GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Great customer service on a budget

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to deliver great customer service.

Imagine a barber shop on Main street in your town. This shop is in fact the most popular in town. The barber, Fred, seems to know everyone’s name. He knows all about their family, what they do for a living and most importantly, how they like their hair cut, how often they come in and all kinds of other little things about them.

“How does he do it?” I can hear one of you asking. “He must have a very expensive customer service computerized systems?” Another one of you is thinking. Or maybe he just has an incredible memory for minutia? No, it is none of those things. Do you want to know what he has? Do you wonder what kind of customer retention plan he has invested in?

His shop is always busy. No one has ever seen the shop empty. He has never been seen sitting in his own barber chair reading the paper.

His business is successful. He bought that beautiful old Garland house on Birch Street last year, so he has to be doing well.

Fred seems to know everything about his customers. What they want. What they need. He knows when to offer them that special straight razor shave that he gets premium dollars for. He has a deep personal knowledge of all of his customers and what they want.

Okay, here is his big secret. Are you ready for this? He keeps a three by five index card of each of his customers. He has a set of questions that he wants answered on each of them and then he adds to them as he learns more about them.

The whole system cost him about five bucks a year…and the time and effort and passion for his business that it takes to make it a great and successful business.

And do the customers come back? Oh, do they ever. Everybody likes to be known, everybody has a comfort zone for someone who cares enough about them as customers to learn all they can about them and what they want.

This is the very essence of a good CRM (Customer Retention Management) System. That’s all it takes. A little effort and a few index cards and you’ll have the best CRM system money can buy.

In the end all business is people business, and all great businesses care enough about their customers to take the time to learn, not on what they need, but also what they want. These businesses are what is called Customer-centric businesses. And being customer centric is the very best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: The book business owners should read

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Here is a book all business owners should read:

Leaders Eat Last: Why some teams pull together, and others don’t.
By Simon Sinek
Copyright 2014 Portfolio/Penguin Random House L.L.C.
Price: $18.00 Paperback
Pages: 350 pages with index
A time for leaders

Leaders create culture and culture; the right culture, is what makes great companies and organizations. Leaders lead by example. Leaders allow the key word there being allow their teams to be great.

No matter the size of your organization from three people to 3,000 people, culture is always important. Culture is what makes a great company in the end. And that must come from the top.

The simple example of a company president walking down the hall of his company and bending down to pick up a piece of paper off the floor is powerful. Much more powerful than all the talks about keeping the place clean.

Leaders look out for their people. In fact, author Simon Sinek says that we need to treat employees like our children and look out for them the same way we would our children.

A few years back, in the ‘80s, when Milton Friedman’s economics declared that companies only goal was to make money for the shareholders. Yikes! Look where that got us.

The big heroes at that time were Jack Welch and Al Chainsaw Dunlap whose answer to every problem was to cut heads. And whenever they did that, Wall Street cheered!

As an aside the children and now grandchildren of these headless victims watched this happen. It affected them first hand. No wonder they come to us today with a deep built-in distrust of corporations.

Consider where we are today, now when these ensuing generations are wary of joining companies, They don’t trust companies. They witnessed first hand that lauded leaders like Mr. Welch bragged about laying off ten percent of his management staff every year. What are they supposed to think?

No longer is this style treatment working, nor will it work in the future. The new trend of leader eats last. This means she takes care of here people first…and then they will take care of her.

As an example of the new kind of leader, the kind who is succeeding today, the author relates the story of Bob Chapman and his company Barry-Wehmiller. Bob Chapman is known for buying distressed companies and making them better. When one of these companies ran into trouble, Bob did not want to lay off people, which went against everything that he had been taught. He felt that if his family ran into financial difficulties, he would not send a couple of his kids away. And the same thing applied to his company.

Instead of laying off people he talked to his people, and they found ways to cooperate with one another to make sure everyone took care of everyone else.

This is just one example of how leaders eat last. How they are finding ways to take care of their people which in turn will take care of the company.

Okay, I can hear some of you humming Kumbaya in disgust. Sorry you feel that way, for your own sake. You had better read this book and get religion, or you are going to be one of those companies that goes out of business for lack of a work force. It will certainly help you be a great leader of a growing company.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Why are you in business?

Growing your business

by Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.”

This is the ad that Ernest Shackleton placed in the London Times to recruit the crew of the Endurance that was setting out for the South Pole.

He not only got a crew. He got a great crew of men who went through nearly unbearable hardships and yet all came back alive by looking out for each other. If you get a chance, read books about their adventures, it’s a fascinating and inspiring story.

But it’s all about “why” people do things. Why they are in business.

The Why is the reason Apple computer is a great company.

The Why is the reason men and women go to war.

