The Systems Thinker Blog

My Out-of-Body Experience at Café Zupas, a Case Study in Systems Thinking

Posted byRon Carroll

My wife and I recently stopped for lunch at Café Zupas, part of an exploding chain of “fast-casual” restaurants that started in Provo, Utah in 2004. While my wife enjoyed the tasty cuisine and carried on a one-sided conversation, I drifted into another dimension (a place familiar to the Systems Thinker) where motion slows and details become crystal clear, a place where you see things not visible to others. With the amplified power of Systems Thinking, I observed the intricate “ecosystem” of Café Zupas’ business operation.

Cafe Zupas Store Exterior

This out-of-body experience began as I read a sign on the restaurant wall that read:

“We’re obsessed with Soup, Salads, Sandwiches and Desserts. We’ve searched the world for just the right recipes, with just the right ingredients. It’s all about culture, tradition and ancestry. And it’s about artistry. Perfection is made from scratch; it’s fresh, homemade and unique. Let our passion for taste and texture be your invitation to join the Zupas obsession."

Systems Thinkers from the Get-Go

The restaurant chain was the idea of two former “software guys.”  During an interview, partner Dustin Schulties said, “Our background in software helped us in creating systems for how we order, prep and use ingredients.“

The sign on the wall also reveals that these budding restaurateurs began by “searching the world over for just the right recipes, with just the right ingredients.” The concept of recipes is profoundly important for everyone trying to start and grow a successful business enterprise, including YOU!

Each recipe they found in their search is a unique system of ingredients and instructions for preparing or processing the food. Every dish is made with exactness, and the end-result is a culinary sensation. Combined, these distinctive and exclusive recipes are the basis for a winning business model.

For example, you might enjoy a Wisconsin Cauliflower soup, a Glazed Chicken Chipotle salad, or a Turkey Spinach Artichoke sandwich. For desert, you’ll die for the Triberry Cheesecake or the Chocolate Hazelnut Crème Brûlée.

Cafe Zupas Food

What is Your Recipe for Success?

A recipe is nothing more than a formula for creating something wonderful—repeatedly—with the same customer-pleasing result. (People are lined up at Café Zupas every time we go).

I once worked with a large import retailer who did flower arranging. They had “recipes” that included specific flowers, greens, and vases organized for a certain look that customers loved. I did work for a social media company that produced Facebook posts according to a recipe that earned lots of “Likes.”

When music artists develop their own sound, and people buy their songs, they have a winning recipe that can last for decades. The same goes for movie themes such as Marvel Comics or James Bond. In our free-market system, recipes that aren’t popular, will not endure.

Recipes to Riches.jpg
Photo from "Recipe to Riches" Australian Television


So, maybe you don’t think that creating popular recipes applies to your business. Think again!

A local landscaper has a package deal for lawn maintenance, and he installs a water feature his customers love—both recipes. A sign maker displays her unique recipe for signage (style, color, fonts, etc.) that generates a stack of orders and referrals.

A home builder shows eight floor plans in his catalog. He keeps the best sellers, drops the slow sellers, and adds new floor-plan “recipes" each year. Like pizza toppings, or sandwich fillings, customers choose the “ingredients” they want for their new home—paint color, carpet, counter tops, and so forth.

When I was young, my family had a business that manufactured framed art. We created a design theme called “Silhouettes” that featured black trees, sail boats, or other illustrations printed on glass and set against a beautiful sunset background that was recessed in the wood picture frame. The phone rang non-stop for two years. Our retail customers couldn’t keep them in the stores. As a product, it was a winning recipe, eventually copied by some of our competitors.

Your Business is Like a Chocolate Cake

Recipes are all about your ability to create a remarkable product or service that folks will line up for.  It’s the combination of ingredients and process (e.g., message, presentation, pricing, guarantee, return merchandise policy, courtesy and knowledge of employees, store cleanliness, delivery time, and so forth) that make the recipe unique and better than your competition.

When you follow the precise instructions to make a chocolate cake, you get the same result every time. However, we probably agree that not all chocolate cakes are alike. Have you tried “Death by Chocolate” or ”Chocolate Thunder?”  A simple recipe enhancement can make all the difference.

The same holds true with your recipe for generating sales leads, hiring the best people, delivering customer service, or fulfilling orders. A little change in ingredients or procedure can give a far-superior result. 

 (And be sure to give your recipe—your exceptional business system—a great name.)

The Law of Cause and Effect

A business system or process—whether in the store, the office, or the workshop—is merely a proven recipe to get things done in a specific, pre-determined and consistent way. Systems are governed by the Law of Cause and Effect; things happen for a reason. The effect or result of a business process is determined by the ingredients used, and the procedure followed.

Correctly designed, your business systems support the mission, strategy, and goals of your organization. While people may come and go, the successful recipes you have created remain constant. Furthermore, the better your recipes, the more customer loyalty, profitability, and growth you will enjoy!

In short, your entire business is made up of systems and processes—recipes—that can be managed and improved. By applying correct principles, which include just the right ingredients and precise steps, your systems will produce desired results every time. There is no other way!

A Franchise Prototype

Your entire business is a book of recipes that people will love—OR NOT. It contains your products, services and internal systems and processes. It includes your recipes for finding exceptional people, training workers, wowing customers, attracting attention in a crowded marketplace, and so forth. It is the unique way you do things in your business operation. (I might add, Box Theory™ Software is perfectly suited to create and store all your favorite business recipes.)

Favorite Business Recipes

Cubby’s, Costa Vida, Arby’s, Subway, Studio Pizza, Smash Burger, Zaxby’s, McDonald’s, Del Taco and a dozen other fast-food restaurants are close to my home. Each developed their own recipes for remarkable business systems and processes that began as a “franchise prototype” (Michael Gerber, E-Myth Revisited).

Whether you replicate your business or not, a systemized operation will put more money in your pocket, enable others to run the company when you’re not around, and prepare you to one day sell the business for top dollar—all the things you expect from your financial investment and hard work.

What Sets Café Zupas Apart?

Let’s go back to Café Zupas. They have attractive, well-run, and efficient stores, but there is more to the story.

From their website, store signs, and printed menu, the System Thinker gets a glimpse into the underlying cause of their excellent reputation and popularity. Below are some phrases I see in their marketing copy. I have italicized elements of their strategy, business model, and distinctive recipe for success.

  • “Our delicious recipes are derived from gourmet kitchens around the world.”
  • “We begin with fresh produce; the best quality ingredients delivered to our door each morning from local suppliers.”

Cafe Zupas Ingredients

  • “We’re passionate about creating kitchen-fresh food the old-fashioned way, and we know you can taste the difference.”

  • “Join us every spring and fall as we explore the flavors of the world with our World Tour of Soup.”

  • “The complimentary chocolate-dipped strawberry we give each of our guests is our unique way of saying thank you. It's a symbol of the extra care we give to everything we do.”
Cafe Zupas Chocolate Strawberries.jpg
  • “We strive to cheerfully serve our guests in such a way they feel at home and cared for.”

