Not having systems in your business could be a disaster waiting to happen, yet many business owners and managers don’t bother or think they are ‘too busy’ to allocate time to developing them.
‘What do you mean by systems?’ you might well ask. Here’s my definition:
“Systems are the procedures for performing tasks in the running of your business that enable you and/or other team members to do the right things, the right way on a consistent basis.”
[Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net]
It’s also important to add a control mechanism to ensure that the system is (a) being understood and followed, and (b) achieving the right outcomes.
So this raises the question of initiative – shouldn’t people be allowed to use that, instead of blindly following a system?
When people are left to use their initiative without the foundation of a solid system, you will get very varied results. Some people will be excellent while others will flounder. Many managers and business owners assume that their staff should know what to do because ‘it’s obvious’. It’s like that wonderful old expression ‘common sense’ – what is ‘common’ to one person may be completely ‘uncommon’ to another.
The Little Things
Let’s take a simple one – answering the business telephone. How do your staff answer? Have you ever tried ringing your own business to find out? You might get a nasty surprise if you don’t have a system. In fairness, you may still get a surprise even if you do have a system, because people often don’t follow them.
So why wouldn’t people follow a system? Here are some common ones:
- Nobody trained them properly in the first place.
- They forgot.
- They think they are better than everyone else – the system is for the ‘idiots’.
- They disagree with the system.
When I had my collection of tourism businesses, part of the staff induction included not only ‘how’ we answered the phone, but the reason ‘why’ it was so important that we did it the right way, because then it made sense to the staff member to follow the system. You may only get one chance to make a first impression and this could be your potential customer’s first ever interaction with your organisation. If you screw it up, you could lose them forever!
[Image courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net]
It’s a matter of going back to the basics. My staff would answer with the following words or a very similar version of them:
[No matter what’s happening or has just happened – smile as you pick up the phone – as if the caller was standing in front of you. They can sense the smile through the phone line!]
“Good morning/afternoon/evening. This is Club Red, (staff’s first name) speaking. How may I help you today?”
In contrast, I also used to enjoy the experience when I had cause to phone any of my competitors, because time and again I would be astonished at the conversation openers. Other businesses’ answers included the following:
- Talk to me!
My personal favourite from one tourist accommodation establishment was, “Oh no, didn’t she divert the phone properly? Oh shit, I told her to do that!”
Always be aware of what the customer will experience if your phone is busy, or diverted somewhere else, like a really poor voicemail or answering service. I had customers tell me that they had chosen to stay with us because we had sounded the friendliest and the most welcoming when they rang us, and they often rang first to compare facilities and prices.
So can you have a system, yet still allow your people to use their initiative? I have to put in the disclaimer that certain situations affecting health and safety, open heart surgery or the mechanic checking the brakes on your car may require a disciplined approach that is non-negotiable!
Aside from those kinds of scenarios however, it is good practice to give staff policy directives that encourage initiative so as to better achieve the desired objectives. In plain English, let’s say your policy is to satisfy the customer, wherever possible, without putting the organisation at risk and without losing a significant amount of money.
One simple illustration might be the waitress who apologises to the restaurant customer for a delay in serving their meal by offering them a free coffee to make up for it. This generates goodwill and results in the customer still feeling valued, despite the previous hiccup with the service. The short term loss of a cup of coffee pales into insignificance compared with the lifetime value of the customer’s repeat visits to the business.
[Image courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net]
So in that example:
The Policy is “We do what we can to make our customers feel valued so that they become repeat customers”.
The Objective is ‘We give great customer service’.
The System is ‘When we don’t achieve our usual high standards or we make a mistake, we will retrieve the potentially lost goodwill by offering our customer a gesture such as a free gift, a discount or a bonus offer, commensurate with the level of the error.’
We will also follow that up by asking the customer if everything was ok with their meal.
The Control Mechanism is ‘a note is made at the register to explain why the gift was given, so that the supervisor can ensure its validity. (I.e. not just free coffees to all the waitress’s friends!)
The system and the training in how to use it gives the staff member the platform on which to operate. The initiative is then encouraged in how and when to apply it.
What’s in it for you?
If you want another really good reason for why you should create and apply systems in every area of your business, here are some deal-clinchers:
The better your business is systemised…
- The easier it is for your staff to do their jobs well.
- The easier and quicker it is to train new staff.
- The less you will be at risk of legal actions for incorrect practices.
- The more you will increase turnover and profits.
- The less you have to be there because your people know what to do!
- The more your business will be worth to a potential buyer if you want to sell it!
If you’d like to know more about how, why and where you can systemise your business, you can contact a Perth-based business coach – that’s me, Tony Inman at Club Red Inspiration, by using the website contact form, or by calling our office on (08) 9328 2203 for a chat.