Imposing our values on customers

In working with small business owners, I am often amazed at how frequently they seek to impose their values upon their customers. Sometimes this occurs is small, subtle ways. And other times it occurs in a huge way.

One of the most common ways small business owners do this is by declaring that customer’s won’t pay higher prices. Many believe that customers only buy on the basis of price, and so they seek to do anything reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) to keep their prices low.

Certainly, in some industries competing on price is simply the business model. Commodities are a prime example. But even when one is selling a commodity, one doesn’t have to compete solely on the basis of price. The success of brand names is one example.

When an owner refuses to offer his customer options he is imposing his values on the customer. The owner believes something to be true, and acts accordingly. He never bothers to find out if it is true of this particular customer. Rather than offer the customer options–and let the customer decide–the owner offers one option and the customer must take it or leave it.

Over the years I have had many customers buy from me when I would have bet the farm that they wouldn’t. Often, the reason they have bought from me is because I gave them options. I spent the time to learn what they want and why, and then offered a number of solutions to meet their needs.

I don’t like others making assumptions about what I want. They may or may not be correct, but it is my money and I will decide how to spend it. We should do the same with our customers.

Using systems to overcome small business bottlenecks

If you are like most small business owners, you frequently experience frustrations and/ or undesired results. Employees who do not always perform as you would like, deliveries that arrive late, payments that aren’t collected promptly, poor quality work, and a myriad of other problems can torment the owner of a small business.

Most problems in a small business result from 1 of 2 causes: a lack of systems and procedures, or the procedure was not properly followed.

Consistent actions lead to consistent results. If we know the results we desire, and the actions that will lead to that result, successful performance is simply a matter of following the proper course of action. In other words, if A causes B, and we want B, then we should do A. If cooking the burger for 4 minutes on each side cooks it perfectly, then we should always cook a patty for 4 minutes on each side.

This may seem like an over simplification, but the truth is, actions have consequences. And those consequences are usually predictable. Thus, our business can achieve consistent, desirable results if we consistently take the proper actions.

Undesired results are a signal that we have not taken the appropriate actions. When we experience a problem or frustration within our business, we should view it as an opportunity to correct or implement a system. If customers are complaining that their burgers are undercooked, it is very likely that we didn’t cook it for 4 minutes on each side.

By developing and implementing systems in our business, we will consistently take the actions that produce the results we desire. If we want to prepare the perfect burger, then we must cook the meat properly, toast the bun, and assemble the ingredients in the proper amounts and in the proper order. If we want to operate a successful business we must similarly assemble its “ingredients”. Systems provide the guidelines and the standards for doing so.

When the rules should be broken

Developing systems for your small business is an important part of long-term success. Having specific steps for performing the myriad tasks within a business helps to insure consistent and desirable results. But sometimes, following those steps too rigidly can create problems. Sometimes the rules may need to be broken.

Bill Hogg provides an example. He submitted an article, which was promptly rejected because it did not meet certain guidelines. After considerable explaining on Hogg’s part, the publisher finally relented and published the article.

In this instance, the publisher had a perfectly valid rule in place. But in this particular instance, that rule was defeating the purpose for which it was implemented. In other words, the rule was not achieving the desired results.

There are times when we must break the rules. Of course, if we do this too often the rules become meaningless. But if we drop the context and follow the rules, no matter the outcome, the rules are equally meaningless. Rules are not intended to be commandments to be followed no matter what. They are established to be applied in a specific context.

When we establish procedures we must do more than just state what we want done. We must explain why we want it done–what results we are seeking. Not only does this provide clarity to the procedure, it also helps us identify when the rules should be broken.

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