The Why is the reason men and women become clergy.

The Why is the reason we went to the moon. Remember that quote from JFK? “We go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard,”

Why some businesses seem to have everything going for them but “why”, and for some reason, in the end they still fail.

And that reason is that they have no real purpose. Or true understanding of why they are in business. He says that without purpose, without a clear and direct sense of purpose people will not give their all.

As an example, he uses one of my all-time favorite stories of the two stone masons who were both laying stone on a large building. When the first one was asked what he was doing, he looked at the person asking the questions and with great tedium in his voice said, “The same I do every day, laying stone after endless stone.” When the second stone mason was asked what he was doing, he looked up at the building with a great sense of exuberance and said, “I am building a magnificent cathedral!”

I cannot think of a better example of what the difference is between having a cause, a purpose and a mission and not having one.

Think about it, what is the “Why” of your business? Why did you start the business. What was your mission? What did you want to accomplish?

Think back to that time and try to remember what you were feeling back then? Get that feeling back…and then pass it on to your team. Instill it in your company culture. Start building your own magnificent cathedral. And you’ll start seeing your business grow and prosper.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What do your customers want?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

The best way to know what your customers want is to ask them. One of the biggest disconnects between your company and your customers is not having a comprehensive agreement of what services the customer expects from you.

I have found that a clear understanding of what a customer’s expectations are goes a long way in you being able to meet or even exceed those expectations.

I know it is not always that easy. That customers are not always clear in expressing their needs. And sometimes they are not even sure themselves what they want which might lead you to assume what they want…and that leads to very dangerous ground indeed.

In the end it is so much better to take the right amount of time to have a good discussion with your customer and this way create a clear and concise understanding of what those expectations actually are.

Here are a few tips on guiding that discussion with your customer to make sure you get a complete understanding of what they expect from you:

  • Listen carefully when the customer tells you what they want.
  • If you do not yet get exactly what they want, ask more specific questions.
  • Once they answer you, repeat what they told you so you both know that you both understand.
  • Sometimes a customer says one thing but really means another. Ask again for clarification.
  • Dig in to make sure that what the customer is asking for is really what is going to solve their problem. This is especially true when you are brought in for home repairs like plumbing or electrical work. Find out what the real problem is rather than what the customer wants you to do. What they want you to do might not be the right solution for their problem.
  • And always not only listen but actually hear what your customers are telling you.
  • Once you’ve had your discussion with the customer and you feel that, yes, you have a good understanding of exactly what he or she wants from you, then it is a good idea to document it. Depending on the complexity of the project or the product, write down exactly what you understand the customer wants and give it to them to review, agree with and sign. When working extensive home improvements projects for example, this is a must.

The success of your product and service is based on whether the customer is happy or not. In the end it doesn’t really matter if your product is perfect, if it’s not what the customer wanted then you all lose.

Having a good and clear understanding of what your customers’ expectations are and meeting those expectations is, in the end, the best way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Know your competition

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

We all have competition; we all have people and companies we are competing with vying for the same accounts. The hospitality businesses for example (restaurants, pubs, take-out food places) are all tremendously competitive businesses. As are service companies, construction companies, retail stores and just about every other kind of business.
We live in a capitalist society and capitalism leads to competition…thank goodness! Can you imagine what life would be like if there was only one restaurant in your town? If there was only one hardware store? It would not be good. If you didn’t have variety, a number of companies to choose from, things would not only get very stale the service could become deplorable. This is why at the federal level we have anti-trust, anti- monopoly regulations.

Remember when all we have for phone service was good old Ma Bell? They controlled everything. I remember sneaking an extra extension phone in my house which was illegal! (fortunately, the statute of limitation must be up so I can breathe easier now. Whew! But you get the point, those of us who remember living under the iron rule of the Ma Bell regime know what happens when a company has a monopoly, and it is not a pretty picture.

But now, fortunately, we do have competition and no matter what our business is, competition makes us better. It makes us more well…competitive.

Here are a few ways to deal with the competition in your business: (inspired by the book Amaze Every Customer Every Time, by Shep Hyken)

  • Instead of disrespecting the competition learn from them.
  • Check them out, see what they are doing to get and keep customers and then find a better way.
  • Use what you know about them to better differentiate your business.
  • Consider working with them in partnership. Healthy competition is always more productive than the alternative.
  • When researching your competition figure out what you can do better. It will make your company better.

And finally, ask yourself how your company’s strengths differ from those of your competitors. Do these strengths give you an advantage that generates referrals from competitors.

