I'm often asked to assess negative changes in business activity and to develop the tactics required to regain market share.
Whether it's a global enterprise like GE, a financial planning practice or the local pub, virtually any business can be broken down into three facets. A simple analysis of these three facets provides more usable data than all of those feasibility studies that have drained company coffers.
Product and/or service
While there are differences in the way products and services are marketed, broadly speaking, all businesses sell a product or a service. Simple.
Products and services are rated by consumers based on factors like cost, quality, reliability, durability and a roster of other criteria.
While your product or service must be good, in today's world this is the easiest thing for your competitors to copy.
This one is easier to differentiate.
Is the telephone answered by a human? What about guarantees? Warranties? Policies and protocols? Turnaround times? Answers to queries?
Are these designed for your company's benefit, eg, cost cutting, improved margins, less travel time, etc, or is the ongoing service you provide something to be admired?
This is where businesses, especially professional service providers, can really stand out. Business relationships, built on a history of trust, regular contact and care, are the foundation of any successful business and the longer your list of regulars the better.
These buyers cost less to 'maintain' and are more forgiving when something does go wrong.
A regular visit, asking about their family, understanding their business drivers and personal values solidifies friendships, builds trust and makes business personal – the best way to conduct a business. I've seen multi-million-dollar deals made over deli sandwiches and sealed with a handshake.
So, when you and your clients assess these facets of your business, you develop a clearer picture of yourself in the business mirror. You see your company the way others see it. The way your customers see it.
Granted, this is a simple collection of data but customer satisfaction surveys should be simple – simple to complete, simple to assess, and simple to employ effective strategies for improvement. By keeping things simple, you also avoid jumping to illogical conclusions.
Simple diagnostics or how your clients see you
One of my favourite business tools is the grid below (adapted from the work of Alan Weiss in Best Laid Plans: Turning strategy into action throughout your organization). It can be used as a quick customer survey, a simple diagnostic or a business planning tool.
When contacted to assess the reputation of a business, the first thing I do is ask company stakeholders to assess the performance of their company using this simple grid based on the key facets of successful business.
Management, middle management and the entire staff are asked to rate their company’s performance. Of course, anonymity is assured to avoid the 'yes, man' factor.
For example, if you're a financial adviser with a staff of five, it's easy to determine that it's impossible to differentiate your product (and even if you do, it won't be long before it's copied).
After tallying up the in-house feedback, I might be looking at a chart like the one above. Quite acceptable for a professional services provider.
The next thing I do is contact some of the businesses clients – usually established clients based on long-standing relationships but not necessarily all high-value clients. These people complete the same, simple 'client satisfaction' survey. I now have easily digestible data on how the company sees itself in the business looking glass versus how clients see them. Often, the discrepancies are obvious but not always easy to explain.
Through the looking glass
You and your team rate your operation highly in all categories, with a blip here and there. You look great in the business looking glass, beaming back proudly at your own striking visage.
However, your clients (the ones who pay the bills) may view your company differently. By employing a simple satisfaction tool, you’re more likely to develop data that is contestable, measurable and, ultimately, effective in improving business performance and bottom-line performance.
Regardless of size, it's essential to see through the looking glass to develop a true and accurate picture of the image your customers see.
Michael Harrison is one of Australia's most respected business growth strategists. His clients range from small businesses to multi-nationals. He is also the independent chair of Synchron. Michael can be contacted at www.strategies.com.au.
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