Whether your business is part time, a start up, long established sole proprietor, or managed business, the need for process is critical. A process is simply a step by step system that you do in sequence for every project you start. By developing a process at each step of the customer experience, you ensure consistent profitability and strengthen communication among vendors, teammates/contractors, and clients. While there are very different processes needed at the startup level than when managing departments, there are unifying steps in how you can approach the creation of your process.
To begin, identifying your customer’s needs is a foundation of understanding that will allow you to drive decisions for your business. Understanding their needs will affect several different processes within your company, including marketing, sales, order, and installation. Without this feedback, you are operating on a guess, or in a way, a selfish view of what you want vs. what the customer wants. The shark tank would call this step market research.
There are a few ways to conduct this market research, including:
Taking a survey of your customers.
Reading testimonials, especially the bad ones.
Asking your employees what customer’s say daily.
Reading your competitor’s sites and testimonials.
Review your problem job metrics and analyze what went wrong.
In order for this step to be effective, it’s important to let the information soak in. Do not get defensive or overly confident about what you are reading. Do not focus on solutions or create a judgment of your opinion on the feedback. Instead, note it as if it was a science experiment and move on to the next research item. You will have a chance to analyze and make changes later.
Once you have an understanding of the customer’s point of view, then we need to turn to our operation to see how our current system works. Like the market research, it’s important to not make any judgments on this process before the research is concluded. That allows us to keep an open mind and get through the tedious research stage quickly without getting stuck in the weeds. In this step, conduct a file shadow from the moment a customer reaches out to the company to initiate a new project to the final installation and payment of a sold job. Make note of every step and date a file is touched with whom and what action was taken. To be as accurate as possible, it is best to make note immediately following the action taken so it is not forgotten at a later date.
After these two research steps are complete, then it’s the time to analyze your results highlighting any customer expectations that do not align with the process. Treat the details that you review with care and be realistic when choosing what is acceptable / not acceptable.
The best way to do this, is realize what is in your control. If you can control the outcome, you can build a process around it.
Then make a wish list of items you want to improve and assign a goal deadline for implementation on each.
Once your big picture research and review is complete, you are then able to dig into each step on a granular level to dissect the do’s and dont's of the procedure. The first step in this process is to review any duplicate tasks that were taken, then identify the best person for the task, and finally assign a time frame each task needs to be completed by. After all of the details are laid out in front of you like a big pile of puzzle pieces, then take each piece and lay them in sequence of completion. Many people that approach process development end up doing these steps backwards and result in indecisiveness or being discouraged by the time it takes to implement a new process. Instead, make a simple adjustment to think big picture first, then layout the details after and you’ll be implementing in just 90 days!
Once the steps and sequence are defined, you’ll be able to implement tools to measure the success of your process and keep you organized to complete those steps consistently. The first tool is identifying the paperwork that is needed for each step of the process. Whether digital or manual, paperwork is the baton in the relay race that keeps the communication smooth. To support the paperwork, integrate technology to complete the job efficiently.
The most common technology used throughout the customer experience includes:
Email and Calendar (Google, Microsoft Outlook, etc.)
CRM and Quoting Software (My Blind Co.)
Vendor Order Sites (Graber, Horizons, RMCOCO, etc.)
Financial Management Software (Quickbooks, Freshbooks, etc.)
As the details get ironed out, it’s time to take a step back again and inspect what you expect. Go back and try a file shadow to see how the new steps are getting implemented. Also, take a look at the financial ramifications that each step has throughout the process. Make note of costs of technology, critical steps or use of tools that proactively prevent reorders or service calls, when deposits and balances are collected, and salaries. By understanding the finances involved and creating procedures to control the costs with each step, you can ensure to keep your budgets proactively maintained.
At this point it should be about 60 days since you started the market research step to create a new process. You should have most of the system defined and details ironed out, but you may be feeling like you’re tripping over your own feet still in completing the steps. First, give yourself a break and some credit for embarking on something brand new and for taking the steps to better your customer experience. Few take the time to follow through this challenging exercise. Second, sign up for some training on steps of the process that still feel foreign or technologies that make you uncomfortable. The process is only as strong as its weakest link, and if you are the weak link, it is in your control to change that. Third, keep practicing to get it into muscle memory. And fourth, a bonus, train others around you on the process because when you train something, it holds you accountable to being your best self.
While building these systems, it's important to keep in mind:
It’s YOUR business. You can do anything you want while keeping the customer’s needs in mind.
Don’t accept “because we’ve always done it that way” as your excuse to resist change.
Keep it consistent. Whatever you build, it has to be repeatable.
By implementing a process you can hold your business to a higher standard, attract high paying clients, and find repeated profitable success with minimized guesswork.