First impressions for your business are made by people that open doors, make cold calls, attend networking meetings and answer your phone. They are delivered by your marketing communications like social media and websites. How confident are you that your potential clients are greeted warmly and with a direct invitation to do business?
Years ago businesses paid someone to sit at a front lobby desk and answer every inbound call and greet every walk-in appointment. The receptionist qualifications were measured by friendliness, service-orientation and attentive disposition. The standard phone greeting of this time was “Thank you for calling, how can I help you?”
When is the last time were greeted this way? Today we are often met with automated attendants and empty lobbies. Some businesses have completely eliminated any dedicated space to a welcome station and filled it with another cubical. My impression is that first impressions are not a priority for this business. The decision that customer experience may be too costly to employ a dedicated person, may be costing you business.
It is not difficult to think back to a bad first impression. I recall three in the past weeks. One top restaurant asked me to wait outside in 110 degrees because they did not open for four minutes, yet the door was unlocked. Another restaurant hostess asked me to stand until my party arrived even though every table was empty. A technology company, which had a sitting place upon entry, left me for 20 minutes while employees stared at me. Not one person asked why I was there or if I needed help. I remember all of these first impressions, vividly.
Noted in a recent New York Times article Praise Is Fleeting, but Brickbats We Recall, “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.” Sited from Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University in a journal article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.”
How your employees are greeting the public, networking, making introductions, and opening doors for others is a direct reflection of hiring skills, company culture and leadership. Business owners, CEOs and managers own the customer experience. Every employee is responsible for making a positive first impression. How are you reinforcing how positive first impressions are made in your business?
Customer experience is a financial decision in business, unless revenues are low on the priority list. Reputation management is critical and costly. A bad review is hard to overcome. You can’t erase the Internet or someone’s memory. People use others professional and personal experiences as a reason to buy or not buy. Bad experiences are viral, whether online, through social media, on sites that track reputations or by word-of-mouth. Once word is out, it is permanent. You own it!
Every experience starts with the greeting. Take time to review how your potential and existing customers are greeted today. This applies whether you are selling B2B or B2C, for every industry, in a building or online. Use “secret shoppers” and have them rate how inviting, caring, and enthusiastic they were welcomed to do business with you.
Customer service is a pillar to good business. Customer experience starts when the phone is picked up, the door is unlocked or a web site is visited. We may not all have the luxury of hanging up a flashing “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign to greet everyone. We do have the luxury to manage and train our messengers to provide an outstanding first impression.
Invest in your greeting. Define, train, test and continually reinforce how you want to insure a positive first impression. It your opportunity to create a long-term valuable relationship with your customer.
By Jamie Glass, Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors.
Key influencers play a critical role in every business. Decision makers are guarded and guided by inside and outside advisors and gatekeepers. How you manage your trusted advisors can help or harm your business.
Influencers know they have the power to change or compel action. It is the business leaders responsibility to validate and control the effect of influencers. Those who sit closest to authority and are granted permission to persuade, have a direct impact on your success. Do you know who is currently sitting at your table of influence?
In order to responsibly manage your influencers, take time to identify those that are in your inner circle and those effecting your judgement. Inside your business look at department heads, executives and even top revenue generators whose opinions impact your future. Who are your squeaky wheels? Are they helping you make better decisions for your business or slowing down how you operate? Influencers can be carriers of good and bad advice, they may be motivated by selfishness. It is up to you to vet, challenge and manage your influencers for optimal results.
One way of evaluating an influencer is to ask them what they believe are your highest priorities. Are they up-to-date on your current business plans and growth strategies? Do they know the profile of your most profitable customers? If not, it is the perfect opportunity to align your thinking. Define and clarify what is most important to you and your business. Let them know how they can help you.
To get the best results from your influencers, provide regular updates on business goals, initiatives, challenges and opportunities. Acting as gatekeepers, key influencers can open doors to new ideas, solution providers and even make introductions to customers. They also have the ability to close doors. As the final decision maker, you are ultimately responsible for those that make it through the “gate”. Challenge those that have the authority inside your business to say no. Know who they turned away and why.
Update your outside advisors quarterly about key initiatives and strategic objectives. These influencers, such as accountants, legal counsel, wealth managers, business consultants and top vendors are connected and often sources for essential referrals. They act as a conduit for information and potential services that can help you achieve your goals. If your influencers know your interests, they can better serve you.
Know that influencers get things done. They effect change. They make things happen. You need to know who they are and leverage them for maximum impact to your business. Lead influencers to your expected outcomes. Manage them for the best results.
Jamie Glass, Sales & Marketing Services Managing Director at CKS Advisors.
Every business leader needs to mitigate risks associated to being the one in charge. You may have imagined that some day you will be transitioning your leadership to a partner, an investor, the next in line or even family member.
You may see your fabulous retirement life through the eyes of selling your business in multiples above your investment. In order to realize your dream, you need to spend time and commit resources to adequately prepare for a favorable transition. When? Now.
The value of a business is built upon the sustainability of the operating plan, with or without it’s leader. As an owner or CEO, have you asked yourself the “what if” question? Are you fully prepared to hand over the keys to your business today?