  • “We love to provide a place that is fun, inviting, and unique. Our relationship with our guests, our employees, and our local suppliers is what makes Café Zupas great.”

  • As we expand with new locations every year, we stay committed to making our food the same way, offering our guests fresh, delicious, artisan meals.”

Have you thought about your offering in this kind of detail? Are you communicating it well? What is your “sensory package” to attract and retain customers—words, colors, logo, printed materials, signage, sound, touch, smell, or taste?

(My wife recently took the car for an oil change and found a silk rose left on the dashboard—an unexpected gesture from an auto repair shop.)

Do you see how every repeated thing you do is a recipe or system to get a consistently desirable result?  Café Zupas’ website, store layout, menu, and thank-you chocolate strawberry, are all elements of their business systems and processes. YOUR company should promote similar features and benefits!

A Brief Time Out

In my continued out-of-body experience, I’m hovering over my wife as she tries to engage with my empty shell. Looking around, I observe dozens of smiling patrons and engaged workers. I wonder what they are really thinking about their experience at Café Zupas. I wonder if things are as rosy as they appear.

Cafe Zupas View from Above

Clues from Customer Reviews

We have peeked into Zupas’ business strategy and their recipe for a business model, but let’s dig a little deeper to see how they are doing with their other business systems and processesthose you may have in common. Consider with me what patrons are saying online.

Cafe Zupas Customers

Most of the hundred customer reviews I read were very positive—4 to 5 star ratings. The owners should be very gratified. I have noted below some suggestions that point to the company’s business systems, followed by my comments as a Systems Thinker (italics added for emphasis).

  • “We were greeted at the door (yes, there is a greeter) as an employee passed out menus to view while waiting in line. They were very helpful in letting me know how to order and how to navigate the menu. I like the bright, customer-friendly menu. Makes it easy to read.” (Ron’s comment: A door greeter in this type of restaurant is unusual but makes the experience memorable (that little extra the company brags about). However, handing out and explaining the menu in advance also makes the line move faster, perhaps a more important reason.)

  • “I have never seen a restaurant be so stingy with portions. Geez! They get out an exact measuring device for each and every ingredient. I'm surprised they didn't weigh the salad at the end to be 100% certain it was 5.7897 ounces. They are a little short on the portion size.” (Ron’s comment: If a lot of people felt the same, I would consider adjusting my portion size and pricing. However, portion control is a significant factor in the restaurant business. Keeping servings precise and predictable makes for a predictable profit. Another customer said, “The only place I leave feeling just right after a meal.” That’s what you hope the majority of your guests will experience.)

  • “This place earns its stars from me because of its many options and great value! The other thing I appreciate about this place is its well thought out, they even have a charging station with USB inputs so you can charge your phone. WHY DONT ALL PLACES HAVE THIS!?!?" (Ron’s comment: There are lots of menu options to please everyone; unlimited food combinations from a limited number of ingredients keep customer satisfaction up and cost down; USB ports for charging show they care about the little things (like the “thank you” chocolate-covered strawberry).

Cafe Zupas Menu 

  • “This establishment said they are too busy to take a phone order, yet they have a person opening the front door for guests? They responded to my inquiry, “she is not trained for phone orders"??!!! I am now going to be too busy to give my hard-earned money for undertrained staff!!” (Ron’s comment: Never be too busy to take an order or serve a customer. Due to frustration, this customer discontinued buying catered meals for his business meetings. On the other hand, an untrained person should not take complicated phone orders. Which business system is to blame, training, scheduling staff, or something else?)

  • “They tell you, when you are through eating to just leave your dishes, they will clean it all up for you. Then they say, please no tipping. The rest rooms are very clean. Thinking of how many people are in and out of there during the lunch rush, I was impressed!” (Ron’s comment: Notice three great elements to their customer-service system—staff cleans the tables, open refusal to take tips, and very clean restrooms, even during busy hours.)

  • “The food is pretty good, but they need to work on the ordering process. You have to walk through a hurried line where every person asks you what you ordered or if you want what they have to offer.  At the end of the line there is a disorganized pile of prepared dishes and you are expected to remember the names of everything you ordered to figure out which combination of soup, salad or sandwich is yours.” (Ron’s comment: I’ve had the same difficulty. This system would be easy to improve. What would you do to make it easy for customers to recognize their order at the end of the line?)

Cafe Zupas Serving Line 

  • “I was told the corporate office ‘didn't have a phone number. Of course anyone with any sense knows that a corporate office HAS a phone number. So that means that they just don't want to speak with their ACTUAL CUSTOMERS! Ahh… that's a wonderful business model.. NOT! And.. what do you know.. . with a little bit of extra research.. I found that indeed they do have a phone number. Surprise! I posted it for others, even though they prefer to hide and remain out of touch.” (Ron’s comment: A lot of companies today make it difficult for customers to contact them; they prefer email and online methods. However, when a large company does not have a posted phone number, I often shop elsewhere to insure I can get a problem resolved if necessary. This is a company decision and a business system I think Zupas could improve upon. Some companies promote their phone number. They want to know what customers think.)

  • “I thought this place was going to be obnoxious and/or complicated on first site, but once I actually got my butt inside, and looked at the menu, it was evident that it's not that complicated, expensive, obnoxious atmosphere, or stingy on the servings. Pretty much whatever you order will be delicious and I'm a total sucker for those chocolate covered strawberries. These guys just totally nailed it. It's really different from pretty much any other place, like a combination of Pita Jungle and Panera, but way better than both combined.” (Ron’s comment: This review reflects what the owners are striving for—the kind of 5-star rating that makes us smile!)

Every customer YOU have could write reviews like those above. Your customers or clients have very specific feelings about the way you do business, about the way you treat them, and about your unique business “recipes.” Some customers don’t return, and you’ll never know why. Other customers come back often, and you should know why. To be successful, systemize every good thing you want to have happen—what you want your employees to do, what you want your customers to experience. There is no other way!

 What Employees Are Saying

Now let’s get some insight based upon what employees of Café Zupas have to say. Keep in mind that the comments made below often reflect a single store. However, when you see repeated issues, there may be a good reason to evaluate one or more business practices—your systems or processes (italics added for emphasis).

Cafe Zupas Employees

  • “Tons of coworkers all around the same age (Ron: a result of the hiring system) makes for a fun work environment (the company culture). Half off food discount. Decent pay 8.50 starting (compensation system). Before opening there is a meeting daily where you can discuss anything. It is great to keep things running smoothly (communication and business improvement system).

  • “There are a lot of nit-picky rules and checklists that, while being helpful, can sometimes limit the efficiency of the employees.” (Ron’s comment: The company uses checklists to ensure quality and consistency, which comes before efficiency if you want customers to return.)

