Saving Steps: Operational Efficiencies – Grow Great Daily Brief #161 – February 28, 2019

I’m an operator. I’ve never shied away from that title. A VP of a supplier first called me that when I was about 23. He meant it as a compliment. And I took it that way.

It’s not as sexy as being called an “entrepreneur,” but I think it’s more indicative of the work. The work of operating an enterprise.

Not everybody can look at an organization and see it operationally. To each his own. I look at all the people, the moving parts and the systems and naturally begin to think of ways things can be improved. That’s why I’m so intolerant of pathetic customer service where companies like DIRECTV make customers jump through every hoop possible to make things as difficult as possible.

Greasing the wheels to make things work better – more efficiently and effectively – is good business. I don’t care what business you’re in.

Ray Kroc purchased the hamburger stand from the McDonald boys and figured out how to make a pattern, a template for efficiency. McDonald’s growth mushroomed unlike anything before, in large part, because Kroc figured out operational efficiencies and how they could help each store replicate food quality and service with predictable success. When you start focusing on how many steps it is from the front counter to french fry machine, then you’re concentrating on operational efficiencies.

They claim 10,000 daily steps is good for our health. That’s roughly 5 miles. In business, we’re constantly trying to reduce our steps. If our current process involves 5 steps, how can we reduce it to 4? Or 3? Eliminating a step saves time, money and effort.

Saving steps also reduces friction. Friction is the resistance that can ruin business success. How difficult are we making it on our clients? How difficult are we making it on ourselves?

I’m sure DIRECTV and ATT (their owner) are intentional in their client experience. It pays. Well, they think it does because they’re only measuring things, it seems, in dollars and cents. Complex pricing structures, unable to be understood by any paying customer, benefit them. It’s a shell game they enjoy playing with customers to squeeze all the profits they can. But the friction has a cost. A cost the folks at the top aren’t looking at. Client happiness!

Google them and you’ll see blistering reviews. I’ve been a customer for over 20 years and I’ve never had a phone call last under an hour. Friction is intentional because they’re betting on a lack of breakage. Namely, they’re betting (and they’re right) that most folks won’t notice bill creep and if they do, they won’t complain about it. The dollars drop to their bottom line and they’re happy, even though customers aren’t. Operational inefficiencies at the level of a multi-billion dollar enterprise can pay off handsomely.

You can’t likely pull that off with your $10 million a year company. It would bog you down in execution and billing. Which is why people are leaving DIRECTV in droves and opting for streaming – even the newer DIRECTV NOW service, which has more straight forward pricing and no contracts. Simple is more cost effective and makes customers happier.

Adding steps adds costs. Reducing steps reduces costs.

First, save steps for your customers.

Save them time and hassle. They’ll love you for it.

We can all tell when a company is putting customers first. We feel it. It permeates their intentions and every aspect of their operation. Companies that put us first stand out and apart from the rest.

Be one of those companies. Demonstrate how much you love your customers by focusing on your operational efficiencies. Sure, you’ll save money, but if you’ll put the energy toward making your customers happier, that’s where the real money and profits are.

What are you making hard for customers? Why?

Do you make it hard for customers to get refunds? Why? You’re not going to make them happier by giving them more hoops to jump through. If they’re unhappy, do you assume, “Well, they’re already unhappy so what do we care?”

You care because an unhappy customer is a perfect target for happiness conversion. Give me an unhappy client and I promise I can make their experience so terrific they’ll become an advocate. It’s one of the most highly underutilized customer opportunities. Always has been.

Do you make it hard for customers to buy from you? Is the paperwork so complex and daunting that it requires minutes instead of seconds? Why? Friction kills. Get rid of it everywhere you can.

Make yourself easier to do business with. Buying. Complaining. Returning. Getting a refund. Closely examine every area where customers touch your company. Challenge yourself to make every one of those interactions smoother. MUCH smoother.

Next, save steps for your organization.

These likely impact customers, but maybe not. They do impact employee happiness and frustration. That alone makes them worth tackling.

Your best resource are the front line people. Ask them how things can be streamlined. They’ve got good ideas. Listen to them.

Jeff Bezos tells the story of the early days of Amazon when he and a buddy, presumably employee number 2, were packing boxes to ship. They were on their hands and knees. Bezos tells his buddy, “We need knee pads.” The buddy, being the brighter of the two at the time, responded, “We need packing tables.” They bought a couple of cheap packing tables that thus Amazon’s first operational efficiency was set in motion. Now they could stand upright while packing boxes. THAT is operational efficiency.

Many of these will be smack your forehead kind of things. You’re not looking at them right now so you don’t see it. When you start looking with clearer vision and when you start listening to the people who do the work, some solutions will become blindingly obvious.

We can all be prone to step over quarters to pick up pennies. Saving steps will help you become more proficient at picking up quarters and dollar bills. I’ve never seen an organization where operational efficiencies couldn’t be drastically improved – and quickly. It’s one of the fastest paths to greater happiness, lowered frustrations and higher profits.

Why don’t we give it more attention? I don’t know. Maybe because it’s not sexy. Maybe because we don’t believe it’s true (that’s my suspicions based on how many times leaders have challenged me that the savings is just so nominal it’s not worth the effort). But it IS true. It’s always true.

Your company has money laying around in the form of wasted processes, idiotic workflows and systems that once made sense (but haven’t made sense in a very long time).

Put in your 10,000 daily steps for your own fitness and health. Work daily to keep reducing the steps inside your company for the fitness and health of your business.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

RC