We have been enjoying our first few weeks in our new office in Bellevue and one of the perks of moving to the new area is we have a fresh selection of places to satisfy our hunger pangs when lunch time rolls around.  This past week a few of us walked to a local sandwich shop with a limited but delicious menu to grab a quick lunch.  We arrived a few minutes before noon and got a table before the lunch time rush.

We placed our orders for a sandwich and ice tea and it did not take long for the waitress to come back and inform us they had not finished making their ice tea yet so it would be a while before our drinks arrived.  A few minutes after that she returned to our table to inform us that the type of bread that we had ordered had not finished baking yet so it would delay our food at least 10 additional minutes if we wanted to stay with that option.

As consumers it seemed incredulous that a restaurant that specialized in sandwiches that come on only 2 types of bread and has a limited drink menu would not have an ample supply of ice tea and bread prepared well in advance of the hour of the day when they do the majority of their business.  However, as business consultants we see many times where a business is so focused on other things they neglect the basics of what they do.

This problem tends to occur when a business goes to long without taking a look at themselves through the eyes of their customers.  As you can imagine the process of relocating to a new office that we remodeled has required a significant amount of effort by some of the members of our staff.  This required us to deal with vendors that we don’t deal with on an ongoing basis and it was amazing how difficult some of them made it to do business with them.

If your business sells directly to consumers when is the last time you hired mystery shoppers to frequent your shop and give you honest feedback?  Do you have a method for following up with your key customers and at least a random selection of non-key customers to solicit honest feedback about how their experience was with your company?

Rather than report a bad experience most customers will just go away and not return rather than report that to you.  This is why it is important to have a system to not only proactively seek honest feedback from your customers but to also compile and evaluate this information on an ongoing basis.

There is a lot of focus today on business process improvement and when you improve your processes that requires change.  It is important that you look at those changes and how they will affect your customers.  Some great questions to ask yourself when looking at a new process are:

  1.  Will customers have to wait longer?
  2. Will customers have to spend any of their time or money as part of our approach to fixing problems that we caused?
  3. Will customers feel confused or frustrated by the hoops we want them to jump through to access our products or services?
  4. Will it be hard for customers to quickly get help from us when our processes confuse, frustrate or fail them?

We left the restaurant that day without finding the owner and letting her know of our experience but I think next week I will wander into their doors again and if they still aren’t covering the basics I will take the time to let her know that her processes need improvement.