Next to accounting and sales, operations are a key consideration for your business. Managing how processes unfold and people act in your company makes a huge difference as to how profitable you are and how much time you spend “in the weeds” instead of making money and growing the company.
Entrepreneurs who are just starting their company often struggle to put together a good plan for operations. Some of them run into big problems as they shift toward delivering the product after closing the sale.
When a new business owner or someone who is thinking about starting a business comes to me with questions about operations, I clue them in on the five philosophies I use to shape how I run things.
1) Think customer first.
Your customers are what keeps you in business. Processes should always align with customer needs & satisfaction. No matter what you do, make sure you aren’t taking time away from focusing on the customer experience with unnecessary tasks.
Experienced consultants and service vendors understand the need to think customer first. When you have a mutually respectful relationship with a client, your retention and ROI will also stay strong. On the other hand, a process that makes life more difficult for the customer can jeopardize the sale and cause you headaches.
For example: when companies move to a new user interface where clients can take care of service issues themselves, they are often motivated by creating something that is better for everyone, because it means less time dealing with service tickets and less time on service phone calls for both company and customer. But a user interface with overlooked issues will cause even more trouble tickets and test the patience of your customers. Make sure in your effort to save money and make things easier that you do not sacrifice the needs of the hands that feed you.
2) Streamline customer communication.
Get a good feel for how you communicate with your customers. Put it on paper; outline the typical process or order of your client relationship from A to Z. You may find that things are falling through the cracks or that by adding or changing steps you can make instant improvements in your organizational efficiency.
One often overlooked possibility is putting scripts in place whereever you can. Most of the time when the phone rings at a company, it’s a potential customer looking for something similar to the last person who called. Make sure you have a process for taking down information, returning calls, and routing customers to the right place. Standardize email templates where applicable. Use social media if it helps.
This is doubly important if your business relies on customer reviews, as in the restaurant industry.
3) Train your employees.
It’s surprising how many businesses have several sales people in the field and operations people in the office but still do not have standardized training programs. Just as a marketing program needs to constantly message to your prospects so the message sinks in, your employee program needs to constantly keep best service practices top of mind for your team.
Mileage May Vary for training and returns, depending on the size and nature of your company, so make sure you cover everything you need in your training in a format that makes sense. Put some thought into it. It may be necessary to make people in your line of work learn quickly by putting them into real-world situations, but if you don’t take the time to train them thoughtfully and properly, you will lose money throughout the business day when it would have been far more effective to prepare them up front.
Training can also be a fun part of growing your company culture. It’s an opportunity to do something interactive with your team. Plan to have a learning discussion once per week at a specific time. Start a small library or book exchange at the company. Add a forum space to your company’s project management system. Do a weekly outing. Start a kickball team. Whatever fits your people and the skills they need to learn for you to succeed.
4) Assess your vendors and partners.
Some of the biggest delays or inefficiencies I find is when work goes outside of the office. Vendors and partners should be able to work with your company as seamlessly as possible. The best vendors blend into your operations so cleanly that you only notice them in the spots that you need them and spend as little time in service as possible unless that service adds to the overall customer experience.
This isn’t to say vendors and partners won’t be the answer to a lot of your business issues. Most companies will need vendors for legal, finance, sales, and service. Some companies rely entirely on contract vendors. But if you notice significant delays in your timeline because your vendors are off their game, consider how you could change that relationship by conversation, adjustment of contract, or bringing that part of your business in-house.
5) Retain your team.
Successful companies grow a cast of characters over the lifetime of the business. It’s better to hire well, keep turnover low, and retain the same team than it is to lose people when you need them most. A band that has played the same music together for years will always play better than a new band playing songs together for the first time. Even if the musicians are exceptional, there is a feeling out process that takes time to play well together.
Your team is no different. By investing in people, you invest in your company the most important way possible. Get to know the people you hire. Care about what happens to them, their failures, their successes. Give them a lift upward whenever you can.
Also: be extra conscious of your team chemistry if you have a new executive coming aboard or if someone has to take a step back from the business, as is often the case with mergers or acquisitions. Shuffling chairs can lead to turmoil for your company, even if rearranging people and positions was 100% necessary for the health of the business in the first place. Be aware of that dynamic and keep a strong team together as you grow.
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See the video version of Five-Point Blueprint for Ensuring Smoother Business Operations.