In building a new house, one has the opportunity to interact with a lot of contracting businesses. Most of these are small and locally owned. Usually, the business owner wins over the customer by being knowledgeable and friendly, and by making promises about his firm’s reliable, punctual and detail-oriented culture.
Once the project begins, however, the customer may not see the owner again. You're dealing with a project manager and a series of vendors (heating, electrical, plumbing, paint, interior design, etc.) who may not fully understand how the owner’s business is supposed to operate, or the customer’s expectations.
This is when things start to fall apart. The owner built a terrific business based on an appealing culture, but that culture isn’t translating in everyday customer interactions. The individual employees and vendors have their own ways of doing things. The right hand on the project doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Chaos and misunderstandings ensue. The customer is disappointed and does not recommend the business again.
When any small business starts to grow and additional people must be engaged, owners must be strategic about their process. Here are five tips to move in the right direction.
1. Consider cultural fit. Small-business owners tend to hire people purely based on expertise and whether they are experienced in a particular industry. But just because someone is a talented carpenter, for instance, does not mean she prides herself on solving a problem without being asked or taking that extra step to ensure the best quality. If you want your business to be perceived as doing these things, you must screen for them during the interview process.
2. Develop an onboarding program. Whether it’s personally training everyone who works on your behalf or developing standard materials for all new people to review, make sure that all new full-time and contracted hires receive the same message about your culture, philosophy and processes. If a partner refuses to comply with your values, find another who will.
3. Hold status meetings. We poke fun at large organizations that have meetings about meetings, but in-person or virtual team gatherings do serve a purpose. In the crush of immediate customer demands, small-business owners might forget that team members require a regularly scheduled communication forum in order to be on the same page. Vendors should attend, and group emails and texts are not a substitute.
4. Hold everyone to the same standards. People talk. They know what other employees or vendors are being compensated, they know what happened when someone showed up late, and they remember the consequences (or lack thereof) when one of their colleagues served up an inferior product. Whether you are dealing with employees, contractors or a mix of both, you must be consistent in establishing and enforcing behavior and performance protocols that align with your culture.
5. Be present. Delegation is well and good, but having people work for you doesn’t mean that you can disappear from the customer’s life forever. Check in yourself every so often and collect feedback as to whether operations are proceeding as intended. When a customer raises a major issue, don’t hide behind a manager. Address it personally.
You want your employees treating customers the way you would want to be treated. And the only way they're going to do that is if you build it into your culture.
Read more articles on company culture.
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