Management

Have You Tried Turning it Upside Down?

Have You Tried Turning it Upside Down?

Do a search on innovation over at Amazon.com. 11,859 results! Innovation is good. Unfortunately in that search you won't find (at least not in the first 100 results) what I think is one of the best "how to" books on innovation. It's called "The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. Betty does a great job of explaining how the brain works with regards to creativity and includes exercises that can help anyone tap the right side of the brain to come up with creative solutions to business problems.

Here is a quick one to try. Get out a piece of paper and a pencil and draw the upside down picture above. Now print out the picture, turn it right side up and try drawing again. Which of your efforts look more like the original?

If you are like most people, the upside down version will look the best. Why is that?

It is because the left side of our brain is very good at what it does and is in charge most of the time. One of the things the left side is good at is assigning symbols to common objects which makes them quick and easy to reference. For example, a wheel is always round, an eye is almond shaped, etc. The left side is also very good at being abstract--taking a small bit of information and using it to represent the whole. Both are very powerful and useful skills for quickly dealing with most obstacles we face. Here is an example. The following letters in the following paragraph are all mixed up but I doubt you have any problem understanding it:

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and youcan sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed erveylteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Let's hear it for the left side of the brain! It quickly solves thousands of puzzles a day without us even thinking about it. So why do we need the right side?

The very things that make the left side of the brain such a powerful problem solver, limit our ability to see creative solutions. Because it is quick to make assumptions and jump to conclusions, we are not even aware of the assumptions that are limiting us. In addition, symbols and names that it assigns have meanings attached that we don’t question.

Back to the upside down drawing exercise. When most of us draw, the left side of our brain uses its common symbols to help speed the process. If we're drawing an eye, it is almond shaped with a little circle in the middle. If we're drawing a wheel it is always round. Two arms are always the same length etc. Trouble is, once perspective gets involved (which it always does), rarely is a wheel in a picture round nor are eyes almond shaped. I know, I know--your left brain is telling you that is a lie. But it's not. Look at these pictures.

The men are all the same height, the tables both have the same size tops. Go ahead, get out your ruler and measure. In fact, measuring is one great way to shift from your left brain over to your right when you are looking for creative solutions. If you can invalidate assumptions that your left brain is operating on, new possibilities open up. That is one of the reasons real customer feedback is so important--leave nothing to assumption when it comes to the happiness of your customers.

Other ways to shift over to the right side? When you are trying to describe or solve a problem avoid using name references. Instead of saying draw a fingernail, say draw the hard thing on the end of your finger. Or instead of saying, "we need a new advertising campaign" say "how can we attract more new customers?" Anything you can do to avoid using terms that your left brain has assigned symbols to will help you avoid making assumptions and missing possible opportunities.

Turning things upside down is another way to get the right side of your brain involved. For some reason, the left side of the brain doesn't do upside down symbols. That is why most people are able to draw better when looking at an upside down picture--no left brain symbols involved.

Here is a final business example. When you hear the word restaurant what do you think of? Chances are you think of a building or facility where they serve food and you pay money. True enough. But what if you turn it upside down, or least take a different perspective. The symbol or definition that most of us have for restaurant includes a physical facility, but does it have to be that way? Historically it had to be because that was the only way people would know how to find you, but with today's communication devices that is no longer a requirement. What if the restaurant wasn't food in one specific place but great food in any number of many great places? Join their email list and you would be notified when and where they are serving food this week. The local zoo, middle of a football field, top of building--the possibilities are limitless. Talk about delivering unique dining experiences! At least a few entrepreneurs are already doing it.

Hpapy Iianonvntg !

The average American consumer discusses brands 56 times a week. Are they discussing yours? Learn more

Customer Service Lessons from Station 2

Customer Service Lessons from Station 2

Had a chance to visit a local Tempe, AZ fire station last night (career night with venture scouts). I was impressed and came away with a few lessons, or at least things to think about, to improve customer service.

  1. Hiring. When asked what it takes to become a fire fighter our tour guide responded, "They can teach anyone to do this job. What they are really looking for is some one with people skills that can deal with the public and get along with everyone on the team." Now certainly there are certain skills that you look for when hiring for a particular position, but in my experience the fire chiefs got it right: most important is people skills. The cost of hiring someone that is hard to get along with? Read this.

  2. Everybody's Job. Apparently the greater Phoenix area has a dispatch system that is the envy of most metropolitan areas. Somehow common sense won out over politics in this area and the number one rule of dispatch is "closest engine gets the call" regardless of which city pays the bills. Simple but powerful, and in this case, life-saving concept. If you've decided to sequester your "customer service" people in one corner of your building and have everyone forward irate customer calls to them you are losing lives. Change your policy to "closest employee solves the problem."

  3. Know Your Role. When the alarm goes off, firefighters in station 2 have 60 seconds to be in their clothes, in the truck and screaming out onto the street. At night they get an additional 30 seconds to allow for wake up time. Everyone obviously has to know what their duty is, where their equipment is, etc. to make that happen. If the engineer is off or out for a particular shift a substitute driver is designated at the start of the shift--no time to do rock, paper, scissors for driving privileges once the alarm has gone off. Here's the point, knowing what they are supposed to do when there is an emergency empowers firefighters to be fast and effective. Do your employees know what their role is when the alarm goes off? Perhaps even more important, have you given your customers an easy way to set the alarm off? Someone with a house fire knows to call 911 and will follow through and do it--they have no other option. Someone with a bad experience at your business could easily just walk away and tell several of their friends. Unless you provide an easy and obvious way for them to sound the alarm, you may never know what damage is done.