  • “Zupas pushes customers through the line so quickly. It is ridiculous, unnecessarily fast, and not human. I remember getting so stressed and frustrated, I wanted to just walk away and never come back.” (Ron’s comment: The serving line moves fast. It is the nature of similar restaurants with high demand. This is probably why the company hands out menus at the door during busy times. Furthermore, arriving customers who see the line moving fast are less likely to go elsewhere.)
  • “The training they give you (if done correctly) is awesome. It really goes in depth and will teach you good customer service skills that can be used in future jobs. You'll gain a sense of urgency and learn incredible customer service.” (Ron’s comment: From numerous employee reviews, Zupas’ training system is very thorough. The workers learn to execute with exactness.)

  • “Please update the manuals and training books. Especially keep the Line Servers updated on changes in procedures.” (Ron’s Comment: I do believe this person is a Systems Thinker. Updating processes is important, followed by updated training. Yes, it is a lot of work, but if you want a customer-pleasing, waste-removing, profit-boosting business enterprise, it is necessary, and will pay dividends. This is why franchising is so popular; successful systems and processes can be easily repeated in multiple locations.)

  • “Give raises to your Line Servers especially if they have been working for you for more than three months! It is a constant struggle to keep employees, if you paid us more, fewer people would look for another job. You demand perfection and we work so hard for just being paid minimum wage. Why not invest more money in your current employees?” (Ron’s comment: Low wages and hard work are characteristic of many fast-food restaurants. That said, turnover of people is also expensive. The media would have the public believe that a benevolent business owner could easily raise wages from say $8 to $15 per hour without consequence. However, the ability to do so actually depends on the customer’s expectation of pricing. Costs in most restaurants are roughly one-third for food, one-third for labor, and one-third for overhead (e.g. rent, insurance). The average fast-food restaurant makes about 3% net profit. While you could re-evaluate your pricing system and other business efficiencies—and a price increase might be possible—there may not be a lot of wiggle room. Too much increase could drive customers to your competitors, reduce sales volume, and send your break-even point to a later day of the month (not good). Truthfully, these young people are getting an experience with value beyond current wages that will pay off in the future.)

  • Employee comments about managers: “managers need to care more about the employees working for them; management is scattered and unorganized; the upper management dress so sloppy it is embarrassing; secretive meetings are held among managers, leaving lots of room for gossip among staff; they need more open communication and transparency; managers tell you there are opportunities to advance, but they will never give you a raise or any benefit.” (Ron’s comment: Managers’ style and skills will vary from store to store. I assume the Zupas’ training system includes managers. Poor management can be costly to a company—frustration, low morale, high turnover. Remember, employees are customers, too (see Five Customer Types). If this was my business, I may try a web-based system where employees can rate their managers and overall work experience with 1-5 stars regarding a variety of topics. I would then use the information in training to help managers improve.  How would you, or do you, ensure first-rate managers in your business?)

  • "I have never worked for such a wonderful company. Every member of corporate cares and they keep people focused on the right things in the restaurant, training, consistency in the food and a fun, friendly, and clean restaurant. Keep up the great work!" (Ron’s comment: One of many 5-star ratings.)

Do YOUR employees enjoy coming to work or do they dread the thought? Do managers or workers experience frequent frustration?  Are some, even now, looking for another job? As previously mentioned, it’s not easy to keep people happy, but you can develop enthusiasm, productivity, and loyalty by incorporating the right principles into your business systems and processes (see eCourse).


The Takeaway

So what do we learn from Café Zupas that can be applied to your business operation. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Every business has an ecosystem that supports the life and success of the enterprise. Is your ecosystem like Earth or like Mars?

  2. Your business as a whole is a recipe, a “franchise prototype” as Michael Gerber refers to it (E-Myth Revisited). Have you learned the Master Skill for creating a winning business model that works well even when you’re not around, or that can be replicated in other markets?

  3. Every business has “recipes”—systems and processes—for pleasing customers and delivering products and services. Those recipes can be unique, wonderful, and attention-getting, or they can be lackluster, commonplace, and uninspiring. Do you have a world-class recipe for attracting new customers, hiring the best people, or providing “killer customer care”?

  4. What is your “sensory package” to draw people like a magnet? What would patrons say about the look and feel of your operation? Is it inviting, clean, and organized? Does it shine? What are you doing to WOW customers? What is your unique business advantage and value proposition? Do your customers know it? Is there a buzz in the marketplace about your company?

  5. Are the ingredients—the component parts—of your recipes the best you can make them? Many businesses have missing or poor-quality ingredients (e.g., forms, checklists, ad copy, signage, websites, software, equipment, people, and so forth).

  6. In today’s business environment, many companies are rated online. The brutal facts are in plain sight. Out of curiosity, how many items do YOU buy that are 3 stars? A 4-star rating is pretty much my bottom; 4 1/2 to 5 stars is preferred. I care about what other customers say, especially if there is a pattern. What could I read online about your business? Are you using the feedback to drill-down on faulty busy systems and processes and make the necessary course corrections?

  7. If business processes frustrate customers or employees, they will eventually go somewhere else. Improve your processes if you can. If you can’t change some of the things you are doing, listen and carefully explain the reasons why (e.g., compensation limits, work schedules, product return policies). Invite suggestions, and treat people with respect. Knowing that you value their opinion is 90% of the battle.

  8. The business culture you create is significant. Business guru Peter Drucker said that “culture trumps strategy every time. Is your business culture helping you succeed?

  9. Some little things that matter a lot: Keep the restrooms clean. Make payroll on time. Recognize and reward value given. Keep promises. Resolve problems quickly. Offer good training. Listen to your customers, including employees. Manage by the numbers. Lead with humility, respect and kindness (You could name others).

  10. System Thinking raises the details of your business operation from the sub-conscience to the conscious, making problems crystal clear and solutions apparent. Once you go there, you will never go back. Attention to details and low-cost improvements can make your business remarkable.

Return to the Present

“Ron, are you listening to me. Have you heard a word I’ve said,” my beautiful, sweet, awesome companion blurts out while waving her hand to get my attention? 

"Oh, sure, honey,” I instinctively reply as I do a soft landing back to reality. “I was just thinking about…. Oh, never mind."


Afterthought: Just before posting this article (10/5/2015), I googled Café Zupas. To my surprise, a Zupas display ad appeared on the top-right with a 3.2-stars rating from 16 reviews. Three visible reviews said:

"I use to love Zupas but now I feel like I am paying for barely any food."
"I ordered two (full) BBQ chicken salads today it was terrible!"
"I ended up getting two half salads with nothing but lettuce and sauce."

Oopsie! Could this be the sign of a system breakdown (at least at one store)? Trust me. It can happen to anyone—even YOU (Learn how to fix a system breakdown, and 10 reasons why business systems fail).


The Next Step...

Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, Culture, Customer Retention

Customer Care: A Business System I'm Rather Proud Of

Posted byRon Carroll

As most of you know, I once had an accounting practice that also specialized in business coaching. As my interest grew in business systems and processes, I began to apply the principles to my own organization—Carroll and Company. Even I, your humble Systems Thinker, was impressed as I recently read some of the things we did back then to deliver first-rate customer service.

Below is an overview document written in 2004 describing our business system for providing “killer-customer-care.” It may be a little outdated, but good customer service is based upon true and enduring principles, so adapt it to your modern-day methods and technologies. (Also, please forgive my frequent use of the term “she.” Our receptionist and customer-care person was female, so I wasn’t as gender-neutral as I would be if writing today.)

Keep in mind, this system overview refers to a number of other component documents that were an important part of our customer-care system. (Component documents, like those italicized below, are now an integral part of creating systems and processes using Box Theory™ Software.

This article is a little longer than usual, and probably more information than you need. However, it contains many useful ideas; even one could lead to an important improvement for your business. More than anything, I hope it gives you a vision of what goes into creating a high-performance business system. If you give your customer-service system the attention it deserves, (not like the cartoon below), your company can become remarkable. Enjoy!

Bad Customer Service
Photo credit:


Carroll and Company Customer-Care System Overview

The Customer Advocate

The Customer Advocate is a Carroll and Company employee assigned to view all customer contacts and customer-care activities from the customer’s point of view. This person continually assists customers, monitors the customer experience, reports problems to management, and recommends ways of improving customer care. 

The Customer Advocate performs the duties defined in the document Customer Advocate Responsibilities. These duties include new client intake and orientation, the customer relationship management (CRM) database, customer surveys, monthly customer email contacts, the customer-care calendar and budget, and special customer events or activities.

Customer-care Contacts

A customer-care contact takes place any time a client or one of their employees enters the physical space of Carroll and Company. A customer enters the space by walking in the front door or by calling over the telephone. Whenever a customer enters this space and interacts with Carroll and Company employees, they are given utmost courtesy and prompt attention to their needs. The employee “puts on their best face” as described in the killer-customer-care philosophy.

While on duty, the Customer Advocate/receptionist for Carroll and Company has stewardship for all customer contacts that take place. The person is sensitive to customer comfort, waiting times, fulfillment of commitments, and meeting or exceeding customer expectations. 

All management and staff employees practice the killer-customer-care philosophy during any engagement with clients, including those at the client’s workplace. All outgoing email communications from Carroll and Company use the prescribed logo and signature. Email communications are always courteous and professional (see document Email Etiquette). 

The Carroll and Company Customer-Care System includes the following guidelines. 

Carroll And Company “Sensation”

When clients visit Carroll and Company, they will have an overall feeling or “sensation” about the experience. Our goal is to make the experience as pleasant as possible. This begins with a clean and organized office. The temperature is set at a comfortable level (70-74 degrees). The person is greeted with a smile, addressed by their first name, and quickly served in a polite and professional manner. The client leaves Carroll and Company feeling that they accomplished their purpose. Sometimes they leave thinking, “WOW!”

Client Visits

When a client or their employee enters the reception area of Carroll and Company, they get immediate attention. If the receptionist is on the phone, she motions the person to have a seat. Addressing the client by name—when possible—she seeks to know who they have an appointment with, or what they have come to drop off or pick up. (By asking, “Do you have an appointment?” customers are trained to prearrange their visits to the office.) The receptionist immediately notifies the appropriate manager or staff that the client has arrived. If not already sitting, she invites the guest to take a seat and offers them a bottle of water. Wrapped candies also fill a bowl on the waiting-room table.

The receptionist continues to monitor people in the waiting area and strives to be interested and helpful, chatting with them if they would like to talk. The receptionist may also conduct a brief Client Survey (see below) while the customer is waiting.

The receptionist is sensitive to the length of time the client has been waiting. Response from Carroll managers or staff should be prompt, no more than three to five minutes. The receptionist contacts the Carroll employee if their response time is longer and informs the waiting person what they can expect. Most meetings with clients should take place in the conference rooms. Clients are discouraged from going into other parts of the building. Conference rooms are scheduled when possible.

Client Inbound Calls

When customers call the office, they are greeted by a smile (even though they can’t see it) and the statement “Good Morning, Carroll and Company, this is [Mary].” During the conversation, the greeter finds out the first name of the caller and the company they represent. The greeter also gets the phone number if the person wishes to be called back.

The receptionist/greeter works for the caller until his or her needs are met. She listens, takes action, and follows up as necessary to ensure the caller has a positive experience. The receptionist’s duty ends only when a call is successfully transferred, the customer leaves a voice mail, or the customer chooses to call back later.

If the client wants to be called later by a manager or staff, or if the call is urgent, the receptionist gives a detailed post-it to the manager or staff upon their return. If the client needs to be reached immediately, the receptionist should facilitate a mobile-phone contact.

The receptionist monitors a caller who is on hold and speaks with them every thirty seconds until the call is taken by staff. If the customer is anxious or frustrated, they are assisted in every way to resolve their problem. The Carroll and Company on-hold music/information/light advertising CD should be checked daily to make sure it is working properly. The receptionist also monitors and updates the after-hours voice message.

Customer Service - Gandhi Quote
View 50 more enlightening customer-service quotes

Remember: exceptional customer service is everyone’s job. Make a good impression. You may be the first and only contact a caller has with our company. Their feelings about the experience will stay with them long after the call is completed. Use phrases such as “please” and “thank you.” Apply the Golden Rule to treat them the way you would like to be treated. Keep your promises. If you say you are going to call them back within a certain time, do it! Every contact strengthens or weakens the customer relationship.

All telephone activities should follow the guidelines contained in the document Telephone Etiquette, and in the section “Put on Your Best Face” in the killer-customer-care philosophy.

Finally, receptionists/greeters are trained to excel at telephone etiquette. They should take phone calls most of the time. However, all employees should have should have basic customer-service and telephone-etiquette skills. Every person who has contact with clients represents Carroll and Company, their team, and themselves. Let’s be at our very best!

Internal Communication and Commitments

Clients must receive excellent customer care at all times during the day. Because some part-time employees come and go from Carroll and Company, it is extremely important that there is good communication at every level. This is particularly consequential when commitments made to the client must be filled by another employee.

Employees check-in with the receptionist when they arrive for work. They check-out when they depart the building. This lets the receptionist know who is available to work with customers. When employees leave, they also indicate the next time they will be back in the office. If it is anticipated that the client will have any needs while the employee is away from the office, a co-worker or the receptionist is informed so that the client can continue to receive service. The coming and going of staff should not adversely affect clients, causing them to feel frustrated with their outsourced accounting solution.

New Client Intake

When a new client hires Carroll and Company, a variety of internal tasks are performed to get the client setup and ready for service. As soon as possible, the Customer Advocate completes all tasks detailed in the New Client Intake Checklist.