Succession planning is critical to an effective transition. Achieving optimal outcomes in transitioning a sustainable business requires years of preparation. How confident are you in handing over control of your business to your successors today? A successful transition plan gives the new leaders a complete operating manual. They need to be adequately prepared to operate the business day one. They need to be able to take your business forward to protect your investment and to benefit your employees, stakeholders, customers and partners.
Some owners avoid planning for the end of the business because of the time it takes away from working “in” the business right now. The lack of preparedness puts your business value at risk. It is never too early to prepare for an exit. Whether you are a small owner-operated business, mid-market company or family-owned enterprise, you need a definitive succession plan. It should be part of your standard business.
Here are some tips on how to start your succession planning:
1. Document company processes and procedures. Everyone is not replaceable. Unfortunately, when a person leaves the business they take institutional knowledge. Key personnel that do not document their knowledge or share it with their direct reports, cost your business long-term and expose you to great risk. This includes the owners and founders. You can mitigate that risk by making sure every employee documents their processes and procedures. Start with key roles. This is not a job description, it is a “how to” operating manual for every role in your company.
2. Review your wealth preservation strategies with your advisors. Meet regularly with your personal and professional financial team members to analyze your current situation and review your short and long term goals. Be “in the know” at all times of where your business stands financially. Use strategy and growth advisors to help you pivot the business, so that you can exceed your goals. Update your business evaluations annually.
3. Build a culture of knowledge sharing. Create internal social exchanges and information sharing networks. Use your company meetings to have one department or key player provide a highlight of their role and what it means to the business. Reward employees for creatives ways they educate others. Commit one hour a week per employee for education and cross-training.
4. Host quarterly strategy updates with key personnel. Spend time with your “next generation” of leaders to share business plans, KPIs, lessons learned and company strategies. They are the future leaders of your business and they may be executing your business plan. Keep no secrets. Share your wealth of knowledge. Sharing keeps people engaged and actively participating in achieving business goals.
5. Reward excellence in execution. Find opportunities to reward performance for those that take initiative and demonstrate they are prepared to lead. A business full of up and coming leaders, results in sustainability.
Exit planning helps you increase the value of your business today and in the future. Business owners can easily be consumed by the short term activities of day-to-day operations. Sole focus on immediate outcomes exposes any business to long-term financial risks. Investors and bankers should ask to see your succession plan. As you plan your beginning, you need to plan for the end. Make your investment of time and energy pay off more than you imagined. Plan today to realize a profitable, rewarding and fulfilling end.
By Jamie Glass, Managing Director of Sales & Marketing Practice at CKS Advisors. You can reach Jamie at email@example.com or 480-745-3085.
My salespeople are not selling as much as I expect them to. My administrative people are always coming in late. My production people never seem to get things out on time. My truck drivers leave their trucks a mess. My service people don’t treat our customers as they should. Do these sound familiar? They do to me. I hear statements like these from owners and managers of way too many businesses and they are typically preceded by words like “I just don’t understand why, but…”.
My response is a simple question; Have these employees been told how much you expect them to sell, that coming in late is not acceptable, how important it is that they ship and deliver on time, that you expect the trucks to be cleaned out each day, and how customers must be treated? Too often we want to believe that all we need to do is hire an employee, put him or her into a position in our company, and watch as they dig right in and do the job just as we expect. Unfortunately many of us fail to tell them what we expect.
I worked with two companies that provide similar products. Both have many trucks that are critical to their business operations and are very visible to their customers. Company One’s trucks are always dirty. They look like they have not been washed since the day they left the factory. The cabs of their trucks resemble a trash bin behind a McDonald’s restaurant. In contrast, the trucks from Company Two always show up to the customer’s location looking like they are brand new. They are well cared for, have no dents, and are always clean inside. Is it just a coincidence that Company Two also outperforms Company One? Could it be simply the condition of the trucks that makes the difference? No, it isn’t the trucks themselves but the trucks are an indication of a major difference between the two companies.
Company Two’s culture is based on setting expectations for the performance of the company and its employees. Expectations are set for everything from sales to quality to customer response to profits to how employees are expected to treat the company’s equipment. Setting high expectations and then holding people accountable for achieving those expectations is the norm at Company Two. Company One’s culture is totally opposite and their trucks and their performance reflect that.
For companies to excel their employees must perform to expectations. But to do that requires that they know and understand what is expected of them. It’s management’s job to not only set expectations but to also communicate those expectations. Only then can the employees be held accountable for meeting them.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? Set expectations, hold employees accountable, then sit back and get results. It is easy if accountability is a basic component of your company’s culture. If it’s not, adding accountability to your culture is not very easy at all. Your truck driver never had to worry about how his truck looked. Your production people never got in trouble for missing a due date. Your sales person was never held to a quota. Now all of a sudden the rules are changing. Being told what performance and behavior is expected and being held accountable for that performance is a major shift from the old culture.
Like any other culture change, changing to an expectation and accountability based culture requires total management commitment, a good deal of time and effort, and a lot of grief. Few investments that you make in your company will pay off as well as this one will.
Joel Strom, Managing Director of the Strategy and Value Creation Consulting practice at CKS Advisors. Joel helps to accelerate business growth, maximize enterprise value and increase ownership wealth. Joel can be reached at 480-745-3088 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.