The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Thursday, October 15, 2009
Volume 15 | # 346
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In three years, every product my company makes will be obsolete. The only question is whether we will make them obsolete or somebody else will. » Bill Gates

Lost in a Crowd

An experience in a retailing colossus had me chuckling last week. I had a busy Friday ahead of me, and I was on chauffeur duty to boot. After dropping off the kids at school, I planned to quickly run into that retailer to pick up last minute items for a weekend camping trip with my son’s scout troop.

I appreciate how much quieter stores are before 8:00 AM. Heck, I even found a parking spot within a 9-iron of the front door. There were more store employees stocking shelves and mulling about than there were customers. I’m guessing that the store knows this is a good time to conduct certain trainings with employees.

It was one of those roaming “training tribes” that got me chuckling. There was a guy in a tie, walking around pointing and commenting on various departments. He was surrounded by 8 employees. They reminded me of a mother duck with ducklings following. He would point and comment and they’d nod and smile. Then, he’d walk off and they’d dutifully follow closely behind until they stopped in a semi-circle somewhere else.

The reason I was able to observe these folks as much as I did is that I was having a devil of a time finding a grocery item that the retailer had moved from its old area. I walked by, around, and through that training group at least three times. It didn’t take a body language expert to see that I was obviously doubling-back and doubling-back again (tripling-back?) trying to find an item.

I became interested in seeing if anyone would offer me help. No one did, even though I know the “leader” noticed me. I could hear him expounding about merchandising and proper shelf displays while I strained my eyes looking down aisles.

I fought-off the urge to walk up and suggest to that manager/trainer that the best-merchandised department in the world doesn’t make as strong or as lasting an impression as providing personal attention and assistance to a customer. But instead, I just chuckled and went along my merry way.

If actions speak louder than words, that manager/trainer communicated plenty about who employees should pay the most attention to.

And it wasn’t me.

Never let your team forget that the “highest ranking” folks in and around your buildings are the ones not being paid to be there. They’re known as customers.

A Chili Reception

A recent headline caught my eye and made me smile. It stated, “Chili’s Revives ‘Baby Back’ Jingle.” It’s a sign of a catchy jingle and the power of repetition that the “I want my baby-back baby-back baby-back ribs” ditty immediately became stuck in my head – pretty much like it’s in yours now.

When I then read the column by Julie Jargon, I was struck by the similarities of the challenges a restaurant chain is facing and what many banks face today, as well. For instance, after a 5-year, 400-restaurant building spree, the company will build no new restaurants this fiscal year.

Suddenly, the build-it-and-they-will-come strategy hit a wall. No longer can they count on each new location generating a predictable, sustainable amount of business to justify expansion. They are now focused on – wait for it - improving the customer experiences in existing restaurants in order to improve sales.

And, hey, I’m not being critical of Chili’s. Heck, I admire the fact that they are being open about the challenges they face and the ways they plan to improve their operations. For instance, they are refocusing on a few of their longtime best-selling items and making what they hope to be even more differentiating improvements to them.

They’ve also made a commitment that their customers will be quickly greeted by an eye-contact-making employee with an upbeat “Welcome to Chili’s” upon entering the restaurant. Managers are being encouraged to walk the floors of their restaurants and notice when folks haven’t finished their meals. If so, they’re to inquire if everything was to their liking.

Chili’s has found that being proactive and addressing a problem before a customer leaves is a big driver of loyalty and return business.

Sure, our operating environments are a bit different. (Most of us do not offer an appetizer menu or drink specials.) But I’d suggest that the refocused strategies of this national restaurant chain are pretty appropriate for us as well.

Identifying the services your organization already does well and committing to making them even better can create appreciable differentiation with the competition.

And focusing on improving personal greetings, increasing manager floor time, and improving problem resolution makes as much sense on our menu as theirs. Take a minute today to think of what improvements you can cook up this week.

Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex, intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple, stupid behavior. » Dee Hock

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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