If you think you were challenged in the past to deliver high-quality service each and every day, think again! Its even tougher now. The distribution of documents, both physically and electronically, is changing the way we do business every moment. Rapid advances in print-on-demand technology coupled with the aftermath of 9/11 challenge us economically, socially and politically to redefine the way we conduct business every day. Being good today does not help you thrive and survive tomorrow. Whatever met your customers expectations yesterday most likely will not be acceptable tomorrow.
This is an exciting yet scary time. But there are ways to prepare and plan for this brave new world.
Strategic and tactical planning Develop your plans not only to meet but to exceed your customers expectations. Your mission is to always be considered and treated as your customers strategic partner. But theres only one way to do this: know their strategic plans. A few years ago, a leader in the investment banking/brokerage industry conducted a one-day workshop with its major suppliers. Included in this mix were providers of outsourcing, ground and air courier, fulfillment, pre-sort and other distribution services. The objective was for us to understand the clients business needs, while developing an understanding of how we providers of services had to work in concert to maximize our effectiveness. In the end, everyone benefited from this free and open exchange of ideas to improve and refine the delivery of services. Because the customer had taken the initiative to be our strategic partner and establish the framework for alliances, we were no longer just vendors. The clients vision of our role in its business model helped to re-define many future relationships for us.
Alliances and hunting partners Work only with people and companies that share your values, ethics and commitment to customer service. You are judged by the company you keep. Soar with eagles and avoid the snakes.
Knowledge is indeed power Information is either confidential in nature or its not. What is not confidential should be shared or traded, but be discreet with whom you share your information. Give a little more than you take. Keep a confidence at all costs, even if it costs you money! No, thats not irrational. In the long term, you will reap greater rewards: Your reputation will always precede you. And that is power.
Trends and not fads Try to read the future and sort the true trends from the fads. Over 20 years ago, I was a member of a paperless office project team. We were going to design, develop and implement policies, systems, procedures and automated solutions that fully supported the office of the future. The project was never completed, and to the best of my knowledge, no one has fully implemented a paperless office anywhere.
Things are rapidly changing in the ways we communicate and disseminate information. E-mail often replaces telephone calls and written correspondence, while tele- and video conferencing have reduced the need for corporate travel. But dont think that paperless and traveless offices are finally here. Nothing beats a face to face with a customer or a business associate. You can learn more by reading body language and listening to what is not being said!
Think big Think globally, not locally. Today you may be a small company in both customers and revenue, but always present and act greater than what you are. Perception has a way of becoming reality.
I was the only full-time employee of a small company a few years ago in New York. In our first year, we had an opportunity to expand into the Chicago market, something we never envisioned at least not that fast. One of our competitors had declined the chance to expand, and its client then came to us. We got the account in Chicago and subsequently expanded our services even further into Canada! You have to believe in who you want to be and then act the part. Just do it! Make it happen. There are no comfort zones.
Growing through horizontal and vertical integration Plan and grow the length, depth and breadth of the services you provide. In order to grow vertically, you have to consider opportunities both up and downstream. Look into your customers and suppliers business. Identify and focus on opportunities that primarily complement and supplement your core business. For example, if you are in the ground transportation business, consider expanding into the air courier business. Many of your existing customers use air courier services. This is a logical way to grow and diversify. Think both long and short term. Buy or merge with companies that fit your business model.
Grow the core business Consider outsourcing functions/tasks that do not directly relate to or possibly adversely impact your core business. Review all operations and/or support services functions to determine if outsourcing is the appropriate solution. Dont just look for a quick hit on the bottom line. Think cause and effect.
Business and war We sometimes think of competition as war, but its not. In war, people die. In business, there is always another day, whether you want to admit it or not. Remember, competitors and enemies today can be friends and allies tomorrow. Dont burn any bridges.
Metrics and matrix management Always think quantitatively. If you cant measure it, how can you manage it? I once managed a consulting group of 35 analysts and five project managers. We used to recommend management reporting solutions to our clients but did not have one in place for ourselves. We didnt listen to our own advice. Then one day, we had to make a detailed presentation to upper management, and we saw the light. Design, develop and implement management reporting systems.
Best practices and benchmarking If you are not the leader in your industry, identify who is and learn from the best. Pick up the phone and call them. Theres nothing to lose by asking! Most people are flattered by the attention and willing to share information. If they are unwilling to share, youve lost nothing.
Business disruption Develop disaster recovery plans. If feasible, dont concentrate all your resources in one location. Many organizations have chosen to have multiple sites in close proximity. Test your plans periodically. Everything from acts of nature to acts of terrorism or war are in the realm of reason.
Systems and solutions Design and develop service solutions that are modular, flexible and adaptable. Cross train your staff to be multifunctional resources. Automated or technological solutions should, when possible, be designed using open-ended systems architecture and be, if possible, field upgradeable. Think systems.
Team selling This team is comprised of players selected from outside your organization. They are your networked business associates who can provide you with real leads and opportunities. For example, I make at least five networking phone calls a day and meet at least once per week with my small and select group of players who provide services that complement mine. We all share and sell for each other. These external sales people can help you take your business to the next level. Think of nodes on a computer network. Their value grows exponentially. You need them, and they in turn need you.
Closing the deal Using baseball as a frame of reference, some pitchers are starters, some are middle or spot relievers and some are closers. No pitcher is exceptional in all three. Pick and choose who initiates or starts the contact with a prospect, which team member supports or, if need be, relieves the starter and who should close the deal. Timing, as they say, is everything! Know your staffs strengths, and select the best closer.
What else can you do to bring added value to your customer? Raise the bar on your own performance. Beat your expectations as well as theirs!
Seeing Life from the Customers Perspective
Triangular perspective Always think and act from the customers perspective, and develop and present your proposals and responses accordingly. Function as a consultant to yourself.
S.W.A.T. is service with a twist. Do an audit of your own services. Bring in a S.W.A.T. team from outside to critically evaluate your performance. Are you fulfilling all the terms and conditions in your contract or service agreement? Why arent you doing more than what was agreed?
Diversification More services to offer mean more potential sales. Design, develop and introduce complementary services that can stand alone or be bundled together to bring additional value to your customers. Spend the time, money and effort in research and development. Beta test new services, if possible, with your customers. Most of all, get feedback from your customers. They are your best source of information for new and enhanced services.
Be a consultative resource Work closely with your clients. Present and conduct yourself as a management resource and not solely as a provider of service. Review and analyze your customers needs. Help them separate their wants from their needs. Use your analytical skills and abilities to assist them in other areas of their business.
Passion You cant teach it, and you certainly cant fake it. You either have it or you dont and, believe me, customers can tell. Work with passion or find something else to do with your life!
In these ever-changing times, you have to be ahead of the curve. Change is the only constant, and the only way to survive is to always be prepared. The future is now!
Joe Vaccaro, CMDSM, is senior vice president of Security Delivery Service, Inc. For more information, call 212-391-3969 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.