Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Law of Continuous Improvement

I just got back home from the office a few minutes ago. I am sitting down on a chair going though an old album of mine. It contains several pictures I took while in school (Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Nigeria). 8 years ago, these were my best pictures. The suits and ties I wore in those pictures were my very best. If I wear the same suit and tie today, several of my friends and colleagues will surely have a good laugh! Even now, I am smiling all by myself! In all honesty, I have improved! Things have changed drastically.

If you use yesterday’s ideas to do business today, you won’t be in business tomorrow

I am reminded of a quote I heard at about the time frame I was talking about. Is says “If you use yesterday’s ideas to do business today, you won’t be in business tomorrow”. What a powerful statement. It is expedient for each and everyone to improve continuously in order to be able to succeed in the 21st century. No one achieves excellence in life and in business without a strong commitment for continuous improvement. Infact, the more you improve yourself, your systems and your processes, the better the results you get.

I learnt a vital lesson this week. I was in a training that raised my curiosity about the history of Olympic long jumpers. I have since done a research and what I found out is interesting. Permit me to share it with you.

The high jump is an athletics (track and field) event in which competitors must jump over a horizontal bar placed at measured heights without aid of any devices. It has been contested since the Olympic Games of ancient Greece. Over the centuries since, competitors have introduced increasingly more effective techniques to arrive at the current form.

The earliest technique used by high jumpers was the scissors jump. With this method, a record height of 1.68m was jumped. It took the introduction of another jump technique, the eastern cut off, to be able to break this record. With the eastern cut off technique, American M.F Sweeney raised the world record to 1.97m in 1895. Another American, M.F Horine had to develop another more efficient technique, called the western roll, to increase the world standard to 2.01m in 1912. His technique predominated through the Berlin Olympics of 1936, in which the event was won by Cornelius Johnson at 2.03 m (6' 8"). American wunderkind John Thomas pushed the world mark to 2.23 m using the straddle technique, an improvement of all former techniques. Straddle jumpers took off as in the Western roll, but rotated their (belly-down) torso around the bar, obtaining the most economical clearance to date. Straddle-jumper Charles Dumas broke the elusive 7' (2.13 m) barrier in 1960. Other great jumpers followed suit with record around 2.13m and 2.28m.

It wasn’t until the 1968 Olympics that Dick Fosbury, who used an improved technique, called the Fosbury flop, beat the world record again. Taking advantage of the raised, softer landing areas by then in use, Fosbury added a new twist to the outmoded Eastern Cut-off. He directed himself over the bar head and shoulders first sliding over on his back and landing in a fashion which would likely have broken his neck in the old sawdust landing pits. After he used this Fosbury flop to win the 1968 Olympic gold medal, the technique began to spread around the world, and soon floppers were dominating international high jump competitions.

What is the greatest learning in this study? It’s quite simple. In order to move to the next level of results, you need to continuously improve your techniques, methods, processes or even yourself. Do you hope to make waves in this world? Do you hope to smash some records? If you do, then, you need to commit yourself to continuous improvements.

In order to move to the next level of results, you need to continuously improve your techniques, methods, processes or even yourself.

I have attempted to explain the need for continuous improvement in this piece. In my next post, I will share my ideas on the tools necessary to improve on a continuous basis – either as an individual, as a team, as a company, or even as a nation.

Till then, see you at the top of the topmost top.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Customer Service Magic

A few days ago, I was in a Mall to buy a camcorder for family use. I had been told that I will get the specification I needed at an affordable price somewhere in this Mall. The Mall had several electronic shops with about the same price for all items. I got into one and started looking around. No one attended to me personally. No one took notice of me. Every of the staff went about their normal business. I asked a few question about a particular brand I love and got mono syllabic answers. Predictably, I didn’t buy anything from them.

I went in to another store close by…infact right beside the 1st one. The difference was astonishing. I was warmly greeted by a staff. He asked me what I wanted to buy and gave me a small lecture on what to look out for. When I was considering buying a particular one (just because of the brand name), he explained to me, and demonstrated to me why he thinks I won’t like it. He suggested another brand that had about the same features, was cheaper and had better handling. He then proceeded to convince me that I was buying the best camcorder of the year in that category. He brought out a magazine that showed the award for this brand and then went ahead to do a demo recording for me with this camcorder! Did I buy it? Of course yes! In no time, I was counting the money at the cashier’s!

What made the difference between both stores? Definitely not the price. Not the size of the store. Not the name. It is called Customer Service. This is what is lacking in most organizations and companies that keep them small…especially in developing countries.

World class organizations have since discovered the value of service to their customers. Improving customer service is one of the top five anguishes for CEO's today. The creation of memorable, positive customer service - service so good, so unique, so different, that it takes the customer by surprise and leaves him with a smile on his face and a story to tell- is in high demand in organizations today.

Let’s consider a few customer service tips that will give you and your company a competitive advantage.

Identify and anticipate needs.

Customers don't buy products or services. They buy good feelings and solutions to problems. Most customer needs are emotional rather than logical. The more you know your customers, the better you become at anticipating their needs. Communicate regularly so that you are aware of problems or upcoming needs.

Make customers feel important and appreciated.

Treat them as individuals. Always use their name and find ways to compliment them, but be sincere. People value sincerity. It creates good feeling and trust. Think about ways to generate good feelings about doing business with you. Customers are very sensitive and know whether or not you really care about them. Thank them every time you get a chance.

Give more than expected.

Since the future of all companies lies in keeping customers happy, think of ways to elevate yourself above the competition. Consider the following: What can you give customers that they cannot get elsewhere? What can you do to follow-up and thank people even when they don't buy? What can you give a customer that is totally unexpected?

Know how to apologize.

When something goes wrong, apologize. It's easy and customers like it. The customer may not always be right, but the customer must always win. Deal with problems immediately and let customers know what you have done. Make it simple for customers to complain. Value their complaints. As much as we dislike it, it gives us an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable.

Be a good listener.

Take the time to identify customer needs by asking questions and concentrating on what the customer is really saying. Listen to their words, tone of voice, body language, and most importantly, how they feel. Beware of making assumptions - thinking you intuitively know what the customer wants.

Get regular feedback.

Encourage and welcome suggestions about how you could improve. There are several ways in which you can find out what customers think and feel about your services.
Listen carefully to what they say. Check back regularly to see how things are going.
Provide a method that invites constructive criticism, comments and suggestions.

Treat employees well.

Employees are your internal customers and need a regular dose of appreciation. Thank them and find ways to let them know how important they are. Treat your employees with respect and chances are they will have a higher regard for customers. Appreciation stems from the top. Treating customers and employees well is equally important.

You are in business to service customer needs, and you can only do that if you know what it is your customers want. When you truly listen to your customers, they let you know what they want and how you can provide good service. Never forget that the customer pays our salary and makes your job possible.
You are destined for the top of the topmost top! See you there!!