New Client Orientation

The Customer Advocate holds a brief 20-30-minute orientation meeting with all new clients (except payroll only clients). This is usually held in a Carroll and Company conference room at a time convenient to the client and within a week of signing the Client Agreement. The Customer Advocate follows the New Client Orientation Checklist.

Client Database and Pictures

The Customer Relations Management (CRM) software contains the records of all sales prospects and customers. Current clients should be flagged in the software in order to exclude or include them in advertising pieces. At the new client orientation meeting, relevant company and contact information is obtained using the New Client Information form. This is later entered on the CRM database along with pictures taken of managers or key employees. A primary purpose of pictures is to allow Carroll staff to become familiar with clients, and so they can address them by their first name.

Client Feedback and Surveys

It is very important for Carroll and Company employees to understand the feelings and expectations of valued clients. This is done by listening to their spontaneous remarks, complaints, or suggestions during a contact or at a monthly client meeting. It is also accomplished by asking the client through a formal feedback system such as a customer survey. Client feedback must be routinely captured, forwarded to management, analyzed, and acted upon.

The Carroll and Company Client Survey is conducted on a continuous basis—twice a year with each client. It is administered to 5% of clients per week over a twenty-week period. It can be conducted by phone, during client visits, or at monthly client meetings. Survey results, along with customer suggestions and complaints, are analyzed and discussed during weekly management meetings or at a business improvement workshop. They are also compiled in a final report at the end of the six-month survey period.

Customer Service Rating

Client Comments Request Form

It is important for Carroll and Company and our accounting teams to recognize all significant accomplishments in working with clients. This increases motivation, strengthens relationships, and creates valuable good will. Many clients have become more profitable and successful using the Carroll and Company outsourcing model. We would like to capture some of those feelings as written testimonials.

To make this a simple task, we have created the Client Comments Request Form that lists common phrases used by our clients in the past. Clients can check any that represent their feelings and add comments if they desire. We will write a brief statement that reflects their thoughts and seek permission to use the statement in our sales process. 

The best time to get a testimonial is:

  • After a successful business evaluation
  • After early success in getting the company financially on track
  • After a major financial turn-around
  • After a significant year of profitability
  • After a single important financial accomplishment
  • Anytime an owner speaks verbal praises of the company, accounting team, or service

As a “Thank You,” Carroll and Company provides the client two $20 gift certificates for dinner at the Outback Steakhouse.

Website and Newsletter

Carroll and Company provides valuable information to customers through a monthly newsletter called Profitable Times. This newsletter is designed for busy entrepreneurs who need timely and specific information to manage their company more effectively and profitably. The newsletter offers advice from industry experts in accounting, tax, personal financial planning, sales and marketing, customer service, and human resource. The Profitable Times Newsletter is distributed the middle Tuesday of each month to clients and prospects of Carroll and Company. All articles are archived for future reference in the website Library. The Customer Advocate manages the subscription list.

Client Email Contacts

Carroll and Company maintains a Customer Email Distribution List in Microsoft Outlook and sends a general email to all clients and their key employees once or twice a month. This email may include a thought-of-the-day, tax deposit dates, office close dates, client promotions, or other useful information. The email uses Carroll and Company authorized logos and artwork and is approved by Ron prior to sending.

Client “WOW” Activities

Carroll and Company has a limited budget for doing special activities to “surprise and delight” clients. These activities may recognize an important accomplishment of the client, or they may be general activities targeted to all clients. Events or activities could include sponsoring a client’s office pizza party, giving away a free business book, having a summer picnic, or taking clients to a seminar. These “WOW” activities are targeted to an approved list of clients. Creative ideas are welcomed.

WOW Customers

Customer-care Calendar and Budget

Carroll and Company produces a Three-Month Calendar of employee events, customer care, and marketing activities. The Customer Advocate is responsible for updating the company calendar with all scheduled customer-care activities. They include client surveys, WOW activities, new client orientations, monthly customer emails, birthday wishes, and so forth. Calendar activities for each quarter are completed two weeks prior to the end of the current quarter. A budget is also submitted to fund the proposed activities.

Client Nurturing Activities

CFOs and controllers are encouraged to develop friendships with their clients by taking them to lunch, playing golf, or other relationship-building activities. Because of the cost and time involved, nurturing activities should be occasional and serve a specific purpose. These activities are at the discretion of the manager and require a personal, out-of-pocket expense.

Customer-care Training and System Improvement

At Carroll and Company, customer care is everyone’s job, regardless of other responsibilities. All employees should seek to create a company culture committed to the sincere caring, guidance, and protection of our clients. To achieve end-to-end killer-customer-care requires teamwork and shared goals, which means all business systems and incentives must reward customer care and never conflict with it.

The principles of remarkable customer service are taught at new employee orientations, weekly management meetings, team meetings, business improvement workshops, and through customer-care stories (see below). Killer-customer-care must be talked about often. Client Survey results are shared. Success and horror stories are told. Information is analyzed, and improvements are made to the customer-care system.

Email Stories to Staff

The Customer Advocate and receptionist monitor customer experiences at all times. Once a week, the Customer Advocate emails to all employees of Carroll and Company a customer experience story. The story can be a success story, or it can be an experience to learn from. The purpose of these stories is to teach the principles of killer-customer-care and to remind employees that customer care is everyone’s job.

Monthly Client Meetings

The monthly client meeting and delivery of the Profit Acceleration System™ is the most important face-to-face contact with the client. An outstanding and productive meeting is killer-customer-care at its best. The customer binder, with vision statement, business blueprint, monthly agendas, financial summaries, analysis and forecasting, and goal sheet, should WOW the customer every time. This is what separates us from the competition and is at the heart of the Carroll and Company Customer-Care System.

Well, That’s It

I’m exhausted just thinking about this business system, and the work it took to get it going. Retirement feels pretty good right about now.

However, you should know this: it took me several weeks of full-time work—free from distraction—to develop this system and all the component documents that were mentioned in italics. Once going—and a few kinks worked out—the system ran on auto-pilot, and a lot of great things happened with our clients and our employees. (Completing this system also moved me one more step toward retirement.)

You may have a different type of business, or this may be more than you want to tackle right now. But, remember this: 1) customer care is everyone’s job and essential to having a culture of excellence, 2) customer service must be systemized to consistently meet and exceed customer expectations, and 3) customer feedback is the key to achieving continuous improvement.

Your answer to three questions will determine if you are on track. Are your customers loyal? Do they refer others? Would you be a satisfied customer of your own company?

And one last thing, I didn’t have Box Theory™ Software back then. Now, I could create this business system in half the time. Your cost savings with this tool will be more than good. However, the amazing skill you learn will be even better, and the remarkable business you become will make you the best in your target market! So, don’t wait any longer. Get going today.


