Category Operations

Boost Company Success with Performance Measures

lores_project_plan_chart_progress_milestone_strategy_amIf you own a small business, you might consider incorporating performance measures to help it grow and become more successful.

Performance measures comprise aspects of your business that answer a basic question: “What key procedures or operations need to change to ensure our company’s continued success?”

Walmart is a good example of effectively using performance measurements. The company determined that to be competitive it had to streamline purchasing, lower costs and maintain top notch customer service.

The company started using satellite transmission technology to purchase directly from suppliers. That reduced purchasing costs and allowed Walmart to hold just enough inventory to serve its customers’ needs regularly without the cost of maintaining excess stock.

The company also created and hired the famous “people greeters” who welcomed customers as they walked into the stores. The tactics worked — the company successfully trimmed costs and improved customer satisfaction.

Take some time to review the processes that are critical to the success and continued operation of your business. Assess where your business operations can be improved. Most performance measures fall into one or more of the following categories:

Effectiveness: How well does the product conform to company and customer requirements?

Efficiency: How well does a process produce the required output at a minimal resource cost?

Quality: How well does a product or service meet customer needs and expectations?

Timeliness: Are units of work done properly and on time? You will need to define timeliness for discrete units of work, typically based on customer needs.

Safety: How do you rank the overall health of the organization and the working environment of its employees?

You may need to develop additional or different categories depending on the industry your business operates in and its mission.

While this may sound complicated, the process starts out quite simply with these two steps:

  • Review and evaluate how your business is functioning. As the owner you may be too close to the company to be objective about its strengths and weaknesses, so consider consulting with employees and customers for a more objective and accurate assessment.
  • Develop a clear vision of where you want the company to go. Part of this is determining whether you want a company that can simply provide you with a good standard of living in retirement or one you can pass on to your heirs who can expand the business and help it keep up with changing customer needs.

Write down your observations. Many managers understand the direction the company should take but never take the time to record it. Documenting the vision clarifies what the business is for both the employees and the customers. A good company vision can be explained in one sentence. Beauty products company Avon, for example, states it this way: “To be the company that best understands and satisfies the product, service and self-fulfillment needs of women – globally.”

Being aware of the gaps between what the company is now and what you want it to be in the future is critical to determine what actions you need to take. The processes you need to focus on could range from sales through production, but you must know what they are before you can work on closing the gaps between current operations and the future you hope for.

Most successful companies use performance measurements to stay on track and meet their visions and goals. Consult with your managers and advisers to help you measure and monitor key processes and areas at your company.

Restrict Cell Phone Use and Texting While Driving

lores_cell_phone_car_drive_talk_mbIn this wireless age, some people tend to consider driving time as a business opportunity. So using cell phones to call or send text messages is just another way to help boost productivity and swell the bottom line.

And even more ways of being mobile and productive are on the way. Automakers are planning to include more in-dash computers and communications technology that can be accessed with drivers’ fingertips.

But beneath the convenience is an expensive potential liability. Some companies have inserted clauses in their employee handbooks stating that staff members are only allowed to conduct business while using a hands-free cell phone. But that may not be enough.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada has noted that studies show drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a collision while talking on a cell phone. The bureau also noted that in addition to talking on the phone, too many drivers are distracted as they multitask while commuting. The distractions include eating, playing with the CD changer or MP3 player and even reading the newspaper.

Studies have found that hands-free phones are not safer than hand-held devices. Some researchers have found that all types of phone conversations are so distracting that the driver’s mind just isn’t on the road. Other studies have shown that 73 per cent of all cell phone users sometimes talk on their phones while driving, and 19 per cent send text messages.

A Transport Canada study found that drivers performing certain tasks spend more time looking centrally and less time looking to the right. They spend less time checking instruments, and as driving tasks demand more concentration, drivers change inspection patterns and do more hard brake work. The drivers studied were equally distracted whether they used a hand-held phone or a hands-free headset.

Simply put: Phone conversations — particularly about business — can be demanding and stressful enough to keep drivers’ minds off the road.

All of this has led some Canadian companies, including Imperial Oil Ltd. and ExxonMobil Canada, to adopt policies banning employees from making cell phone calls while driving on company business.

Other companies have put restrictions on cell phones, limiting them to hands-free only phones while driving. But that may not be enough.

That’s a start, but there are other steps your company can take to encourage safety and limit liability. Consider adding these factors to a written policy on cell phone use:

  • Issue regular bulletins to your entire staff telling them to use common sense when calling someone on a cell phone.
  • Place a sticker on company-owned cell phones warning that using the phone while driving is dangerous and should only be done in an emergency.
  • Notify all employees that any violation of the company’s cell-phone policy will bring disciplinary action — including termination of employment.
  • Be sure all employees sign your policies to indicate they have read and understand them. Let your staff know the safety issues and laws involving cell phone use.

The provinces have started to tackle the issue. So far, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador have laws  banning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Those laws do not, however, affect the use of hands-free devices. Cell-phone laws also tend to ban texting while driving as well as using hand-held entertainment devices, although it is generally legal to use an MP3 player plugged into a vehicle’s sound system.

But even where there is no specific provincial legislation, a driver who causes a collision by using a cellular phone or who is observed driving unsafely while using the device could be charged under a number of other provincial, territorial or federal laws including, those related to dangerous driving, careless driving and criminal negligence causing death or injury.

