Riddell: Top down focus sets the stage
Not Business As Usual
When you think about it, most companies in Grand County are service providers and the level of customer satisfaction they provide is ultimately reflected in their financial bottom line. Yet when you talk with the managers and owners of these service providers and you ask what steps they are taking to improve their business, you hear a lot of Business 101 platitudes but not many reference to customer satisfaction. When you press the issue, you start to realize that the vast majority of these business folks tend to see customer satisfaction as a result of a lot of good stuff, not the cause. I suggest to you that this historical viewpoint just will not work in today’s information driven society. I think of it sometimes as using an old Rand McNally paper roadmap to get to a chosen destination. When you finally get there, you look back on all the points you covered with the map and think that these milestones are why you arrived at where you are. Contrast this with a perspective that says I am where we ended up because we decided to go there. The milestones were results of the initial decision, not the cause.
This different perspective is important because it lays the foundation for how any business is oriented. If the overarching drive of an organization is to be the best in terms of customer service/satisfaction then the structure, the products, the employees are all organized around this goal. While this might appear as somewhat intuitively obvious, the daily, weekly, monthly grind that is small business can often obscure if not completely overwhelm this focus. This is why it is so important that small business leaders marshal all of their human resources around this cause and connect the goal/requirement with employee security.
Along these lines, it is not uncommon for even the best intentioned managers to make the mistake of assuming that everyone understands, not only the importance of customer satisfaction, but also what it is. In fact, when you ask managers or owners just what they mean by great customer service/satisfaction, you often get a pretty soft, nebulous, feel good response that underscores in a negative way the above mentioned mistake. To correct this, customer satisfaction has to be reduced to an understandable and measurable term. For most companies, this is a number. In can be a percentage, it can be a quality rating, it can be a letter grade. Whatever you choose to you use, it has to be a result of measurement. And if you can measure it, then de facto, you have the ability to influence and improve it.
This is also where small companies have the ability to change and improve at the drop of a hat. I remember eating at a small diner a few years ago and right next to the cash register was a sign that read, “If you enjoyed your meal, please tell a friend. If you didn’t, please tell me.” It was signed by the owner, who coincidentally was also running the cash register. I noticed that he was very keen on asking everyone who was paying their bill if they, indeed, did enjoy it. More importantly, he was sincerely listening to their responses. He would look at the bill and even ask particulars about what was served. “Was the coffee strong enough this morning? Toast to your liking? Anything we could do to make it better?” You could just tell that the satisfaction of his customers was of primary importance to him. His concern permeated the entire establishment and it always made eating there an anticipated pleasure. Is there any higher compliment you can pay to a restaurant?
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching, authoring business and sports columns and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth.
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