Consider the following terms (italicized above) as you contemplate your new and improved customer-care system:

Killer-customer-care philosophy and business system
Customer advocate
The customer contact
The customer sensation
New customer orientation
Customer intake
WOW Activities
Customer-care calendar and budget
Customer feedback/survey
Customer testimonials
Monthly newsletter or email communications
Business Improvement workshop for customer care

Related Articles:

Create a Symphony of Business Systems to Delight Customers!
The Business System that can Make or Break a Company!
Voice of the Customer: Four Things That Will Earn You an “A”!
How To Become the "Best Deal" for Your Target Customer!
Customer Service: Best Practices for an Awesome Customer Care System (slideshow)!


The Next Step...

Tags: Business Systems, Culture, Customer Retention, System Example

Great Customer Service: 50 Quotes From People Who Know! (slideshow)

Posted byRon Carroll

We can't learn too much about our customers—who they are, where they hang out, how they think, and what they want. Most of us don't have enough customers and would like to get more.

Stating the obvious: Happy customers translate to more sales. Increased sales enable your business to hit the break-even point earlier in the month. After reaching the sales break-even point, profit margins go up dramatically. With more profit, everything gets better, and you have a prosperous enterprise.

Are your customers as happy as they could be? Do you have "killer customer care?"

Four Things Customers Want

Customers all want the same thing—the best deal they can get on desired products and services. They want high-quality. They want it fast or on time. They want it at a good price. And they want a pleasurable buying experience.

Bad Customer Service

Photo credit:  

Learn from the Experts

Many lessons have been learned over the years about how to serve customers well. The slideshow below will provide you with some great insights. These profound statements are from people who truly understand the principles of customer care:

Walt Disney
Sam Walton (Walmart)
Mother Teresa
Ray Kroc (McDonald's)
Bill Gates
Mahatma Ghandi
Zig Zigglar
Steve Jobs
J. C. Penny
Benjamin Franklin
Dale Carnegie
Stephen Covey
John F. Kennedy
Albert Einstein
and others

Your Customer Care System

Keep in mind, the informative statements you are about to read won't help your business one bit unless you incorporate them into a business system or process. There is no other way!

Review the slideshow. Make notes. Then, go apply some of these profound principles to elevate your customer-service systems today.


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Tags: Business Systems, Laws/Principles, Customer Retention

Business Improvement: Convert with "Killer Customer Care"!

Posted byRon Carroll

What kind of experience do customers have with your company? Do you know? What grade would they give you? What might they tell their friends?

Most business owners think they have good customer care. Sadly, most of them are wrong and profits slip through their fingers because of it. Developing and maintaining long-term customer relationships is the foundation of a successful business. Providing "killer customer care" is the key in converting prospects into loyal clients.

Your Customer Care System


So how do you do this? The answer is straightforward enough: you build your business from the ground up around the specific needs and demands of your target market.

Create Remarkable Customer Care Systems

With so many quality goods and services available, customer care may be your single greatest weapon for competing in a crowded marketplace, and the only and best way for you to differentiate your business.

While competitors languish, you can have customer care systems that are remarkable and a company culture that keeps customers coming back again and again. Spending time on killer customer care will give your products and services superior value, a competitive advantage, and a handsome return on your investment in this critical business process.

"Killer customer care refers to the combination of principles, ideas, and techniques that are designed to consistently and systematically enhance the depth and breadth of your business relationship with its customers. Killer customer care is the ultimate competitive differentiation for businesses in the twenty-first century" (George Colombo, Killer Customer Care).

Since your primary business objective is to profitably find, serve, and keep customers, you must learn to think like them. Thinking like your customers—walking in their shoes—will help you achieve the kind of customer care that will engender loyalty and escalate sales.

Let’s consider six important suggestions your customers would have for you, but may never say to your face.

Add the Personal Touch

As your customers, we hope to be served and sometimes educated, but not sold. We like it when your customer-service staff are cheerful, courteous, and helpful. An old proverb says, “If you cannot smile, do not open a shop.” In other words, we like nice—not grumpy—people to help us with our problems.

In addition, give us clear communication without jargon, legalese, or thick accents. Call us by name and personalize our service when possible. We are grateful for your staff who listen, take the reins for solving our problem, and are quick to respond to our needs. Talking to someone with expertise and a can-do attitude builds our confidence and trust in your company. And please don’t ever take us for granted. We want to feel important throughout the life of our relationship with you.

Deliver On Your Promise with Good Systems

We like to do business with companies that keep their promises. We appreciate it when your business systems hande our contacts, order fulfillment, and problem resolution without errors or hassle. Hopefully, your systems empower customer-care representatives to solve our problems quickly, and turn our frustrations into appreciation and gratitude. Good systems will ensure that you keep your commitments. Remember: Consistency and reliability over time are far more important to us than occasional promotions or grand events. And any dissatisfaction we may have is likely from a breakdown somewhere in your businssess systems and processes.

WOW Us On Occassion

OK, so we value reliability and consistency; however, we also love to have fun or be entertained. We like a pleasant surprise or a good WOW now and again. New products or services, engaging promotions, an element of freshness and unpredictability, will keep our interest and enthusiasm high. Bottom line: Give us a great buying experience—meeting and exceeding expectations—and we will become loyal fans. We may even tell our friends!

Ask Our Opinion

Good companies listen closely to what their customers have to say. Ask some of the following questions to understnd our feelings about your company:

  • What could we do to give you a better buying experience?
  • What do you like or not like about our product or service?
  • What could we do for you that we are currently not doing?
  • Why were you annoyed, frustrated, disappointed or surprised?
  • What do you like better about our competition?
  • Would you recommend our company to others? Why or Why not?

Take a moment and shop your business from OUR point of view. You might try hiring a "mystery shopper" who will report back to you. Remember: If you want to understand our expectations, just ask! We feel honored when you invite our feedback. Be gracious when we are frank and share with you the brutal truth about our buying experience. After all, we want you to be the best, perhaps even more than you do!

Measure Results

Some of our feedback to you will be quantitative in nature, a business measure. For example, how often did we return merchandise because of a problem? Other information is qualitative and may come in the form of complaints or suggestions. Consider using brief, focused, and timely surveys. Keep it simple. Finally, create a system to capture your customer feedback. Transfer it to those who can analyze the information and make needed improvements.

Follow the Golden Rule

Truthfuly, we only want the same customer experience you want when you are a buyer. Just practice the Golden Rule; treat us the way you would like to be treated. When your company culture adopts this philosophy—when you build it into your business systems—you will become remarkable.

It Will Be Worth It

Systematically carried out over time, killer customer care will make your business dramatically more profitable. Repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals lower the cost of sales. A close relationship with customers produces customer-driven products and services that sell.

Nowadays, the investment required to find each new customer can be justified only by looking at the total lifetime value of that customer. Protect your investment in sales and marketing from tough competitors by giving customers a great experience. And focus your very best efforts on your most important customers.

Where to Start

Begin by defining exactly what experience you want your customer to have. Then identify the most common interactions you have with them.

  • Do customers call?
  • Do they walk in?
  • Do they talk to sales people?
  • Do they visit your web site?
  • Do they need technical assistance?
  • Do they exchange or return merchandise?
  • How do you interact with first-time customers?
  • Where do you get the most complaints?