And one more tip: never, ever, underestimate your competition, always treat them with respect and as a worthy opponent. In the end it will make your company better and will help you grow your company.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Treat your employees well

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

A few years ago, Herb Kelleher, the CEO and founder of Southwest Airlines shook up the business world by declaring that the employee comes first, and the customer comes second. At first people were shocked, they could not understand such heresy. Of course, the customer comes first, everybody knows that since the customer is always right …right?

But wise old Herb Kelleher went on to explain that the happier the employees were, the more prone they would be to treat the customers like gold, the way they should be treated.

And to those of us who have flown Southwest Airlines we have witnessed first hand that Kelleher was right. Those flight attendants are the cheeriest bunch of people I have ever met. They even have jokes they like to say like, “There might be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only four ways to get off this airline.” And songs they like to sing. Sure it’s all a little corny, but I have to admit that these antics do tend to cheer up even the crabbiest of tired travelers (yours truly included).

I do know from my own experience working with companies that the companies that are committed to keeping their employees happy and satisfied, and the companies that go to great lengths to look out for their employees, are indeed the best run companies and they do in fact have the best customer service.

So here, from a great little book called Amaze Every Customer Every Time, by Shep Hyken, are some very useful tips on how to treat your employees well so they will treat your customers even better:

  • Treat employees the way you want the customer treated, maybe even better.
  • The only way you can possibly amaze your customers every time is by amazing your employees first.
  • Talking about the employees’ golden rule is not enough. You, as a leader, must model it daily.
  • Create a clear and precise mission for your company and make sure that your employees not only know it and understand it…but believe in it as well, and that starts with you as their leader.
  • As a leader you have to walk the walk and lead by example. If your employees see you treating your customers well, they will follow your lead.

And one of my own: Remember that what a company leader or owner says or does resonates very loudly in the company. As a leader be very careful with your words, and never, and I mean never, complain or knock a customer. And never let them see you treat a customer poorly.

In short, if you treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers it will be a perfect way to run your business and, yes, to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: What’s in a name?

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Who you gonna call? The name of your company is one of the most important aspects of building your business. The scary thing is that you have to have a name to even start a business. So, you have to come up with the right name even before you leave the proverbial parking lot to start your business ownership journey.

This means that you have to come up with the right name from the very beginning. And I mean getting it right immediately because you are going to have to live with that name forever. Once you start your marketing and branding it is incredibly difficult to change the name of your company.

With that in mind, here are some tips and ideas to consider when choosing your company’s name:

  • Avoid hard to spell name (Tell me about it! Check out my name, you can’t spell it you can’t say it! And you sure as heck would not want to be stuck with it as a company name which is why I used my initials, DB Management Group
  • Use names that might put you at the top of any directory listing. (Some people live by this rule, frankly I’m not sold on this idea)
  • Use a name that means something, a name that indicates what you do is a good idea.
  • Don’t pick a name that indicates too narrow business capabilities, something that could limit your company’s growth in the future.
  • Use a name that is catchy. A name that people will remember.
  • Conduct a domain name search. Sooner or later, you are going to have a website. You will need a domain name, make sure you consider this when choosing your company name. In fact, you should conduct a domain name search and choose your domain name as part of the naming process.
  • Check out the legal viability of the name you choose. Check out trademarks. Check it out with your Secretary of State. Make sure you are not inadvertently stealing someone else’s company name.
  • Ask your friends and family what they think of the name you are thinking of using. This is a case where more opinions and insights are better than going it solo.
  • How does the name sound when you say it aloud? Some names look great on paper, but they sound like something else when said out loud.
  • And finally, make sure you like the name. You are going to have to live with that company name forever, so make sure it is a name you not only like, but actually love!

Naming your company is just about the first important decision you will make when starting a company. Make sure you treat that decision with the importance it commands. Choosing the right name can go a long way for growing your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Be different

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

There are a series of books out about what is called Blue Ocean Strategies. The premise is that most businesses operate in the same ocean, “the Red Ocean”, but to truly succeed a company has to swim in their own ocean, the Blue Ocean. This is all fancy metaphor talk for being different, being better, finding a way to do things differently. A way that will change everything and wow your customers to the point of not only improving your business, but dramatically changing your market as well.

Some examples of Blue Ocean companies are what Uber did for paid ridership and what BnB did to the hotel industry, what Door Dash did for food take out services and, yes, what Instacart did for grocery shopping.

And, of course, there is the biggest example of Blue Ocean strategy, what Amazon did to the retail business…not only changed everything but literally took it over to the point of outright domination.

Okay, let’s get our head out of the clouds and back to earth. What can you do about your particular industry, and marketplace? What kind of Blue Strategy can you come up for your business?

Now, I don’t claim to have all the magic answers, I don’t know your particular business as well as you do, but I can show you how these companies did it.

It’ simple: they focused on their customers. They used their imagination to take them out of their proverbial box of business as usual.

