Are you listening to what the customer needs?

9 09 2007

I have been involved in a series of meetings with business owners regarding problems in their companies. 

Declining sales and market share due to international competitors, inability to compete or a decline in the entire industry sector are some of the reasons mentioned.

Solutions that were discussed and debated including cutting costs of raw materials, increasing worker efficiency, lowering logistics costs, streamlining the administration and related costs, government intervention and protection, outsourcing and even forming alliances with the international competitors.

What struck me as incredibly odd was that not once were the customer’s needs mentioned.

Not once did anyone mention creating new ideas, products or services for the customer.

There was no discussion of investing in new technology because “things are difficult now”.

There was never a comparison made between the marketing and promotion, branding or image of the competitors versus the company’s marketing, promotion, branding and image.  Why not? 

Every comment or observation focused on lowering production and logistics costs to the customer, never on increasing the benefits to the customer.

All that mattered is “how can I sell at a lower price”.

That’s right.  The entire future of these companies, and in some cases entire industries are focused on how make their products for less.  How to beat the Chinese, Indonesia or Brazil or whatever developing country has access to cheaper raw materials or labor. 

Common sense tells us this is not a viable, long -term solution.

Each of these companies has stated in their publicity, website and in their mission statements that their focus is on the customer and on customer service.  Why aren’t the customer’s needs and future needs part of the search for solutions when sales are declining?

If the customer really truly cares only about price, your product is a commodity. 

If the customer only cares about price, they don’t care about your company’s service, advertising and promotion, attitude or participation in their business.

If you really think that the low price will guarantee the sale, cut out the customer or technical service.  Take away financing.  Take away delivery and logistics.  Forget environmental and worker protection.  Reduce your inventories.   Standardize your prices and order sizes.   Cut down on sales and promotion. 

Call me when your sales skyrocket and the money pours in. 

I suppose it’s normal when sales fall, to attack costs, and costs are a fundamental element in being competitive in certain goods and services.

It is not the only element.  It may not even be the most important one for your customer. 

It probably is the easiest area to change quickly, and requires no investment.  People like easy solutions that don’t require investment. 

The relationship with your customer, the ability to meet their needs with your product or service and allow them to make a profit is what makes business click.

How well do you know your customer? 

What problems are they facing?

Is your contribution to their product important, significant or fundamental in their success?

Do they see you as simply a supplier of a commodity or an integral part of their supply chain and future?

Have you explored how you can work with them to make them more competitive?

Once this has been accomplished, bring the results to the boardroom and start the discussion of how to aid declining sales and deteriorating margin.

Don’t stop with the easy solutions.

Look for the difficult solutions, the ones that require compromise and long-term commitment.

Look for solutions that require investment of resources; time, money, and ideas. 

These are the solutions that the competitor focused on cost is not interested in. 

These are the solutions that will provide confidence and mutual opportunities for growth.

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Stop worrying and start thinking

29 05 2007

 How much time is scheduled for thinking in your normal business day?

Do you have a regular time when you take the phone off the hook, avoid interruptions and think about business situations and problems or create plans?

Do you often worry about past, present and future business decisions?

This quotation from Harold B. Walker Think or Worry
might provide some motivation for you to include some time for reflection and thinking into your workday.

“Thinking works its way through problems to conclusions and decisions, worry leaves you in a state of tensely suspended animation” (H.B. Walker)

Get the subject out in the open, describe it, observe it, analyze it, understand it.

Think about it.

Create solutions or action plans to deal with the reality and stop worrying about it.

“You can think about your problems or you can worry about them and there is a vast difference between the two.” (H.B. Walker)

Related Links

Can’t make a decision

Think or Worry 

Putting change into perspective   





Can’t make a decision?

23 05 2007

 There are times our decision-making is stalled due to fear of making the wrong decision.

Next time you’re in that indecisive state of mind, answer these questions and see if it pushes any buttons to move the process forward.

