Long before I started my own company, I recognised the importance for any business to focus relentlessly on driving value up and costs down. It’s a lesson I first learnt in the corporate environment where I witnessed, first hand, the basic truth that if something you do is not explicitly adding value to your customers, it’s almost certainly an unnecessary cost to your company, and one that will probably never generate any sort of return.
After six years of running my own customer experience research and strategy company, my understanding of this value versus cost formula has deepened, to the point that ‘driving value up and costs down’ has become something of an N’lighten mantra, and the philosophy on which we base all the guidance and advice we offer our clients.
Ironically, while this concept of driving up value while reducing costs is basic business sense, in my experience it is a philosophy that is missing from many potentially successful businesses. In fact, its absence is, in many cases, the one thing that is limiting success and ensuring that it remains nothing more than potential.
That’s not to say that these companies aren’t making all the right noises about customer service. It’s just that their efforts in this regard never seem to translate into added customer value, which makes them nothing more than a financial drain on the business.
Customer service excellence
The problem, as I see it, is two-fold. While the vast majority of business owners and managers pay lip service to the importance of delivering excellent customer service, they and their employees don’t fully understand what that actually means. And to make matters worse, there’s no clear understanding of who is responsible for delivering it.
Fortunately, this is relatively easy to fix. All it takes is an understanding of the following three basic principles of customer service excellence.
1. Everything you do should add value to your customer
I mean everything. Buying new shop fittings? If they don’t make it easier, more convenient or appealing for people to shop at your store, they’re nothing more than a cost. Trying to improve servicing times in your workshop? If it makes it more difficult to get the job done right first time, every time, or adds to the possibility of faulty workmanship and customer returns, it’s not really adding value, it’s costing money. Installing a new accounting system? Unless it means your customers enjoy more understandable statements, accurate invoices, or lower prices why are you bothering? I’m sure you’re getting the picture. No matter who you are, or what you’re doing in the business, if you can’t answer ‘Yes’ to the question ‘will this add value for our customer?’ then it’s time to change what you’re doing, or the way you’re doing it.
2. Customer service is everyone’s business
A commitment to value-adding customer service has to start at the top of your organisation. If the Chairman, CEO, MD, or owner is not 100% committed to adding value to the customer, you can’t expect the sales assistant, cashier, waiter, driver, or cleaner to be either. It needs to be listed at the top of every manager’s and employee’s job description. It needs to inform your performance reviews and bonus allocations. In fact, if it’s not the first thing listed on your company values, cross out whatever is and write in ‘adding value to our customers’ in its place.
3. You can’t switch customer service off
Adding value to your customers is not a one-time, or part-time, aspect of your business. It is your business. All the time! Even when there isn’t a customer in sight, your focus needs to be on making sure you can add value to the next customer who steps through your door. If your efforts at customer service are unfocused, ad hoc, or half-hearted, chances are good they’re not adding any real value. Which makes them nothing more than a cost. And if that’s the case, and you’ve made it this far through this article, you know what to do.
Leon Meyer GM At Westin Cape Town Shares 4 Experience-Driven Tips On How To Keep Your Team Productive
Productivity is a fundamental requirement for an organisation – it’s the seed that builds a business and contributes to higher profit margins.
Productivity is a fundamental requirement for an organisation – it’s the seed that builds a business and contributes to higher profit margins. But what’s the best way to ensure employees remain productive, and happy in their day job?
The answer is simple and highly effective and I choose to sum it up with three short phrases – respect, trust and teamwork.
In partnership with my management team, which consists of about eight staffers across various disciplines, we strive to tick these boxes.
In total we’re ultimately responsible for managing roughly 500 employees.
Five hundred employees across several departments is a mighty job. But with teamwork, good listening skills and the right attitude from the top to filter down, any business can run like a well-oiled machine.
I’d like share with you the essentials for building and maintaining a productive workforce, and these apply to all industries, not just the hospitality sector:
1. What’s your definition of a productive team and how do you achieve that?
We need to keep in mind that productivity is a result, one that CEOs and managing directors strive for with their teams. But what happens beforehand in order to achieve that result determines whether it will be achieved at all, and is equally important. I suggest the following to ensure a productive team:
Define roles and responsibilities: Direction is incredibly important; everyone needs to know exactly where they’re going and how they need to get there, so KPIs are essential.
Often when roles and responsibilities are unclear, things go pear-shaped. I am an advocate for setting clear KPIs, it’s a good way to steer us in the right direction, and in turn helps to grow the business and the individual in his/her role.
Be flexible: Rigid environments are the worst kind, allow your employees some flexibility and the opportunity to be themselves in the workplace. We spend so much of our time at work, we need to be ourselves there.
Celebrate the team: When there are achievements, celebrate them, single out individuals who are excelling and living the company values. This builds morale and is indicative of appreciation, which is fundamental when running and building a business.
2. What has and continues to be your philosophy since managing a large team?
Know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your team’s and leverage off that. Be prepared to learn from others, no one can operate in isolation, regardless of the level on which you operate. Accept criticism and don’t bulldoze someone’s ideas, that’s how you build trust.