Each customer contact is a moment of truth, a time when the relationship is either strengthened or broken. Mistakes (usually a breakdown in your customer-service systems) are nothing more than opportunities to turn regular customers into lifetime customers. After all, mistakes yield only two outcomes: Either your client is frustrated and leaves with a negative memory of your company, or your client is pleased with the solution and becomes more loyal to your company.

Your employees need to know that customer care is everyone's job, regardless of what other functions they perform. Your job is to create a company culture committed to the sincere caring, guidance, and protection of your customers. To achieve end-to-end killer customer care requires teamwork and shared goals, which means all systems and incentives must reward customer care and never conflict with it. Build staff loyalty first and you will ensure that their positive energy and enthusiasm is transferred to serving customers. Never stop talking about how to improve the customer experience. Your business success depends upon it!

Finally, to achieve consistency, document exactly how you want your employees to respond in each situation. Every response should strengthen the customer relationship. You must create systems that consistently deliver the experience you have defined for each type of contact. With everyone in your business responding the same way every time, the customer knows exactly what to expect, and can depend on you to provide it.

Six Stages of Customer Loyalty

As a bonus, your excellent customer service will simultaneously build your brand and your customers' allegiance to you. It will move them through the six stages of customer loyalty: suspect, prospect, first-time customer, repeat customer, client, and advocate. If they aren’t moving forward, begin improving your weak or ineffective systems.

Which Doctor Would You Choose?

I took my aged mother to the doctor last week to discuss a hip replacement. We waited a long time in the waiting room and spoke mostly with the doctor's assistant. When the doctor arrived, he quickly looked at the x-ray and painted perhaps a realistic picture of a difficult surgery with slow healing and no guarantee that my mother would walk without some pain. We decided to get a second opinion. The second doctor received us on time. He explained the x-ray with a model of a hip joint. He expressed optimism that the surgery would be routine and that she would likely have a full recovery. Both were highly recommended surgeons and the procedure would be performed in essentially the same manner by each. Which doctor do you think made the sale?

You Must Lead the Way

The importance of customer care is most felt by owners and managers. It is up to them to develop a customer-centric organization. Owners must create a vision, implement systems, empower employees, obtain feedback, measure results, and celebrate success. They must become evangelists in communicating the gospel of killer customer care to everyone in their organization.

Get in the Zone. Create your unique vision of killer customer care. Climb above the competition. Become remarkable! Don't just make sales; create satisfied customers and watch your profits grow!

However, keep in mind that you can’t do it all with great systems. You must also have great people.  Hiring the best people is another essential step in growing the perfect business.

Step 8: Get the Right People
Back to Table of Contents: 10 Easy Steps to Grow the Perfect Business





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Tags: Business Systems, Customer Retention

Customer Service: Best Practices for an Awesome Customer Care System!

Posted byRon Carroll

Customer service—sometimes referred to as customer care—is one of the most important business processes within your organization. Its purpose is to help customers have a great buying experience so they will come again, refer their friends, and perhaps even become evangelists in the social universe. If you desire outstanding customer service, please read on.

Excellent Customer Service

Two Dimensions of Customer Service

There are two important dimensions of customer service. The personal dimension deals with how service providers interact with customers. Good customer-service workers are cheerful and positive, enjoy working with and for people, and have a knack for putting the customer at "center stage." They view themselves primarily as human relations professionals.

The procedural dimension of customer service consists of established business systems and processes to deliver products and/or services. As with every good business system, it is important to begin with an understanding of the laws, principles, and best practices that govern the outcome of that system.

For example, to create an exceptional customer-care system, first consider the four things every customer demands from your business. Add to this the principles and best practices contained in the slide presentation below.

Managing Customer Service

In the following slide presentation, "Managing Customer Service," you will learn such things as:

  • Five elements of quality service
  • The components of an outstanding service culture
  • Three key skills employees must have to provide quality customer service
  • The six C's of giving good information to customers
  • How to be a good listener
  • Understanding customer needs and how to address them
  • Four styles of customer behavior you should know how to deal with
  • Responding positively to unhappy customers and service breakdowns

Best Practices for Your Customer Service System

I highly recommend you watch this entire presentation. Show it to your customer-service employees or in a business improvement workshop. Discuss the principles. Then incorporate them into your company's customer-service system. Soon you will have a customer-care culture of excellence.


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Tags: Business Systems, Customer Retention

How to Become the "Best Deal" for Your Target Customer!

Posted byRon Carroll

Within our free-enterprise system, we are all looking for the same thing—the “best deal.” When we buy goods, services, and even when we hire employees, we want to get the greatest value we can for the time, effort and money spent.

It should be no surprise that our customers and employees are also looking for the best deal from us! However, the best deal may not be what you think.

Becoming the best deal

What is the Best Deal?

Many people equate the “best deal” with the “best price.” Business owners are often committed to having the “lowest price in town.” Many of these owners also struggle to survive because their operating profit margins are too low. What they fail to realize is that customers looking for the best deal are not necessarily insisting on the lowest price.

Customers reward companies that serve them best, and allow the others to fail. It is how the customer feels about your business as a whole that matters most. Everything about your business—advertising, cleanliness, return merchandise policy, courtesy and knowledge of employees, product selection, price, location, delivery time, and so forth—is what they are choosing. Your entire business is your product, and it must shine throughout. When it does, YOU become the “best deal!”

High Value is Better than Low Price

Sometimes pricing does play a role in helping companies become the best value to their customers. Legitimate price advantages do happen. I am acquainted with a landscaper who is the owner of a local rock quarry. He has a significant price advantage over other landscapers who must transport boulders a greater distance.

However, the cry, “We have the lowest price," is often a sign of weakness. Translated, it usually means the business has not invested in marketing, quality people, killer customer care, and other expenses incurred by well-run companies. Remember, everything about your company is what makes it the best deal—OR NOT.

When I grab a quick lunch during the day, I sometimes go to a sandwich shop that is close to my office. I can get in and out quickly. The prices are relatively low, and no tip is required. At that moment, the sandwich shop is the best deal for me.

On the weekend, I take my wife out to dinner at a steak-house restaurant. I will pay three or four times as much for a meal there as I did at the sandwich shop. This popular uptown restaurant has a nice ambiance, provides an unrushed full-course meal, and I am able to court the love of my life. At that moment, the steak-house restaurant is the best deal in town, not the low-end sandwich shop.

On our wedding anniversary, I took my wife to an exclusive restaurant in Salt Lake City. I paid an outrageous price, but it was a night she will never forget. Of the three restaurants, this one provided the greatest value of all: a lifetime memory.

So, the best deal in this case is not related to pricing. Instead, it is the highest perceived value based on my current need. At each restaurant, I wear the hat of a different customer with different expectations, and I have a different definition of what is the best deal.

