Details Make The Difference (And Make Your Business Better) (342)

I grew up in retailing, which is closely related to the hospitality business. Little things matter. “The devil is in the details.”

This is why small percentages of improvement can garner big differences in performance. It’s the 80/20 rule or maybe better yet the 95/5 rule. There seems to be statistical evidence behind the 80/20 rule. Experience bears it out. Eighty percent of our business likely is the result of 20% of our customer base. Eighty percent of our company’s best work is likely the result of 20% of our team members. On and on it goes.

I’m a big believer in 1 to 2%. Seemingly insignificant differences.

Those are little details. Not insignificant though and I can prove it.

Focus on details doesn’t mean we overlook or minimize the big things. Mostly the big things get appropriate attention. They scream to be handled. For instance, we had a new roof installed on our house this year. A storm blew through and did some damage to shingles. The storm also cracked a skylight creating some leaks. Well, that’s not a little detail. That was a major issue. It had to be fixed or we’d risk severe damage.

In your business, there are big issues like that. It could be a lost lease, major equipment failure, important supply chain problems…it could be anything that if left unattended will create much bigger problems. So you stomp down and make that challenge a priority. You must find a remedy. Usually…fast! So you do.

Anybody can spot those kinds of problems. I’m not a roofer. I’m not even handy around the house, but I know that roof leaks in my house won’t go away on their own. They need to be fixed.

That’s why even inexperienced or poor operators can spot big problems. Now they may not be able to handle them as efficiently or effectively, but they can spot them.

The difference is in the details. Because not everybody can or will spot those. And even if they are spotted, not everybody will give them the attention they deserve. Small details are easily overlooked and even more easily minimized. “That doesn’t matter,” is a common sentiment among operators who don’t think the details matter.

There seems to be 2 basic reasons for the failure: 1) some people just don’t see them and 2) people would rather do something grand than something common (but important). That’s why we can all be prone to minimize the importance of something small.

Twice weekly I carry out the trash at our house. That’s hardly equivalent of replacing the roof and a busted skylight, but there are some important details about taking out the trash. For starters, it’s something I can do. No handyman skills required. Two, it has to be done if we want to keep the house clean and smelling decent. Three, it likely contributes to keeping our house “healthy.”

The roofing company took about 3 days to replace our roof and skylight. It takes me about 3 minutes to collect and take the trash to the curb. If you came to my house and saw the new roof you might notice, but probably not. If you came into my house and smelled or saw that the trash hadn’t been taken out…I guarantee you’d notice. I also guarantee you’d judge me. Rightfully so.

So it goes with little things. Details.

I constantly talk about friction and being easy to do business with. It’s fundamental to fortifying your customer base, which I believe is the foundation of any sustainable, profitable business. Without a customer base, you’ve got nothing. Inattention to details erodes a customer base. Customers leave because we don’t get the little things right. Or because we don’t pay attention.

Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen is a chain restaurant with good food. It’s a casual dining place. My wife and I used to frequent our nearby location because the food was always consistently good, they had a good variety of food and the service was good. That location currently has a 3.2 out of 5-star rating online. I’m only calling them out because I think leadership should know (and I’ve written to them before to share my experiences). A couple of years ago things went south. Very south. The details fell off the radar screen. I’m not sure why.

It began with staffing problems. Thinking it was unique to the location nearest our house, we ventured elsewhere only to find the same problem. For some reason, the company seemed to think they could operate with leaner staffing. The result were open tables with lots of folks waiting…only because there were insufficient servers to handle the customers. Behind the scenes something else was apparent. The food quality seemed consistent, but the time it took to get your food went up significantly indicating they were likely cutting back on kitchen staff, too.

A place that everybody I knew would have given 4 or 4.5 if not 5 stars began to sink. And it continues to sink. The big things like location, menu selection, and food quality haven’t changed. Those big things are still right. But many of the other things are dreadfully wrong. The details have slipped and I blame the folks at the top. I’ve been to three locations and they all suffer the same deficits, proving to me it’s not the local restaurant’s general manager. The problem must go higher.

I’m not picking on this company. I once loved them. I’d like to love them again. I’m illustrating the point to show how important it is for YOU to get in touch with the details that matter. Top-down attention to details is critical. They’ll make or break your business.

Step 1 – Be a noticer.

I’m not sure how to help you improve this, but if you know yourself well enough to know you lack this ability, hire it. Find somebody with that skill who can be empowered – make them part of your top leadership team.

Some people notice little things. I’m cursed with it, but it has served me well. I notice dust, burned-out light bulbs, small bits of paper on the floor, paint, cleanliness and most everything else. I don’t have to work at it. It just happens. I spot things.

Find somebody with that skill if you don’t have it. Then listen to them. Don’t discount what they see. No detail is too small.

Step 2 – Make it better.

Coach every employee to take action to fix what ails you. The great thing about small details is you don’t have to fret about giving people too much authority. If you’re a control freak who doesn’t like to trust people (well, you really should work on that), have no fear. The details are like me carrying out the trash. Anybody can do it. Let them.

Houston’s is another restaurant that I used to frequent, especially when I was traveling more. I love Houston’s. Food is great. Atmosphere is great. But the things that make them spectacular are the details. Servers dressed in starched white shirts are attentive. Doesn’t matter if you’re their table or not, they’re going to refill your glass with iced tea. They pay close attention to the things that make them stand apart from the crowd.

Figure out ways to empower and coach your people to do that for your customers. Don’t create a culture where people go around saying, “That’s not my job.” Make everybody’s job fixing the small things.

Step 3 – Go deep. 

The hardest part of details is steps 1 and 2. That’s why they’re number 1 and number 2. 😀

The next hardest part is this one. Thinking that THIS particular detail doesn’t matter. Yes, it does.

It’s not a competition between getting a new roof versus carrying out the trash. The roof matters more, but if the roof gets fixed then now you don’t worry about the roof. It’s fine. Now it’s time to fret about the trash because that detail happens twice a week. You can’t take your eye off of it. And if you use trash can liners, like most of us do, then you also have to pay attention to your trash can liner supply. Don’t run out – another detail that impacts the detail of carrying out the trash.

Step 4 – Celebrate it. 

Create some form of “Detail Demons,” people who excel at helping your company get the details right. Make these folks the champions in your business. They’re contributing in a major way. Let them know how much you appreciate their willingness to spot missing or errant details…and how much you REALLY appreciate their willingness to be proactive to fix them.

Step 5 – Re-engineer systems to make sure details get handled.

Make all the versions of “carrying out the trash” part of your systems. Don’t leave details to chance. Leverage the work of the “Detail Demons” to make your processes better. The goal is to deliver a more remarkable and predictable experience for your customers.

Be Houston’s. Don’t be Cheddar’s.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!


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