The Power of Realtime Feedback for Your Business

The Power of Realtime Feedback for Your Business

When I get in a car my goal is typically to get from where I am to where I want to be as fast as safely possible. To do that, I primarily use one gauge on the dashboard: the speedometer. Sure every few days I have to pay attention to the gas gauge and, if the car doesn’t seem to be behaving as it should I glance at the other gauges but the majority of the time it is all about the speedometer. WIth my goal being to get to my destination as fast as possible I try to keep that speedometer at (or slightly above) the speed limit.

I rented a car the other day with a new feedback mechanism that completely changed the way I drive. The car was the Nissan Altima Hybrid. I don’t own the car ( the car I own is more of a truck—it has a V10 and can easily pull up the mountain into Flagstaff at 85 mph—but that’s a post for another day and perhaps a different blog). I ended up driving the Altima because the rental car company gave me a free upgrade. I drove it for 4 days in the bay area. The hybrid Altima is rated at 42 mpg. It’s got all kinds of high tech stuff under the hood that switches back and forth between and electric power and the combustion engine and delivers great efficiency. All that stuff is very cool and seemed to work very well, but the thing that saved the most gas for me was a new gauge they added to the dashboard. The gauge was a real time mpg indicator. It was cool. I could always see exactly what kind of mileage I was getting. If I pushed the pedal down to pass, the mpg indicator would drop down into the the 8 to 9 range. When I coasted down a hill it would shoot up to 80 to 90 mpg. I found if I kept it steady I could get to a nice cruising speed and still be getting over 40 mpg.

That one additional bit of information completely changed the way I, the proud owner of a V10, drove. Yes, I still wanted to get there as quick as I could but I found myself balancing that goal with the goal of maximizing my mileage. Now I know that each time I fill up I could do the little calculation and figure out what kind of mileage I got, but the fact is I don’t. Why? Because by that time, the decisions have already been made. I admit it, I am short sighted, but I have never filled my tank with gas, calculated my mileage and said, “Hmmm, I better drive slower.” On the other hand, the real time mgp gauge on the Altima had me driving slower—not always, but certainly more often,

How does that apply to your small business? What feedback mechanisms do you use to monitor the success of your business? Traditional accounting measures are like calculating your mpg after the fact. Everything is history. Sure it is a good number to know, but by the time you know it, it may be too late to influence the behaviors that need to be changed to improve it. Forward looking indicators like sales forecasts and other budgets are more like the speedometer, but even these indicators don’t give what you really need to run your business. What you really need to run your business (in conjunction with the other measures) is a realtime indicator of how your customers feel about your business. You need realtime customer feedback. You may think you know what your customers feel, want and need, but I can guarantee you that unless you are asking your customers and listening, what you think you know is wrong. I can also guarantee you that, just like the realtime mpg gauge changed my driving behavior, realtime customer feedback will change your behavior and the behavior of your staff for the better. Give it a try, you will never go back.

Anybody know where I can get an aftermarket mgp gauge for a V10?

The average American consumer discusses brands 56 times a week. Are they discussing yours? Learn more

Time to Pull a Few Heads?

Time to Pull a Few Heads?

I live in the arid southwestern region of the United States, Arizona, to be exact. I'm going on my third summer in my current home. The past two summers I have really struggled to keep my front lawn green. Yes, I have lawn. I know that some gravel and a few cacti would be more environmentally friendly, but a little patch of green lawn is more people friendly so I've kept it. Anyway, no matter what I did the sprinkler system for the front lawn never seemed to work right. The system uses little pop-up heads and they were constantly getting stuck, refusing to pop up and spray. Instead they would stay stuck in the down position, dribbling their water into a little puddle an d leaving the rest of the lawn to turn brown. I replaced many of them during the first two seasons thinking that they were just old and no longer worked. I also used my trimmer to shave the lawn directly around the heads thinking that maybe it was getting in the way. No good. The heads still refused to work.

This spring I decided to try a different tactic. It occurred to me that maybe the issue wasn't with the individual heads (they were all good heads) but with the overall system. More specifically, maybe I had too many heads resulting in not enough water pressure for the heads to perform correctly. I decided there would be no harm in testing that theory. I was ready to pull the whole system and start over with some different heads anyway. So I pulled 10 of the 23 heads. I pulled the heads and put a plug where they had been. I didn't move any of the remaining 13 around. I just strategically pulled 10 out of the midst of them. My lawn looks better than it has for the past 3 years! The remaining 13 heads all pop-up strong and have more than enough coverage to fill in for the 10 that are now in an old box in my garage.

What is the lesson for business? There are several, but I think the main one for entrepreneurs is to stay focused. There are a lot of opportunities out there--a lot of good opportunities--but being successful sometimes requires saying "no" even to good opportunities. So how is your focus? Too many sprinkler heads and not enough water pressure? Think about doing less--you could end up with a lot more green.

Customers who feel that you are listening to them are more likely to recommend you to a friend. How do your customers know that you are listening? Learn more

This Post Isn't Worth Reading

This Post Isn't Worth Reading

Interesting post on WorkPlayExperience about managing customer expectations to improve their experience. More specifically, lowering expectations so that customers end up being blown away. Whether you agree with the premise or not, the example used is must see material. A contestant on the British version of American Idol is a cell phone salesman that dreams of being an opera singer. You can see the judges rolling their eyes and then....

In our world of hyper-competition, keeping expectations low doesn't seem like an obvious strategy for success. Imagine the used car ad, "Come on down, but don't expect too much. Most of our cars are lemons." On the other hand, maybe something like that would be just unique and honest enough to bring them in! For more advice on lowering expectations check out Adam's post.

The Negative Impact of Word-of-Mouth

The Negative Impact of Word-of-Mouth

I listened to a story on NPR this afternoon about the negative impact of bad word-of-mouth, you can listen to it here. Very scary. This is part one of a two part story by Wendy Kaufman, hopefully the second part will bring out the positive aspects from good word-of-mouth.

The basis for the article comes from research by the Wharton School of Business. They found that 1 out of 2 customers has a customer service problem when they shop. Worse is the fact that they then tell friends, family, and colleagues about it and embellish the story in the retelling. The overall result is that 1/2 of those that hear the bad news story won't shop at those places they heard about. Ouch! Those that improve on the situation certainly create a business advantage.

It goes to show the need for businesses to hear from their customers, the bad news as well as the good. Hearing the bad news you can make efforts to correct the situation so that bad embellished stories won't be spread. You even have the opportunity to turn a detractor into a promoter. You can also get to the root cause and fix it to reduce future bad experiences.

If you are not regularly staying in touch with your customers someone else will. How do you stay in touch? Learn more

Buzz is Better than Ads

Buzz is Better than Ads

Great article in BusinessWeek about Chipotle's success without traditional advertising. If you've never been to one, Chipotle's is a burrito place. They used to be owned by McDonald's but got spun out and went public in 2006. Since then their share price has tripled. They've experienced double-digit growth for nine straight years! Here is the kicker: they don't do traditional advertising.

Actually, they do a little traditional advertising. Some billboards (see image with this post) and radio, but they spend less than 1% of their revenue on advertising compared with 4% or more for McDonald's and Taco Bell.

According to Steven Ellis, the Chipotle founder and CEO, "Advertising is not believable." When he opened his first store in Denver he had no money for advertising so he decided to let his burritos do the talking and started giving them away free. They recently opened a location in midtown Manhattan and gave away 6,000 burritos. People stood in line for two hours. It cost $35,000 (about the cost of an ad in The New York Times) and they got 6,000 promoters plus a mention in BusinessWeek out of it. Not bad.

What are you doing to get your customers talking?

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