You Won't Find What You Don't Look For...
Updated: Jan 28
Most of us are missing a golden opportunity to improve our business that is essentially free...
I have never met a business leader/owner who told me they had no interest in improving their operations (or the specific piece of the organization they are responsible for). I have had many conversations where I was told it was too difficult, too time consuming or too costly to initiate an effort to improve them - and that they were going to get around to it as soon as it was easier, there was extra time or surplus money available for the project.
I want to offer you an easy, quick and essentially free way to start coming up with business improvements immediately! Let me set this up with a personal story.
Recently, my wife and I travelled with friends to Paso Robles to spend some time exploring the many interesting wine appellations found in this beautiful part of California. We had a wonderful time right up to the end, when our flight was cancelled for "weather" so we were left to find accommodations until our rebooked flight departed the next morning. I picked a Marriott branded hotel (which shall remain nameless for soon-to-be-obvious reasons) and we settled in for dinner outside by a very inviting fire pit.
At the airport then next morning, I opened my wallet to pay for something and realized my Marriott "Bonvoy" credit card was missing. Thinking back to its last use, it was the fireside dinner at the Marriott hotel - it must have been left behind when we went up to our room...
Now the story gets "interesting".
After we arrived home, I went searching for a way to contact the hotel to see if I had actually left my card there or if I needed to cancel it and go through the hassle of changing all of the places where the card was being used to pay for things. Going to the Marriott website, I found the hotel's specific website and there - in tiny print - found a phone number I could use to call the hotel. The only number listed was for the hotel's front desk and there was no "Contact" page. Failure Point #1 - make it easy for your customers or clients to contact your business and solve their problem.
I called the number, navigating the automated "our options have recently changed, press 1 for..." phone tree and reached the front desk. A very pleasant person took my phone number and email address and told me I would receive a call back that day to let me know if they had found my credit card. Failure Point #2 - I did not receive the promised call back. If your organization makes a customer service commitment, how do you monitor that commitment was actually delivered upon?
I called back the next day and spoke to another very cheerful front desk staff member who told me that they would look - and when they came back to the phone, told me they did indeed have my card. Good news - I didn't have to cancel it! I told them I wanted it returned and was advised that it might be easier just to cancel the card and move on... in hindsight, bad but practical advice... If I wanted my card returned, I needed to use the "Chargerback" system... it would cost me $13.95 and they would email me a form to fill out and pay for this service - which I did immediately that evening. I would have preferred that they send it to me in the mail and save me the $13.95, but if this is their system and I get my card... so be it.
After filling out the form and paying for the return service, I started getting emails from "Chargerback" telling me that I could expect my package soon. And then more emails stating that my package was cancelled and that I would be refunded the $13.95 because they couldn't find the package to pick up. We're now 3 weeks into this "mystery" and I have no idea why "the system" has failed. Failure Point #3 - if you have a service provider that is doing something for your customers on your behalf, never just leave it up to them to deliver on your service guarantee.
I now have to start over, call the hotel and the cheerful front desk staff tells me they will look for my card (again) and call me within an hour... No call was received - see Failure Point #2.
The next day, I called again, explained my experience (again) and was told that my card is indeed there, in a "Chargerback" package ready for shipment, and that they will find out why it hasn't gone and call me back... No call was received - see Failure Point #2.
The next day, I call again and reference the name of the person who I had talked to the pervious day. They commiserate with me, tell me that what happened shouldn't have happened (!), apologize and tell me they will have their supervisor call me within 2 hours, after they get out of a meeting. I receive no phone call - see Failure Point #2.
I call again and I'm told that they see the card, ready for shipment via "Chargerback", that they will re-enter it into the system and send me instructions (again) via email. I receive no email or phone call - see Failure Point #2.