They followed George Bernard Shaw’s advice as often quoted by Robert Francis Kennedy, “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

And they ignored the advice of Charles Holland Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent office who, in 1899, wanted to close the office saying, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

So how about you and your business? “What can you do to dream things that never were and ask why not?”

Here are a few steps to help you along the way:

  • Sit down and think about your business. Put yourself in your customers’ place. If you were your own customer, what would you like from your business?
  • Forget what has come before, what you did before and think of what you can do now, and better yet, what you can do tomorrow.
  • Dream a little, or a lot. Don’t let facts and existing barriers get in the way of your imagination. Just let yourself go wild and when you come up with a new great idea…then walk backwards to figure out how to do it.
  • Take a look of the world around you. Research what similar companies in other parts of the country, and the world, are doing. Learn more about your own industry, network with other owners in other parts of the world and get some ideas and inspiration from them. The nice thing about being a local business is that if you discover a great Blue Ocean idea from someone in your industry in Salem, Oregon, or London, Ontario, there is nothing wrong with taking the idea and bringing it into your local area.
  • The most important thing here is to dare to dream, to find a way to do it, not only differently, but better than anyone in your local marketplace has done it. Create your own Blue Ocean to swim in. And that’s a great way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: The power of a simple “thank you”

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

Last week we received a Thank You card from the company who had just completed a roofing job at our house. It was not a large job as far as roofs go, just a couple of porch roofs that needed to be replaced. And once again as far as costs for putting on a new roof this was a not that expensive…relatively speaking.

The company did a good job, they worked fast, were efficient and cleaned everything up and took it away, all in one day, “easy peasy,” as some people like to say.

But then the Thank You card came in the mail. A real official Thank You card with the receipt for our payment enclosed.

Now some people would think that did not mean much…and I might have been one of them. But I was surprised at how much that one small gesture touched me. After all, this was a roofing company, not a car dealership or other such company where the sales team is trained to send out cards and notices, even birthday greetings, and yes, I do appreciate those “small touches”, but I have come to expect them.

Now to get this card, this small token of appreciation for my business, was truly touching. Not only personally but also professionally as a person who trains companies to make the extra effort to thank their customers.

That card showed me that someone was paying attention. That someone was actually thinking about the customers and working at finding ways to stand out in front of those customers. Someone in that company was making an effort, to look and act professionally.

Think about that for a minute. This was much more than just a card. This was an indicator that this company was focused on being better, on standing out on being memorable and yes, most of all hoping that someone, like me would not only notice, not only appreciate but would tell others about it.

And guess what? It worked because here I am telling you about it.

Always remember that even the small things, like sending out a receipt enclosed in a Thank You card will go a long way in making your business outstanding. And it is a great way to grow your business.

GROWING YOUR BUSINESS: Be careful what you say

Growing your businessby Dan Beaulieu
Business consultant

A true story. One of our relatives in a nearby town was having trouble with her furnace and needed a repair person. She called the man that had been taking care of her furnace for years. He came over and found that all he had to do was reset the furnace and everything would be fine. He said that there would be no charge and showed her the switch so next time she could reset the furnace herself. He was not gone 15 minutes when the furnace conked out again.

Not wanting to bother the repairman again that night she and her daughter, who was visiting, decided to add more blankets to their beds, tough it out and call the repairman in the morning.

The next morning the daughter called the repairman, and he proceeded to blast her for bothering him, read her the proverbial riot act for bothering him, but in the end, with some persuasion grumbled he would come later that day.

He never showed up!

Whereupon the daughter called another company, they sent a man out right away. There was something wrong with the furnace, it was missing a part. They fixed it in 30 minutes, handed her the bill and went on their merry way.

Now here is where the story gets interesting.

The daughter was very active on social media, especially Facebook…I think you can see where this is going.

The daughter promptly got on Facebook and told the story including naming names and recommending that no one should ever use this repairman again. Her post went out to over the 200 people to whom she was connected!

Wow! What repairmen should have realized was that in this new world order people are connected, and people talk to each other, especially when they have been poorly served enough to be angry.

Just imagine for a minute the kind of negative publicity this repairman is now getting!

But the real point here is that no person or company, or organization, should ever talk to their customers the way this repairman did. Nor should any person serving the public ever complain about doing a job for a customer.

The rule of thumb pre-social media used to be that if a customer has a complaint, he is going to tell a number of people and in the end, about 100 people would hear about it. Now in these days of social media that number increases to literally hundreds if not thousands of people. And if the story is bad enough it could go viral, then millions of people could see it.

Those of us in business should always appreciate our customers and the business they send our way. The minute we stop doing that, and let the customer see, that is the day your business will stop growing. And that my friends is no way to be growing your business.