I remember the first time I ordered ‘coddled eggs’ from a local café. They came out in a little ceramic dish and were ‘perfect’; both the white and yolk of the egg were just the right amount of cooked. Not hard and rubbery, not runny. Yum – I’d found my new ‘go to’ breakfast.
The next time I ordered those eggs they weren’t quite as ‘right’. I was disappointed, but put it down to a one-off.
The next time I ordered them? Same thing – the whites were a bit runny.
The final time I ordered them and they again came out runny, I said to the owner, “I don’t understand what’s happening here. The first time I ordered these they were cooked perfectly, but every time I’ve ordered them since they’ve come out runny.” He looked at me strangely and said “but that’s how coddled eggs are meant to be … runny.”
So what’s this got to do with you (and me) as business owners?
Well that first ever exposure I had to coddled eggs set an expectation. When each subsequent exposure failed to deliver on that expectation, the result was disappointment at my end. Rightly or wrongly, this impacted on how I felt about the café (remember, we humans are highly emotional beings!).
And it got me thinking about ‘first exposures’ in my own business. There are many ways a potential new client can come across my design business for the first time:
- Landing on our website or a blog post after a Google search.
- Via a verbal referral.
- Meeting myself, or one of my team, out and about.
- Via our presence on social media, or a testimonial on social media.
- Via a phone call.
This is scary when you think about it because it means there are multiple avenues for us to either:
- Set a standard we struggle to live up to later on in the piece (by say, promising the world when we can’t deliver the world), or;
- Set a low standard that we never manage to overcome and that might essentially see us lose a great new client.
My café and their ‘inconsistently’ prepared eggs were guilty of point 1. I don’t want my business to be guilty of either!
So what can we do to control the quality of these first exposures and ensure consistency in the expectations we set? The answer lies in systems.
There are six steps to creating systems that ensure consistency in business.
Step 1: Make the commitment
Consider a new client ringing our office for the first time. Over the course of the day, any one of five people could take that phone call. Is a new client getting a vastly different experience depending on what time they call and who answers the phone? I hope not, but I don’t actually know.
So the first step is to decide it’s important that no matter who takes the call, a new client will get the same tone of greeting and quality of information when they ring our office for the first time.
Step 2: Create a repeatable process
With the priority identified, we must then create a repeatable process in the form of a script for these phone conversations. This script would include the greeting, the information we get from the client to identify their needs … and the information we give to the client to show we’re keen, and able, to meet their needs.
Step 3: Provide training
Once the process has been created, we need to train our staff in the use of the system. It’s not good enough to simply hand them a sheet of paper with the steps involved and expect that they’ll execute the process flawlessly every time. We need to provide proper training in the form of role-playing and simulations.
Step 4: Monitor the system
Once our staff have learned the correct process for taking phone calls from new clients, we need to monitor how they’re executing the process (ie listen in while they’re talking to the new client). It’s only when processes are tested in real life that it becomes clear where tweaks to the system are required.
Step 5: Create accountability
Then we need to go a step beyond the ‘self-assessment’ #4 above. To test how well we’re really doing the whole ‘phone answering’ thing, we could check in with new clients at the end of a job and find out whether there’s any extra information they would have appreciated right at the start of our relationship. And it would also be good to know whether that first contact with us was an accurate reflection of the working relationship they ended up having with us.
Step 6: Plan for failure
Even the best systems can fail when placed under pressure. My staff might be really adept at executing our phone-answering system during normal operations … but are unable to do so when they’re having a bad day, or when a few people are away. If we’re able to identify these potential failure points ahead of time, we can avoid having them throw in the towel because they’ve decided the system ‘doesn’t work’.
So it seems I’ve drawn a long bow from coddled eggs to the phone answering technique a small business exhibits. But hopefully the above has allowed you to see areas in your business where inconsistency could be creating dissonance for your clients. Dissonance of any kind (trivial or not) gives potential clients the chance to think twice about using your services or purchasing your products.
And we definitely don’t want that do we?
Do you need more consistency in business? Are there any areas of your business that could do with firm, repeatable processes being created? Share them below.