As 2013 draws to a conclusion, now is the time to think about the year ahead, rather than putting it off until the new year.
As a business improvement consultant, I encourage my clients to think about the year ahead, in the context of:
- what went well this year, and how can we replicate it?
- what didn’t work well at all, and therefore we must stop doing it
- what do we need to do better?
By considering these 3 simple questions, we start to think about improving our business strategically.
- what are you going to do differently, so that you get better results?
- how will you raise standards internally and externally, resulting in increased sales?
- How can you work more productively, so that efficiencies increase and profits are raised?
2013 has been my best year in business to date; it truly has been an outstanding year for me and my clients.
2014 will be even better.
Reflecting on 2013, I have identified the 5 main resons for my clients wanting to improve. They are:
- Too much fire-fighting
- Pressure from customers
- Retaining employees/talent
- Reducing costs
So fire-fighting has been the #1 reason for my projects this year. Fire-fighting occurs when we have to deal with the unexpected. It means we have to do things twice, spend more time on something, perform what should have been done in the first place, and of course, spend more cash. Sometimes, as I have witnessed, these problems keep on happening, meaning they actually become expected – the way we work here!
Removing fire-fighting means:
- no more dealing with the unexpected
- no more chasing
- no more reworking or doing it again
- faster lead times
- better customer experience
- motivated employees
- increased productivity
So what will you improve to make 2014 the best year for you?
Look out for my newsletter in December which describes the above 5 reasons in more detail.
I recently received a piece of feedback from a client I worked with during July this year. It’s a reminder of how important relationships in business are; people don’t forget you if you add value.
‘Alistair, no doubt you will be pleased to know that we have been recommended by ACS registrars for ISO9001 certification. We had one minor NC which was that someone had ordered something from a non-approved supplier. This was because the supplier was added after I exported the supplier list to do the approval process. Such is life.
Thanks very much for your help on this. I doubt if we would have achieved it without your input.’
One of my clients has, and this is what I advised:
1. Measure your loss
Until you have quantified the cost of lost customers you are unlikely to do very much about it. But once you do – it could be the only marketing that you do for a given period of time – because once you understand what you are losing you realise why chasing after new clients is like pouring water into a leaking bucket.
How can you measure whether customers are leaving you? Of course this will depend on what or how you sell – but one simple way would be to take a list of your top 20 or 100 customers (by spend) last financial year and compare it to this year’s spend. Are there any names missing on this year’s list? Are there any significant decreases in spend which might indicate that although they are still buying some things from you they have decided to take other business elsewhere.
Talk to your sales people, reception staff – anyone who would have contact with customers and ask them if they are aware of any customers who have let them know that they are ‘leaving’.
Keep a record of any customers who notify you that they are leaving – and make a note of the lost revenue in each case.
2. Understand why customers leave
A look at the common reasons that customers leave is enlightening and reveals a startling picture. Most customers leave because they have no reason to stay…NOT because they have a reason to go.
Do you know why you are losing customers? Really why, not just the fact they have gone to a competitor – chances are you’ll never really know if they are leaving because of indifference. So you need to plug up this hole first before you worry about the one’s who have been lost because you’re competitors are aggressively making offers or providing better products.
3. Talk to your customers
If indifference is the biggest reason customers are lost, it generally means they haven’t heard from you for 6 weeks or more.
The good news is that you can of course do something about the most common cause of lost customers. You can talk to them, write to them, make them offers, ask their opinion and generally show that you want them as a client.
Lots of businesses spend thousands of pounds producing new brochures or websites and forget to tell their existing customers about them. There are any number of reasons (or you might say excuses) to contact your customers. All it takes is a simple system – to diarise the contact, to draft up a message and to administer the mailing.
Have you found out why a customer has left you? What was the real reason?
I recently completed a piece of bespoke consultancy with Econ Engineering based in Ripon, north Yorkshire.
Here’s what their Quality Manager, Martyn Jordan, had to say about the project:
‘We required ISO 9001 certification for our vehicle body manufacturing plant to help Econ achieve vehicle type approval status. Having little knowledge and an extremely short timescale, we approached ADM Solutions to guide us through the process. Alistair Manning visited our company and gave us a full explanation of the standard (in plain English) and its requirements. This was followed up by regular meetings for Alistair to coach me, resulting in a Management System Manual based on our business and the standard. Alistair also kindly provided formal training to enable us to conduct our own internal audits. He was always in regular contact and assisted very promptly with any advice we required.
We achieved certification in a very short period of time which would not have been possible without the professional guidance provided by Alistair. In addition to this, the system has produced countless improvements to our business by improving the way we work. I would not hesitate in highly recommending ADM Solutions to any organisation requiring ISO 9001 or any other business improvement activity.’
Martyn Jordan, Quality Manager, Econ Engineering Ltd, August 2013
My projects deal with a number of objectives, in particular those on my C-E-M programme . My methodologies for achieving these objectives vary by project, but there is always one constant: continuous improvement. That means, we raise the bar, then we keep going. It’s a simple as that.
I keep getting asked whether I ‘do’ lean! And the simple answer is yes, of course, but I don’t see it as something you ‘do’. I see lean as something you apply during a project, as required.
I do think that lean and continuous improvement are related. It’s difficult for me to think about ‘doing’ one without the other. Here’s why:
- both require a change of shift in order to embrace the change
- both involve some form of experimentation – trying new things and refining
- both eliminate ‘waste’ – anything that is non-value adding to the company or its customers
- both provide an environment that promotes high levels of quality and safety to both customers and staff
- both focus on process improvement, not blame
- both require people to work better together (I refrain from mentioning teamwork, but you know what I mean)
- both aim to achieve flow – interruption free processes
So I remain that I ‘do’ both continuous improvement and lean, but simply choose not to talk about them. Instead, I pull whatever is required from each discipline to progress the achievements of the objectives.
Do you agree with me or do you believe they are separate techniques used in different circumstances?
My new product launches this week. Shockingly, according to the Wall Street Journal, 60% of internal improvement projects fail. My C-E-M programme ensures my clients’ projects don’t.
The 3 phases of the process are:
Clarify – shedding light on the things that cause fire-fighting, complaints, bottlenecks, etc. Defining their impact and creating solutions.
Enable – Empowering staff to deliver work packages according to the project plan. Implementation, coaching, mentoring.
Maintain – Sustaining the improvement & installing systems to continually improve performance.
Each phase is a separate package, logically following each other in sequence.
Typical results include:
- Eliminating fire-fighting
- Increasing workload with same resource
- Winning new tender bids & contracts
- Becoming industry benchmarks
- Increase market share
- Eliminate complaints
Read more about it here or contact me directly on 07986 442979.