Obviously, at this point - almost 30 days in - my efforts to retrieve my lost credit card have moved from trying to save myself the hassle of cancelling and I have decided to press this because I can't believe a business is this inept when dealing with a customer's problem. On my next call, I get a staff member who provides me with the name and email address of the General Manager and advises me to contact them for a solution. I immediately send an email detailing my epic quest to retrieve my missing credit card... and I receive no response for the next 8 days - Failure Point #4 - if you provide an email address, it needs to be monitored and responded to in a timely manner.
I know the email address provided is valid (no bounced email notices) so I send another to follow up and the General Manager replies - huzzah! Now things are looking up! Here's the response I received...
I then waited for 19 additional days with no card, sent 3 more emails with no further response and had no way to contact the General Manager, other than the front desk phone number. This is Failure Point #5 - if someone is committed to providing a customer solution, ensure the customer has the ability to access them directly.
The grand finale was that 63 days after I first contacted the Marriott hotel about my missing credit card, it arrived in the mail - no note, nothing other than the credit card wrapped in a piece of the hotel's stationary. I immediately emailed the General Manager, letting him know I had received it and thanking him for his part in its return. Anticlimactic - for sure!
What Does This Have To Do With Improving Your Business?
I am amazed at how easy it is for us as business owners or organizational leaders to become disconnected from how our business really operates. Hopefully you have policies, best practices and standard operating procedures that are well defined - I'm sure the Marriott organization does - but is that how things really take place on a day-to-day basis? If we want to improve something, we first must look at what is really going on. Here are a few simple and "free" things anyone can do to get recalibrated:
#1 - Try To Call Your Own Business
Call your business, using the number you provide to your potential clients or customers. Call it from a number where your name won't come up on the caller ID. How did you enjoy the process? Do you use an automated answering service? Make sure you navigate it like someone who doesn't know how to use it (and doesn't know their party's name or extension). How about that hold music? What about the voice mail message that comes on when someone doesn't pick up their phone? Make sure you try a voice mail or two - it might be uncomfortable. Is it clear and helpful, letting the customer know what to expect by when? Call at opening time or call at 5 minutes before closing - what happens? We all (rightly) curse the DMV or calling our cable provider but often, our own points of entry are just as confusing and frustrating!
#2 - Deploy a "Mystery Shopper"
I walked through a local mall recently and wondered if some of the business owners actually observe what happens as potential customers approach their place of business... staff with heads down, looking at their cell phone or stocking a shelf, without regard for the human who has entered. (I am obviously not talking about the place in the mall that sells the Dead Sea Salt skin care products - they are always on the prowl!). Ask a friend to walk into your place of business or call your business on the phone and to give you a report about what they see and experience. Pro-Tip: After the first Mystery Shopper, tell your staff you are going have a Mystery Shopper coming in and identify a behavior you want to happen (like responding to a customer inquiry email within 24 hours of receipt or returning a customer call before the close of business the day it's received) and that there will be a reward - like a $20 Starbucks card - for the desired behavior happening.
#3 - Shop Your Best Competitor
We can become blind to things that are obvious only when we see them from a different perspective or when we can compare with what others are doing. Set aside some time to get out there and see how your best competitors are operating, how they treat you (as their customer). Do they have a "Take One" display that's empty? Probably not... Is their signage outdated? Are their menus dirty or obsolete? When you call them, do you get a person or an automated phone tree? In what ways can you "steal shamelessly" from them to improve your own business?
Make sure you compare yourself to your best competitor(s), it's way too easy to think things are fine if we're not looking at a competitor that is setting the standard. Tom Peters, author of "In Search of Excellence", relates a story where he was working with some executive clients on becoming excellent. After spending an extended amount of time discussing moving the organization more toward excellence, one executive spoke up. He said he was sick and tired of all this talk about excellence. After all his company was "no worse than anybody else"! Peters responded "I have the slogan your company has been looking for, “We’re no worse than our competition!”
Every journey begins with a single step - so take the first step to improving your operations by looking for the things you hope you won't find... happy hunting!
Thank you for investing your time to read this - let's make the future a better place to be!
Looking for help solving issues like these? We would love to engage with you!
Contact me at email@example.com or (231) 577-9138.