Salespeople are naturally going to gravitate to the easiest things for them to sell, that they will get the biggest commission from. Duh! Making as much money as you can with the smallest effort makes sense. The trick is to be sure that you really are incenting the right behaviors.

    Do you need a certain loss leader product/service to sell because it leads to sales in complimentary, more profitable business? Make sure you’re paying your sales team nicely to sell your loss leader! Do you need to reduce inventory? Same deal.

    Steps to take: Set quarterly sales targets, minimums, and accelerators. What’s a minimum? ‘If you don’t sell 50% of quota, you don’t get a commission’.  If they top the sales targets, they get an accelerator- a nice bonus or a bump in commission. Set these every 90 days so that on a quarterly basis you can determine what needs to be sold, and incentivize your salesforce to do just that.

     

    Tip #18 – Focus on process.

    I heard a common story today. An associate has been working hard to build her business and, wonderfully, her sales process has worked and orders and coming in hand over fist. Her dilemma? She doesn’t have good training processes (it’s a software company) or customer care procedures in place. Her very warranted fear is that they will under deliver on their promises and lose customers that they worked hard to gain. She’s right at the crossroads of sales and delivery, and she needs to put in repeatable processes very, very quickly in order to create a sustainable business. Steps to take: Imagine your sales go through the roof. What do you need to have mapped out so that you and your team can execute. This could be anything from billing to customer service to installation processes. NOW is the time to work through this and document your processes, so you’re not in the panic my friend is in.

    Label printing is laden with processes. Quoting, sending samples, printing, finishing, shipping, billing, customer follow up (to name just a few!)- we have all of those processes documented. We also continue to focus on our process and improve how we do business. If we ever stop, our business will get stale and we’ll lose our edge. Take some time and work through your business, mapping your processes and procedures as you go along. Make your business scalable, and smile when the orders come in!

     

    Tip #19 – Seek the peak!

    I just finished reading Chip Conley’s fantastic book “Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow”. Wow! What a great book. Chip studied Abe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (think back to psych 101 in college…) and applied it to his boutique hotel business. He has run his business by trying to create peak/transformative experiences for employees, customers and investors. What a great way to run a business; everyone wins!

    Ask yourself these questions: What am I doing to for my employees to feel inspired by their work? What am I doing to create evangalistic customers? What am I doing to create pride of ownership for my investors (even if that is jut yourself!)?

     

    Tip #20 – Plan, Do, Review.

    I wish I’d known this simple business model when I was younger; it would have saved me a lot of headaches! On the other hand, it’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished since we started using this process a few years ago. Since it’s the start of a new month, we spent time today reviewing our progress from last month and assessing how we did against our plans. We also talked about what we’ve learned and what we’ll apply from that learning moving forward. We also spent time planning our top strategic and tactical activities and goals for the month. We now have a clear path forward for how we’re going to spend our time, money and people resources this month.

    Lot’s of people are stuck in the ‘do’ cycle, and unfortunately, when your stuck in ‘do’, you end up with a lot of doo-doo. These are wise words to live by, my friends!

    Label printing offers a lot of opportunity for the plan, do, review cycle, since we’re able to apply the process to every custom label printing job we complete. Your labels and stickers have been through the process!

     

    Business Tip #21 – Keep it fresh.

    When is the last time you had someone from outside your industry take a look at how you’re running your business? Outside perspective can help you keep your business thinking fresh, and help you bring business best practices to life in your own business.

    Label printing is easy to keep fresh. We get to see new custom label designs and work with new label printing customers every day. We’re also involved in Renaissance Executive Forums, a peer advisory board for business owners. I run groups and Todd participates in a forum. Once a month, he gets outside ideas and perspective on how to better run Leapin’ Lizard. Check out groups like Executive Forums in your city, as they really do make a difference.