In observing and working with small businesses, I have found that many are missing some basic business processes. These omissions can be detrimental to their success as a business and a business owner. Now, I know many of us learn on the job, but there are a few business processes that are important for you to get right, straight out the gate.
If you find you need to resolve a number of these areas in your business don’t worry. Business processes aren’t necessarily a small business owner’s specialty, your craft is. The good thing is it is my specialty and I’m gonna help you through it all.
By making a few of these small changes in your processes, you can go from being a reactive business to a proactive one. Driving potential customers to your product or service, instead of to your competitors.
Anticipate Your Customer's Needs
When you are creating processes in your business, you should do so by anticipating your customer’s needs, before they even know they need it.
First, you should identify who your target market or ideal customer is and what types of questions they typically ask. This will help you identify the answers to those questions ahead of time, so they don’t have to ask. Take for example you are a website developer.
Lets assume you are working with a Client who has never participated in a website development project. You may need to hold your client’s hand so they understand the process from start to finish. If you are working with a customer who has had a website developed before, they will have a different understanding of the process. Your experience with them may be on a more technical level. Additionally, the development of a small website is different from a large website.
Use Emotional Intelligence to Listen Between the Lines
You also have to use your emotional intelligence to pickup on the things that aren’t said. If you are explaining a concept and there are confused faces in the room, this may be a sign. Your explanation may need to be more basic. You also might need to approach it from a different direction so your customer understands. The truth is that many times customers don’t know what they don’t know.
Identify the areas of angst or problems that you typically have with customers and ensure your Client fully understands them. Don’t be afraid to explain it back to them or to ask them to put it into their own words. Sometimes you may think the Client understands, but when they explain their understanding of the concept or process isn’t accurate.
By taking this small step, it makes your customers feel understood, supported and safe doing business with you.
Create Business Policies
Many customers want to know their risk level upfront before they commit to doing business with you. Think about the things you want to put into place to protect not only your business, but your customers too. What things would you want to know about a company if you were the customer? Ensure you have those same policies and guidelines in place.
Another good way to identify your necessary or missing policies is to think about all the things you liked or didn’t like about your last experience as a customer. What about during your last failed engagement with a Client, where was the confusion? What areas do you feel could have been clarified at the beginning of the engagement?
In most cases, policies are presented during the contract signing process. I encourage you to consider providing them to your customer as early as possible during the wooing period. It reaffirms the know, trust and like factor. The company that is more forthcoming regarding their policies, is often more likely to gain the business.
A Real Life Example - Chick-Fil-A
An example of this concept is Chic-fil-a. Their policies are well known and they have nothing to do with what they are selling. Most of their customers know they are closed on Sunday and why.
As a customer, you know that their employees respond with, “my pleasure” when you are being served and it is delivered in a way that you truly believe it is their pleasure. They also play Christian music in their restaurants. These policies aren’t liked by everyone, but if you want their product you understand that these are the restaurant’s policies. You can choose to frequent them or not.
Frequently Asked Questions
This leads me to another area where you can anticipate need, which is by having a frequently asked questions (FAQ) list. You can easily build this list from the questions people regularly ask. You can choose where you provide access to this information, it may be once a person shows interest in your service/product that you provide it to them, or you may just list it on your website for easy access. I find this usually depends on your industry and whether or not you provide a service or a product. I personally don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, just do what works best for you and makes you and your customer feel comfortable.
Again, think through your last experience as a customer and gleam from that. What were your steps to selecting the vendor you did? Did you research them or approach them with a list of questions? Now, go through a mock session as your Client (or better yet get a person who can serve as your Client to walk through your process) and identify where there are holes that you can fill with a FAQ.
Identify Customer Requirements
Place yourself in the position of your customer and try to think through the expectation or requirements they may have for your service or product. A landscaper needs a customer to make specific decisions or provide specific information. This information will help them complete the job as expected by the customer. For example, how low do you want the grass cut, are there restrictions in your neighborhood, how often should you come, etc. By obtaining this information ahead of time, it sets the expectations and the requirements for the job. Creating customer information forms or questionnaires can help identify and capture these requirements from the customer as well.
Another thing you have to be careful of is not assuming all customers are the same. Meaning that once the form or questionnaire is completed, that you actually review and discuss it with them to ensure you are interpreting their responses correctly. You also want to ensure the customer signs off on the summary of requirements before you begin work and identify how changes to the requirements will be handled.
This is an area that is often missed. Testing and looking for quality within your product or service is critical for retaining clients. You should test your processes in both a controlled and uncontrolled environment. Walk through your processes as though you are your ideal customer, to ensure you have thought through all the possible scenarios (or the top three) that could come up. Once you feel comfortable with your processes, have someone else walk through it without your assistance to see if they notice anything that isn’t right or to see if they have any questions about the process.
You should also build in quality checks periodically even though your underlying process may not have changed. This is because platforms change all the time, and it may affect your process without you even knowing it. An example of this is when social media sites update their platforms. They change image sizes, algorithms and where things are located. If you aren’t doing periodic checks you may be directing potential clients one way only for that way not to be working any longer.
In Summary, you can’t always anticipate everything in your business, but you can do some preventive maintenance on your business processes so you are 90% proactive and 10% reactive. If you follow these easy steps you will make your potential Client’s experience an enjoyable one which will increase the likelihood that they will become Clients and that you will be able to retain their business.
I hope you have found this information helpful. If you feel you need a little more guidance in reviewing your business processes, I encourage you to connect with me to set up your business consultation. or consider taking my business process leaks course.