All the best "Seeds of Growth"

All the best "Seeds of Growth", principles that grow business, gathered from our own articles and from around the web. Just add water, plant properly, and grow your business.

IKEA: it's all about the arrows

IKEA: it's all about the arrows

We had some visitors in from out of state last week. One of the things they had on their list to do while in sunny Arizona was to visit IKEA. That in and of itself is remarkable. How many home furnishing stores do people have on their list of vacation must do's?

So we made the twenty minute trip to IKEA. We first became aware of IKEA while living in Singapore as expats for a few years. Believe me, IKEA was remarkable in Singapore. Big wide walk ways, furniture that wasn't exclusively black lacquer, and the prices were reasonable. It's still remarkable even here in Arizona where there are many other places that also have wide walk ways, furniture that is not black lacquer and reasonable prices. Why? Here's my reason: the big arrows on the floor.

IKEA has thought through the complete user experience and leaves nothing to chance. The instruction signs start in the parking lot. The first sign I saw this time was a sign telling me they take everything back, no questions asked. That is a great sign to be greeted with as you head for the front door! Each step of the way there are signs and arrows giving helpful instructions. It's a huge place with a ton of options, it could be very overwhelming, but the arrows give calm assurance you are headed the right way. It's all about the arrows that lead through thousands of products and then straight to the cash registers.

So, does your customer experience need some arrows?

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 !

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

The Starbucks Online Coupon Fiasco--Venti Size

The Starbucks Online Coupon Fiasco--Venti Size

Just about everybody with a blog commented on Starbuck's recent problems with online coupons. You can read the story here . John from Brand Autopsy asserts they never would have done something that dumb in his day (used to work there) and recommends more limited expiration dates. Seth has some additional principles for avoiding such issues. Countless others also weighed in on how it could have been avoided and what Starbuck's should do now that it has happened. All good stuff, but I hope the baby (online coupons) doesn't get thrown out with the bath water.

In a nutshell, Starbucks created an online coupon with about a thirty day expiration date for a free iced coffee drink. They gave the coupon to a few employees in select areas and expected it to stay limited. It didn't. It took off like wildfire thanks to the internet and they ended up posting signs in their stores saying "regretfully" they would no longer be valid at any Starbuck locations.

In my mind, the real story is not that online coupons don't work, but quite the opposite: online coupons work well--in this case too well. Remember the old days when you had to pay to get coupons printed in a newspaper or to hand out. You had to pay for every one! Not so on the internet. They multiply without costing you a dime. Isn't that just what you want to have happen? It should be. So the lesson is this: make sure that any offer you put on an online coupon is something that you would be happy to see proliferate. Tools to do that? Limit the expiration date, make it a "buy something to get something" offer, give away something with no hard costs. Have other ideas for creating coupons you're happy to see proliferate? Post them here.

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

Bringing the Diners Back

Bringing the Diners Back

Restaurant Hospitality recently listed some of the tactics that big casual dining chains are employing to try to lure diners back to their restaurants after suffering a poor 3rd quarter showing. Consensus seems to be that same store sales have slowed down due to economic conditions, an increase in the number of casual dining restaurants and a shift of consumers to a relatively new category of food service called fast casual. Fast casual is quicker than full sit down service and higher quality than basic fast food. Big chain solutions?

Reduce Prices--Applebee's has got a dinner combo including dessert for $9.99, TGI Friday's has got appetizers discounted up to 50%, Cheesecake factory has reduced portion and prices significantly on lunches, and Outback has reduced steaks by $1.

New Menu Items--Applebee's is going to try out star power by teaming with Tyler Florence from Food Network, 23 new items on TGI Friday's menu, and Cheesecake factory has 16 new items on the menu.

Seems like nothing more than the obvious to me. Any time sales go the wrong direction the knee-jerk reaction is to reduce prices and add features. Eventually that strategy is not going work. Great news for those of us that aren't big chains, but it is going to take some effort. The Restaurant Hospitality article notes:


you may have to fight to keep the business you've got, but it's still there to be gotten.

So how do you fight? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Get in touch with your customers. Walking around asking them how their meal was is great, but what happens when they walk out the door? Do you have a way to stay in touch with them? Start gathering email addresses and stay in touch regularly with your loyal clientele.
  2. Ask your customers for feedback. Hopefully you didn't wait till sales dropped to realize that your customers want a high quality food faster. Is there someway you can meet that need for them? What else do your customers want? You should be closer to your customers than the big guys and able to move faster.
  3. Get your word-of-mouth on! The best way to "fight" for more business is to develop a force of loyal customers that are actively telling their friends and associates what a great restaurant you run. Don't leave it to chance, get a program in place that makes it easy for your customers to spread the word.

Word of mouth fills seats, now is the time to get started.

If you are not regularly staying in touch with your customers someone else will. How do you stay in touch? Learn more

Customer Surveys Gone Bad

Customer Surveys Gone Bad

Asking customers for feedback is a great way to get them more engaged and find opportunities to improve any business. Unfortunately, as with anything good, if not used appropriately they can cause more grief than benefit. Here are a few holes not to step in:

1) Don't ask just because you can. There is nothing worse than a long customer service survey--so long that by the time you finish it you can't remember what the original shopping experience was like. Is anyone really using that data? Make it as short as you possibly can and then cut it in half. Your customers will thank you and you'll stay focused on what is really important. Want more detail? Contact a few of those that answered your short survey and ask them if they'd be willing to spend some more time on additional questions.

2) Pay attention to the details. Nothing destroys credibility faster than a stupid question. If you limit yourself to only a few questions all the stupid ones will go away. Here is an example from the September 2006 Readers Digest:

Maybe I was overreacting, but I couldn't help worrying about the quality of care at the local hospital. On a form titled "Some Questions for Our Pregnant Patients," the very first item was: "1. Gender? (check one) M_ F_." Jenniey Tallman, Tyro, Virginia

3) Numbers are good, comments are better. Numbers, if used appropriately, can give you a good feeling for trends and direction over time, but they are no match for free-form comments from your customers. Numbers can be manipulated and misinterpreted but actual comments like the following paint a compelling picture that doesn't require interpretation.

...location has long lines all the time (out the door). They could do something to speed up the process. Sometimes we don't go there because we know it takes so long.

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Customer feedback is a great thing. Just be careful how you ask.

Find your happy customers and put a megaphone in their hand. Learn more

Seeds from the blogworld
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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