3. What in your view are the top characteristics the team look for in a leader?
- Be consistent – inconsistency screams bad leader
- Provide guidance – this is key, don’t turn a blind eye, give input and council
- Listen – always listen intently
- Be impartial – always be fair
- Give credit – it builds morale and shows you recognise good work
- Be patient – Rome wasn’t built in a day, and remember not everyone thinks the same as you do
4. What’s your view on an open door policy and how does it assist with managing a team and ensuring everyone remains productive?
I believe in an open door policy. It’s essential to build and develop trust. I’m the first to admit that it takes a while to build that trust, but once the team (on all levels in all departments) know your door is always open, and that they can trust you implicitly, half the battle has been won.
I host a GM’s roundtable every two months, just to establish how everyone is feeling and where everyone is at. It gives staff the opportunity to bring their challenges to the table, and I deal with them the best I can.
It’s 100 percent confidential and line managers are not allowed to attend. During this meeting we try reach common ground, and I commit to addressing and ultimately solving the problem(s).
Why Purpose Drives Profits
If you want to succeed, it’s time to start engaging where it matters.
Over the past two years, many clients have been extending brand positioning exercises into purpose-driven expressions.
When we look at it, it makes sense given the country’s demographics. With many of our fellow countrymen struggling to make ends meet, brands have stepped in to provide them with a picture of a future worth striving for.
Global customer-centricity study, Insights 2020, led by research firm Kantar Millward Brown, has attempted to understand how brands could drive customer-centric growth as well as the factors that really make a difference. The research surveyed 10 495 individuals in 60 countries, and there are some significant efforts worth investing in if brands want to engage where it matters most, in consumers’ hearts.
The research uncovered that for market-leading companies and brands, traditional value drivers such as quality, packaging, or distribution are necessary, but no longer provide a competitive advantage; most brands are capable of providing these drivers. What is important, are a few critical approaches.
1. Purpose-led brands
The study found that when companies or brands linked to a purpose, 80% of them outperformed the market. Only 32% of non-purpose led brands managed to perform better than the market.
Related: How To Calculate Gross Profit
2. On the ground
It’s important to engage with consumers in their space and on their terms. Through the use of memorable campaigns, experiential events and activations it is critical to engage with consumers on their turf.
3. Be truthful and authentic
Consumers can smell something inauthentic a mile away, especially when it’s coming from a brand. This forces brands to strive for authenticity in everything they do, especially when it comes to marketing. Building values and principle-based attributes into your brand as a guiding tool is essential.
4. Helping consumers commit
By allowing individuals to attach themselves to a brand with a purpose, it helps consumers personally commit to a cause that they consider important. When a consumer is personally invested, the link between the brand and product or service deepens.
5. Balancing heritage and modern relevance
There is a continuous tussle in balancing the traditional market, transitional market and the new consumers brands are trying to attract. Keeping the heritage and roots of the brand true to itself, while creating relevance for the new market, is a battle marketers are still fighting.
Need To Trim The Fat To Boost Profitability? Listen To Your Clients First
Jeff Bezos believed that once you win the client over by doing this, everything else will follow – not least profitability.
Finding the balance between offering the extras that set you apart from your competitors and keeping things ‘lean and mean’ to minimise wastage and maximise return on investment is a tricky balancing act.
I’ve noticed that many businesses try to attract or retain customers by offering what they think their customers want, rather than finding out what they really need, and then delivering that. That’s an expensive mistake to make – and it’s not going to achieve the business results you need.
I’ve also observed that now is the age of the new entrepreneur – the game changers who disrupt the status quo long set by big bureaucratic competitors who think that their customers will just accept an inflationary (or slightly larger) increase every year, just because they always have.
While Amazon has been around for a while now, there’s also an important lesson to be learned from its launch goal, which was to bring the price to the client. Jeff Bezos believed that once you win the client over by doing this, everything else will follow – not least profitability.
How have I applied these lessons in my business?
Firstly, we design our hotels backwards – we focus on the needs of our clients, very aware that what hotel guests wanted years ago is not what they want now. That’s why we don’t offer thing like a turn-down service with chocolates on the pillow. Nobody eats the chocolates, and nobody uses the toiletries – so why should we include the costs of these unwanted extras (and the cost of the staff required to implement them) in the final bill to our clients?
We do, however, offer free WiFi internet connectivity, free parking in our buildings, free laundry services and either bed-and-breakfast options or self-catering rooms.
Simply put, we’ve cut the fat that nobody wants anyway, and added the value that our guests have said they expect.
Our clients have said that they expect the whole hotel to be a workstation, and not just the business centre in a dark, unwanted corner. So, we’ve put a workstation in every room, with always-on access to the internet. Our hotels are designed with beautiful work spaces that cater for nomadic entrepreneurs and double up as comfortable meeting spaces, again – gone are days of boardroom only meetings, our spaces are primed for work and play in one integrated space.
Our clients have pointed out that they’re already paying for their room – so why should they pay for parking?
Many of our clients stay with us for days or weeks at a time, and have said it would be helpful if we did their laundry. So, we do that for them – and we don’t charge them for it.
It’s true that many of our old-school competitors offer a broader range of products and services than we do, but we’ve built a successful business on adding the value that our clients need, removing the costs and extras that annoy them, and keeping costs (theirs as well as ours) under control by cutting out unnecessary frills.
It’s an approach that’s worked for The Capital Hotels and Apartments as a disruptor in the hotel and long-stay accommodation industry, and I’m confident that its principles would apply to any other industry that’s ripe for disruption.
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