Moreover, it might be possible for your company to be sued for vicarious liability associated with accidents involving cell phone use by employees while performing their job duties

Your company may benefit when employees conduct business while they’re in traffic, but you must balance the extra productivity against potential liability and safety.

Fed Up Customers Can Hurt Profits

Sometimes It Only Takes A Smile and a Friendly Word

wait_line_restaurant

Businesses can’t afford to underestimate the influence customer service has on their bottom line. One nearly certain way to lose customers is to make them wait too long.

Breaking Point

   One survey by Maritz Research asked how long individuals thought was an acceptable wait time at  specific types of organizations. Respondents gave the following average times:

  • Doctor – 81 minutes;
  • Public transit – 22 minutes;
  • Grocery store – 15 minutes;
  • Department store – 6 minutes;
  • Fast food restaurant – 6 minutes;
  • Convenience store – 3 minutes;
  • Bank – 6 minutes.

The following percentages of customers left specific businesses after what they considered an unacceptably long wait:

  • Department store, 78 per cent;
  • Public transit, 64 per cent;
  • Fast food restaurant, 58 per cent;
  • Convenience store, 54 per cent;
  • Medical facility, 50 per cent, and
  • Grocery store, 40 per cent.

Customers indicated there are some simple ways to keep them relatively happy while waiting, such as:

  • An apology for the delay, 82 per cent;
  • A greeting with a smile, 74 per cent, and
  • Updates on their status, 67 per cent.

Polls have shown that more than 80 per cent of customers have left a business because of long waits. The amount of time a customer has to wait is a primary driver of customer satisfaction and should be at the top of your business’s list when it assesses how it can better serve consumers.

One survey also showed that bad customer experiences tend to have a ripple effect where customers who perceive negative service are not only less likely to spend money at that business again, but they are also more likely to tell others about their experience.

In a time where shopping research takes place online and people are engaged in social networks to share and collect ideas, businesses risk losing potential customers before they ever set foot in a  store or office.

Knowing that customer service is one of the best routes to a healthy bottom line, here is a management checklist that will help improve your enterprise’s customer-satisfaction ratings:

1. Require executives to personally and regularly serve customers.

By dealing with the public, executives cement relationships with customers or clients and let employees know that service is honorable and rewarding as well as the focus of corporate energy.

2. Survey customers and give immediate feedback.

A customer satisfaction survey can establish performance benchmarks, build relationships, identify customers your business risks losing and can be a catalyst for enhancing overall satisfaction. Surveys should be short, taking no longer than 10 minutes to complete. Ask concise rather than open ended questions and mix topics to force continual thinking about different subjects.

When you get enough results and spot trends, let your employees know. Moreover, be sure staff quickly  hear comments about problems or positive results. This lets them make the connection between their behaviour and customer attitudes toward the company. A quick response to customers shows them that your organization cares and rewards them for taking the time to speak up.

3. Hire people who have a service attitude.

Some people simply enjoy serving others and that urge dominates their personalities. These individuals make the best salespeople, present a good image for your business and help your enterprise grow.

4. Cultivate service heroes.

Your company’s staff and management meetings should regularly feature examples of outstanding customer service. Public praise creates heroes and encourages excellence. Give employees the power to do whatever has to be done to make a customer’s experience pleasant. There will be occasional failures but those are opportunities to find new strategies. When employees deliver the goods, reward them. One way is to link compensation to employee contributions. Companies that do not reward innovation are not likely to be encouraging outstanding service.

5. Devote as much time to service training as you do to technical and procedural training.

Getting it right technically doesn’t count if the customers feel they haven’t received a commitment to a continued relationship. If customers feel they received poor service then they did receive poor service. Your employees represent you, your company, and your brand. Working with customers is the most important thing they will do. Give them the tools by giving them sufficient training. Never let an untrained employee have customer contact.

6. Make customers your only concern.

Let them think you have all the time in the world — even when you don’t. A relaxed tone of voice and patience go a long way toward keeping them happy, even when they don’t get what they want. Take their complaints seriously — they don’t care if you’ve heard the problem before, they want your complete attention. Studies have shown that as many as 90 per cent of customers whose complaints are resolved will purchase again.

7. Keep raising the bar.

Successful organizations continually raise the bar. If your entire enterprise isn’t pushing to do better today you risk being left behind. Create an atmosphere of excellence at your enterprise by spreading the word that everything your company and its employees do must be the best and that you won’t accept less.

8. Comparison shop.

Visit the competition, see what they are doing and then do it better or differently. Customers have more than one choice, so stay ahead of the curve by asking how you can add value to their experience. When you are a customer, get involved with clerks and service attendants.

9. Keep employees up to date.

Let staff know what new products have been ordered, when they will arrive, what kind of advertising promotions you plan and what business changes you may be planning. The more your employees know, the better then can serve the customers or clients.

10. Stay positive.

When a problem or question arises with a customer, say you will try to resolve it rather than that you can’t do anything about it. If a customer demands something that is against company policy, explain the situation but then offer to help come up with an alternative solution.

Final Thought: Always say thank you. A good rule of thumb is to end every interaction with a word or two showing appreciation. Even when customers complain, you can thank them for bringing the problem to your attention.