  1. What is the “best case”desired outcome?  Will your decision move you toward that outcome?
  2. What is an “acceptable” outcome?
  3. What is the worst thing that could possible happen if you make the “wrong” decision?  Can you accept this?
  4. Is your decision reversible?
  5. Will a wrong decision destroy value, confidence or trust of anyone involved?
  6. Do you have enough information to make the decision?
  7. Do you have too much information?
  8. Who knows more about this subject than you….what are their recommendations?
  9. Are you the right person to be making this decision?
  10. Will avoiding making a decision now make the situation better, worse or have no effect?
  11. Does the decision provide a short term fix or will it solve the problem permanently (long term)?

Related Links

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

Why don’t they?

9 steps to better decisions





Don’t find a solution, find a way to make it better

12 03 2007

We make a large error in our business and personal lives if we believe that every problem or situation can be solved immediately or in the short term through our decisions and application of resources.

Theoretically it’s possible, but our focus on solution instead of optimizing and making changes to make it better can blindfold us toward evolutionary processes that in the long term provide better, stronger and long lasting solutions.

I’m suggesting that every situation should be initially evaluated based on two basic criteria; can it be solved now, or can it be improved now.

The situations that can be solved now or in the short term, should be. The organization should dedicate the time and resources toward the solution.

An example would be a delivery service that has 3 trucks and cannot cover the current delivery area on-time due to an increase in customers and package volume. A possible swift solution would be the purchase of another vehicle and hiring of a new driver.

A situation that cannot be solved now or ever should be approached by identifying areas where improvement should be made. The time and resources of the company should be focused upon the improvement.

An example would be government’s attempt to eliminate poverty or disease from a population. A perfect solution is not possible or practical, but by focusing on specific areas one can find great opportunities for success or enormous impact (vaccinations for children against polio).

When we look at every situation as a problem that needs to be solved right now we may be missing the best solutions and strategies required to resolve the situation over the long term. Ask yourself:

  • Can we solve the problem quickly and efficiently with simply modification of variables or a shift in technology? If the answer is yes, then set the process and resources in motion.
  • What if the problem is not able to be solved quickly or has no practical or economically viable solution? This is where the approach of resolving and modifying parts of the problem comes into play.

This evolutionary approach to problem solving is not often requested or expected in business (the quick fix is always applauded and sought after), but often the best long term strategy is optimization and gradual modification.

This evolutionary problem solving process will provide new opportunities for change and solutions to be developed in the future.The identification of areas, processes or resources that are the bottlenecks in your organization become areas of opportunity.

Modifying and improving these bottlenecks will automatically create new bottlenecks, in new areas. The focus on identifying and solving these “new” situations leads to a process of continual improvement and a better, stronger organization.

This is one of the fundamental ideas behind the Theory of Constraints (TOC).

Common sense tells us that in a complex world not all solutions are simple, quick or painless. The “quick fix” is a great idea, but not often found in everyday life.

Observation of science, technology, philosophy and business ideas and strategies show us that change occurs through the rare revolution (paradigm shifts and new discoveries) and through the more common evolution (gradual modifications leading to continual change.

What can be changed, fixed or modified today to make the organization, process, product or service incrementally better?

Related Links

Why don’t they?

Starting over

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

AGI Institute – Theory of Constraints

Evolution (Disambiguation)





The point of no return

18 01 2007

The hardest part of decision making is passing the “point of no return“.

While the situation is being analyzed we’re safe.

Wacky, imaginative and wild solutions can be discussed and their impact and effect weighed and discussed. But it’s theoretical, it’s safe.

The minute we have to make the decision, take responsibility for the action and outcome, then we enter into scary territory.

The key to decision making is to get the momentum, confidence, courage and motivation in order to pass the point of no return.

I’m not saying that your decision will always be correct. But what is important is to make a decision and not spend hours, days and weeks agonized and postponing the process and decision.

