If you’ve been following my 6 Pillars to Business Success Series, you’ll know that the first two pillars require you to have a product that matches a need in the market and is unique enough to carve a niche in that market and you need think about and plan for a business model that will enable you to scale and grow beyond the early days of dependency on you.
The third pillar is about ‘delivery’ – the systems and processes you have in place to ensure you can consistently deliver on the promise of your product again and again.
Delivery of expectation
Delivery is really about expectation. When you market your product and service well (we’ll get to the sales and marketing in the next blog), you create an expectation in the minds of your customer. This expectation carries across a number of areas:
Quality and consistency of product
Customers have an idea of what it is they are going to receive and an expectation of the quality they will experience – not just the first time they buy from you, but every time they buy from you. So your company’s ability to deliver a quality experience every single time is critical. As you grow, you have to be able to keep up the quality, regardless of size and quantity.
Quality and consistency of service
Your customers will also have an expectation of the level of service they receive – which will be bench marked against your previous service levels (you are expected to keep these up as you grow) and also against their experience with other providers. Each industry will have a standards benchmark that the market expects all players to deliver on. In an ideal world, you’ll know what this is and ensure your company delivers better service than your competitors – each and every time.
Efficiency and timeliness
How well and how timely you are on the delivery of their expectation is also a critical factor. You can have the best solution in the world but if it doesn’t arrive in time to meet your customer’s need, they won’t be happy with it.
A quick example – I ordered a mermaid blanket (yes really) online for my daughter as a Christmas santa present. It was a US based site, and international delivery was within 3 weeks. This was early November. There was plenty of time for it to arrive by Christmas. By early December it still hadn’t arrived. When I emailed, I was sent a link to a parcel tracking site. This was all in Chinese so I couldn’t make any sense of it. Further emails got no reply. A week out from Christmas it still hadn’t arrived, so I found another mermaid blanket on a NZ gift site, with guaranteed delivery before Christmas. This one arrived within 2 days of ordering. Then the original one arrived too – a few days before Christmas.
My daughter was thrilled to get two mermaid blankets from Santa. I was not so delighted. The original company continues to market to me, as I’m clearly now on their database. But I will never buy from them again. They had the superior blanket quality wise, but they let me down on the timeliness of delivery, and also their lack of reply to my emails and their lack of concern about their tracking information being in Chinese. They hadn’t set their distribution systems up well enough to match their delivery promise, they oversold and under delivered to me and many others I’m sure.
A key thing to consider about delivery is how efficiently your company can continually meet the expectations of your customers. As you grow it gets harder and harder to keep up the quality and control the costs involved to do this. You have to hire more people and invest in more infrastructure. Your costs go up and before you know it, your income is growing but your profits are shrinking.
So how do you grow and continue to deliver on customer expectations?
The answer to that question lies with these 3 things: systems, team, training.
You must have systems for everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. From how a customer is greeted when they first contact you or how the floor of the warehouse is cleaned to how your product is packaged, to how it is disbributed, how you present, how you communicate, how you deal with a complaint, how you do anything at all.
According to the online Business Dictionary, a system is defined as:
A set of detailed methods, procedures and routines created to carry out a specific activity, perform a duty, or solve a problem.
Systems will set you free. And simply cannot be avoided.
To create a system, first prove that a process works (by trialling it for a while), then document it thoroughly step by step, and then ensure everyone in your company knows how to follow the process. One of my fellow mentors and author Mike Brunel, tells the story of how he started what became a $300 million company by following his business partner around with a dictaphone and then wrote up everything he did – this created a system they were able to sell to others all over the world. In their case, the system became the product because they found a way to do something better than anyone in their industry.
Put all of your systems into one ‘manual’ – which can be all stored online or delivered as a lovely glossy ‘welcome’ piece when new team members join. Let this become your manifesto … the ‘how we do things here’ guide to consistent delivery for your company.
Important note: Two of the areas you need systems for – to ensure you can afford to grow – are your sales and marketing, and your financial reporting. We talk more of these in future blogs in the series, but for now, be sure to build systems that enable you to plan your team and infrastructure growth alongside your sales growth – plan to have enough income/capital to be build your delivery systems and have regular financial reporting built into your rituals.
You cannot grow without a team. You need people to deliver on the expectations of your promise to market. And you need them to know what to do, how to do it, when to do it and how important it is to do it this way every time. When you start hiring people, you will have to let go of doing everything yourself. You will have to trust others to do the work for you, but of course you’ll feel a lot happier about this if you know they are doing it the way you (and your customers) expect it done. So give them great systems to follow, and minimise the chances of them getting it wrong. Your systems will enable consistency, and will also enable your culture to survive as you grow. Your systems manual can include information on your rituals, meetings you have (and why you have them), values and vision for the company. The how and why of everything … this makes up your culture, and you should only hire people you think will enjoy being in a place that does things this way.
Another quick example: I go to a gym class at 6am three days a week. I get there at 5.30am and there is always a smiling face to greet me, which I appreciate even though I’m still half asleep. As soon as I scan my card to get in, they look at the screen and know two things – my name and the class I’m here for. They greet me by name and hand me my wrist band for my class without me having to say a thing (I do tend to grunt at that time of the morning). Then when I leave an hour later, no matter who is on reception, they always say ‘goodbye’ or ‘see you later’ as I scan my way out again. Always. This is systemised delivery of experience that every single team member knows about, and it makes me feel good about my gym.
A business system is only as good as the people who follow it. So make sure to devote enough resources to training your team to deliver on expectations. If they don’t know how you want things done, they’ll do things the way they think they should be done. Train your team to know the company values and the expectations it has around delivery across all aspects of the business. Let them know why these things are important and then … and this is important… give them the freedom to follow the systems without micromanagement from you!
Conduct a ‘delivery audit’ of your business. Firstly consider all of the critical customer touch-points and the expectations they have of what and how you are going to delivery on your promise to them. Make a list of the key areas where you need systems in place to ensure you can meet those expectations. Then start creating systems to ensure consistent delivery across each area. You can get your team to help with this… the best person to create a system is the person who is currently doing that job well already.
PS. For more thoughts on how to make your business more valuable, feel free to download this free booklet, based on my interviews with successful entrepreneurs