Maybe it is extreme to use the firefighters as a standard for customer service--after all, they are dealing with life and death situations. On the other hand, ignore or handle poorly volatile customer situations and it could be a life or death situation for your business.

Do you remember your customers on their birthday? On their anniversary? Do you give special notice to recently acquired customers? Promoterz does. Learn more

What You Don't Know Will Hurt You.

What You Don't Know Will Hurt You.

I was in a hobby store yesterday buying model rocket engines (think venture scouts making jet propelled barbie cars). Anyway, I noticed a new restaurant had opened up in the same strip mall. While the attendant at the hobby store was ringing up my 24 rocket engines I asked him if he had tried out the new restaurant. His response:

"It's [bleep!]"

Not sure that I heard correctly and a little taken back at the language I said, "Excuse me?" He went on to explain that he hadn't eaten there but a fellow worker had and she had been sick the rest of the day. He also said his manager had ordered a taco and it cost him six bucks and was no bigger than what you can get at Taco Bell. As he handed me my receipt he concluded emphatically once again, "It's [bleep!]" I thanked him and made my way to door once again marvelling at the power of word of mouth.

Think about what happened there. Put yourself in the position of the owner of the new restaurant that just invested multiple thousands of dollars and has been open now for just a few weeks. I doubt he or she has any idea that virtually right next door someone who has never even been in the restaurant is giving out negative recommendations (with neighbors like that who needs enemies...).

It gets worse, studies have shown that irritated customers are five times more likely to vent to a friend than a store rep and on average they will tell four friends. It doesn't say anything about how many people those four will tell, but here I am telling all of you. The study did report that those told about a friend's bad shopping experience are up to five times as likely to avoid the store in question as the original unhappy customer! (read about it here)

What's the solution? First, strive to make every customer experience remarkable. Right behind that has to be a system that consistently invites each customer to tell you how they felt about the experience.

With modern technology, there is no excuse for not inviting your customers to give you feedback. I recently rented a car from Enterprise. A week later I got a call asking how the experience was for me. Phone calls can be expensive, so use the internet. Set up an online survey and hand your customers a card directing them to the url to tell you what they think. Of course there is always the written feedback card. Just make sure you review the feedback regularly and respond to it. The only thing worse than not asking for feedback is asking for it and not responding.

Certainly not all of your customers will respond, but enough will to give you an accurate idea of how things are going and give you the opportunity to "save" a few that were about to tell their four friends who will now be five times as likely to avoid your business!

The growth of your business will be determined by what your customers say about it. Do you know what they are saying? Learn more

Consumer A.D.D. -- Is There a Cure?

Consumer A.D.D. --  Is There a Cure?

After describing modern consumers and their desire to watch or read what they want, when they want, the current issue of Business Week concludes:

The result: a serious case of attention deficit for every business that depends on traditional mass media to reach customers.

So the question is, what is the cure? Here is an additional question that I think leads to the answer: if consumers aren't paying attention to traditional advertising, who are they paying attention to?

The answer: their friends, their colleagues, their neighbor, their obnoxious brother-in-law--frankly, anybody but an advertiser. So what is the solution for a business? Turn your customers into promoters. Your customers are somebody's friend, colleague, neighbor and yes, even obnoxious brother-in-law. Make your customers so happy they can't wait to tell somebody--that is the cure.

Your success will be determined more by what your customers say about your business than what you say about it--no matter how much you pay to say it!

The Miracle of the Reservoir

The Miracle of the Reservoir

I grew up in the west and now live in Arizona. There is a simple rule for growing things out here (this rule applies everywhere but is more obvious in the arid west): if it doesn't get water it doesn't grow. Early settlers fought their neighbors over water rights knowing that land without water wasn't worth a plugged nickel. In addition to fighting, they went to work and figured out ways to divert and contain spring runoffs, rainfall and the flow of rivers and creeks to use in dry times. They built dams that created reservoirs then built a network of canals and ditches to get the water to the fields. Wallah! Arid desert became fertile farmlands. Fly over the west today and the benefits of the reservoir and resulting irrigation are obvious in the green irrigation circles that dot the land.

Now think about your marketing and advertising efforts. Paying for advertising can feel like paying somebody to do a rain dance--you're not at all sure what you are going to get. But sometimes there is no choice. So you pay and with some luck some new customers fall from the sky. With a lot of luck maybe a lot of customers fall from the sky. Then comes the moment of truth: do the customers run off like a flash flood leaving only a little green in their path? Or have you built a customer reservoir that they peacefully flow into to be tapped again and again ensuring green for many years to come?

How do you build a customer reservoir? First let's be clear, the reservoir metaphor only goes so far. While it is possible to build a dam to trap water, trying to trap customers is a recipe for disaster. Your goal is not to trap but to create something customers want to be, and remain, a part of. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Be remarkable-Find out what is most important to your customers and then be absolutely amazing at it.

  2. Be inviting-Identify your customers and invite them to be part of something great. Make it easy for them to join.

  3. Be persistent-Make the effort to stay in touch regularly, if you don't someone else will.

  4. Be contagious-Make it easy for your customers to tell their friends about your business.

  5. Be attentive-Ask your customers what they think, listen to what they have to say, and continue to make your business even more remarkable.

The early western settlers learned quickly that without reservoirs they couldn't survive. The same is true of business today, rain dances alone aren't sufficient.

When you pass out a Promoterz bounce back card you automatically build an accurate customer list, increase repeat sales, increase referrals and prevent lost business. Pretty powerful little card. Learn more
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We search the business blog world looking for posts that illustrate principles, or "Seeds", that if followed, or "planted", will help small businesses grow. We list them here for your convenience. Enjoy.

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