Picture yourself on a diving board. High above the water. It’s scary to think that you may not perform the dive perfectly. A belly flop would be embarrassing and painful.

There are three options available.

  1. Stay where you are, agonizing over the decision to jump.
  2. Go back down the ladder, let someone else jump.
  3. Jump.  Leave the diving board, cross the point of no return, make the dive.

When we are sure of our abilities and understanding due to good research and experience, we have confidence.

When we are not afraid of making a mistake, we have courage.

When we know the decision is important and necessary in order to keep things moving and get on with other activities, then we are motivated.

Focus on the task and problem, create the solutions and make the decisions on time.

Push yourself to pass the point of no return quickly and with confidence.

Jump.

Related Links

Why do we fail

Motivation – Heroic Moments

Decision-making, how they used to do it 400 BC

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making





Frustration

17 01 2007

Frustration can cause bizarre behavior and out of proportion reactions.

When we are frustrated we get angry or apathetic. Our responses become magnified or diminished.

The perfect example of how strange we can react when frustrated is reflected in the “mosquito in bed” scenario.

We lie in bed just dozing off. We have a planned a perfect long nights uninterrupted sleep.

Then the thin piercing buzzing begins, seemingly inside one of our ears. A mosquito.

A quick pass of our hand seems to frighten away the mosquito, and we close our eyes again and drift toward dreamland.

Again the mosquito appears. Exactly in front of our ear. This time we move quickly and with more vigor in order to squash the tiny insect before it can fly away.

This happens several more times.

By now we are angry, frustrated and bent on killing that bug.

Each time we slap at the mosquito we are increasing our velocity and the force behind each swing.

By the 6th or 7th swat all we are really accomplishing is increasing our frustration level and repeatedly hitting ourselves about the head harder and harder.

The apathetic approach calls for us to cover our entire head with the covers and pillow.

This successfully prevents the mosquito from entering our ears and has the added benefit of increasing our body temperature and reducing the oxygen level, eliminating every possibility of breathing normally.

After 10 minutes we throw back the covers gasping for breath, sweating at the temples and find our nemesis in our ear again.

We don’t stop, sit up and turn on the light and track down the tiny bug in a well lighted room. No, our frustration has driven us to absurd behavior, boxing our own ears or suffocating ourselves in the attempt to eliminate a tiny problem from our lives.

Now think about your day at work.

Can you identify your “mosquito” that’s preventing you from fulfilling your real mission?

What the best, most efficient way to find and eliminate your “mosquito”?

Related Links

Starting Over





Starting over

9 01 2007

Ever get involved in a project that requires modifications, and then those modifications led to more modifications and more and more?

Before you know it, the project has lost sight of it’s objectives, and the team is working on solving problems unrelated to the original goals.

I’m reminded of Rube Goldberg and his famous machines. We don’t intentionally try to complicate our work, but if we step back and look at the objectives, and the current processes and procedure in order to reach those objectives, we can often find distortions and diversions of comical proportions.

There are two simple actions that will eliminate and control our spiral into complexity and error.

  1. Step back and look at the problem, objectives and current procedures on a regular basis. What is working, what isn’t working, and why? What are you doing to modify or adjust the solution procedure or process instead of moving closer to a solution?
  2. When you discover that something is not working, and have analyzed why, don’t be afraid to START OVER. Throw out the current plan, and begin again.

We tend to avoid re-doing and restarting a project or activity because we want to salvage the time, money and effort that has been invested.

This inability to “do over” and start from scratch often prevents us from implementing better and more efficient solutions.

Our initial attempts to solve the problem have educated us about the requirements and environment. There is nothing wrong with starting over, in fact it may be the best and most efficient way to solve the problem.

Related Links

12 reasons why we ask for business help

Analyze and plan using 7 simple questions

How to systematically analyze any situation for better decision making

9 steps to better decisions

Rube Goldberg Website