PROCESS IMPROVEMENT ISN’T JUST FOR BIG INDUSTRY
One of the most common issues I see in coaching small business leaders is a lack of focus on developing and maintaining processes. As any smart entrepreneur knows, delivering inconsistent service is the easiest way to sink a business right out of the gate. Process documentation, training and improvement is the most important tool any business has to ensure they provide the best customer experience every time.
I find that solo entrepreneurs or those with only 1 or 2 employees seem to think that process development isn’t necessary for them. The truth is that process improvement is even more important (and easier) with a smaller company. Here are the top 5 things I hear from small business leaders when we start talking about process in their business.
1. “I have a service business. I don’t need documented processes.”
This is probably the leading misconception I come across in my coaching with service businesses. When a business is solo or small there is this notion that one or two people can remember all the steps needed to complete certain tasks. For instance, the process for accepting payment from a customer may seem simple enough. Just scan the credit card! Not true. When you think about it deeper, this process can be almost infinitely complex. What system will the payment be recorded in? Do you keep the receipt for your records and where do you keep it? Do you collect certain customer information at time of payment? What do you send to the customer after payment? The list of questions can go on and nobody can realistically remember all of that detail consistently each time. With an essential process like accepting payment it is critical that a step isn’t missed.
2. “I don’t have any processes to improve.”
When I start working with client on identifying current processes in their businesses, they inevitably have trouble. I understand that process isn’t as sexy as marketing and branding but it doesn’t make it less important. Consider even the most mundane activities in your business and identify where there are already informal processes in place to accomplish a task. For instance, a professional coaching business may need a system for capturing and following up on unique improvement plans for each of their clients. Maybe right now the coach is using an old legal pad to keep their plans and notes. There are many limitations to the paper record system that could lead to a bad customer experience. What if the coach loses or destroys a notebook? Not only is all of that important information lost, but it also creates a privacy concern for the customer. This is a great use for a secure and reliable system to improve the customer experience.
3. “I am too busy running by business to write policies and procedures.”
I hear this so often and I certainly can sympathize with the need to find more time in our day. Yet, writing out formal policies doesn’t have to be overly… well, formal. The objective is to get something on paper (or digital) and store it where you can easily access it later. It can be as simple as writing a memo to yourself with quick bullet points. Challenge yourself to write the first draft of a process in 15-30 minutes then come back and refine it later. This is why it is actually easier for smaller companies. Building out policies is like building a house. As you start with the foundation and scale up, your systems can get more complex. When you are small your systems will start out simple and grow more complex over time. There is no pressure to think of everything in your process the first time. Rely on continuous improvement of that process to make it better over time.
4. “My process for X is fine the way it is.”
This is almost never the case. I have rarely come across a process, regardless of the complexity, that doesn’t have SOME room for improvement. The most common issues we see in a service business are bottlenecks that are causing delay or other service quality issues. For example, if you are a retail shop that drop ships orders to its customers. Maybe packages are constantly showing up late. Finding the source of the bottleneck delay would be an important process improvement project. We also tend to find that many processes aren’t actually being performed the same way each time. In that case, going back to educate employees on the process might be the best way to improve. It is also important not to “set it and forget it”. Regular periodic review of your processes will help uncover those opportunities for improvement.
5. “Process will make my customer interactions less genuine.”
A good entrepreneur will create an environment where each customer interaction feels genuine and unique by bringing the best of their or their team’s personality to the table. Using process improvement that aligns with your brand will actually enhance customer satisfaction. Consider an auto repair shop where the person checking in customers is arbitrarily estimating the time it will take to complete a job. While some customers may be happy their cars were done earlier than they thought, there will be just as many that will be upset it took longer than expected. The shop may lose those upset customers to one down the road. If a formal process was put in place to estimate wait times, the check-in desk personnel would be able to more effectively manage customer expectations leading to a better experience overall. The check-in team still has the opportunity to connect with customers and provide them with a personalized service.
If you need help with process and don’t know where to start, I hope you’ll get in touch with us so we can work together to help you streamline, grow, and accomplish your goals!
Alex Mullineaux is one of our principal business coaches and resident healthcare industry experts. You can learn more about his work here.