Be the Best in Your Target Market

Since no business can serve everyone well, it is important to define your target customer and then provide real, quantifiable, and compelling reasons to buy from you. You want your target customers to see you as the best choice available to them. If you own the exclusive dinner restaurant, you don’t care about the guy who wants a cheap chicken sandwich. No other customer matters except your target customer!

Remember, if your competitors offer a greater value than you, customers will buy from them. And don’t think you can make up for the value deficit by trying to “out-sell, out-trick, out-technique, out-cold call, out-persist, and out-luck all your competitors” (Rick Harshaw, Monopolize Your Marketplace). Today’s consumers know value when they see it. You simply must be the best in your target market. Period!

Innovation Can Set You Apart

You become the best by constantly innovating. Innovation is the process of figuring out how to offer more value than your competitors. Innovation is not doing something cool that your competitors also do. It is not just giving your customers what they have come to expect as the norm, or offering a gee-whiz promotion from time-to-time.

Innovation is not necessarily a new invention or business concept. It may just be as simple as outrageous customer care (COSTCO), or delivery times that amaze (FedEx), or an exceptional warranty (Hyundai).

Your value may simply be the result of well-crafted business systems and processes—the distinct and remarkable way you do things from end-to-end. By the way, when your people, products and processes work together in a unique and memorable way to make you the best deal, you have a brand.

Ask yourself one simple question: If I were a customer of my business, what would compel me to buy from me instead of my competitors? If you don’t know the answer to this question, your business is probably under-performing. Get in the Zone today and figure out your unique selling advantage.

Become Remarkable

Because there is a cost to becoming the best, the customer actually pays a premium for the privilege of doing business with remarkable companies. However, customers must think this is OK because they keep coming back.

Remember, your business as a whole is what makes you the best choice. It’s the little things that count.

Be clean.
Be prompt.
Be consistent.
Be courteous.
Be knowledgeable.
Be dependable.
Be responsive.
Be innovative,
Be systemized.
Be remarkable.

And you will be the BEST DEAL!


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Tags: Business Systems, General Business, Innovation, Customer Retention

Lean Six Sigma: 3 Business Process Errors That Drive Away Customers!

Posted byRon Carroll

While attending a defensive driving class many years ago (don’t ask why), the instructor mentioned that the typical motorist breaks the law every three minutes. Surprised? As you become a Systems Thinker, you won’t be. Here’s why.

Our daily lives are filled with unintentional mistakes, and your business is no exception. Each mistake or error robs your company of the money that could be used to hire new people, increases wages, buy needed equipment, or give larger dividends to owners and stakeholders. You probably don’t’ see most of this hard-earned cash disappearing into a black hole.

Money Black Hole

Keep It Simple with Lean Six Sigma

In any business, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of ways for mistakes to happen. However, from Lean Six Sigma, you’ll be happy to know that you only need to focus on preventing or eliminating three bad boys from your business operations.

  1. Delays – Delay is the idle time between steps of a business process—the waiting time. Typically, the actual time required to produce a product or deliver a service is 5% of the total elapsed time (George Stalk, “Competing Against Time”). 

    For example, it only takes about three minutes to print your photos at a store that offers a one-hour photo service. Likewise, a commercial printer may say your job will be ready in five days even though it takes just two hours once the print-job is started. In most businesses, there are many opportunities to reduce idle work-in-process, and increase overall cycle speed.

    Customers also care if you meet your commitment to deliver on time, on schedule, or as promised. FedEx delivers packages overnight—guaranteed! They've built a large following by keeping this promise. Delay is a frequent reason for the loss of customers and valuable referrals.

  2. Defects – Defects are mistakes that render a product or service unacceptable to one of your five customer types.  Good or bad, pass or fail, the product either meets a quality standard, or it doesn’t. For example, a prescription is filled incorrectly; a steak is overcooked; a travel bag is lost by the airline, or a part is missing in a product to be assembled. All are unacceptable!

    Customers want things according to specifications or expectations. If you fail to deliver what is “critical to quality” in their minds, they will shop elsewhere.

  3. Deviation (excessive) – Neither people nor business systems turn out a consistently exact result. Deviation focuses on how far you can stray from precise specifications or expectations and still have an acceptable product or service.

    For example, if a furniture store promises delivery at 11:00 a.m. and delivers at 11:30 a.m., they have not kept their promise. The deviation in time makes the customer unhappy. However, if they commit to deliver between 10:00 a.m. and Noon, and deliver at 11:30 a.m., the promise is kept and the customer is pleased.

    In another example, an Internet service provider promises speeds up to 30 mbps. If Internet speed is too slow, too often, deviation from the speed-guarantee may cause customers to change providers.

    And finally, a machined part may have a tolerance of .003 inches. If machined outside the tolerance limits, the excessive size deviation will prevent the part from fitting or working properly.

    Don’t wait for customers to report unacceptable deviation. Establish your own internal controls to make sure deviation stays within bounds. This can prevent the build-up of defective inventory, a product recall, and even damage to your reputation or brand.

You Can Be Perfect

For fun, let’s look at an easy example from the game of football. A field-goal kicker has only 1.25 seconds to kick the ball after the snap. Any delay, and the kick has a good chance of being blocked; the team will fail to score. If the kicker does get the ball off, and it goes outside the goal posts, the kick is defective—again, no score. However, the goal posts are eighteen feet, six inches apart. The airborne ball can deviate nine feet, two inches left or right of center and still be good for the score.

I once heard John Madden—former football coach and color commentator—describe a ball that went just inside the left goal-post as a “perfect” kick. Why, because it earned the team three points; the deviation was within bounds. It was good enough!

Are your business systems GOOD ENOUGH to be considered PERFECT by your customers? To reduce the many little mistakes and errors in your business systems and processes, start looking for Delays, Defects and excessive Deviation.

Let me know of what you find.

The Next Step...

Tags: Business Systems, Lean Six Sigma, Customer Retention, Quality

Voice of the Customer: Four Things That Will Earn You an “A”!

Posted byRon Carroll

After all my children left the nest, my wife and I decided to build a smaller home at Thanksgiving Point, Utah. Everyone knows that building a house can be a painful process. Like all customers, I was primarily interested in four things—quality, speed, value, and a pleasurable buying experience.

Voice of the Customer - Home Construction

Following our move-in, I had a casual conversation with some of my new neighbors. We talked about our home-building experience. The consensus was that the builder deserved a grade of “B.” He could have easily gotten an “A” (and also put more money in his pocket), if he just applied a little Systems Thinking.

I tried to offer some constructive ideas along the way. However, the builder always gave me a polite nod and continued doing things as before. He was not interested in listening to the “voice of the customer"—ME!

Quality, Speed, Value and Buying Experience

The builder’s major weakness was related to quality issues. Below are a few examples of needless waste that could have been eliminated with some simple system improvements. 

  • The builder ordered the wrong size door for a closet. It was returned. The replacement door was the right size but opened the wrong direction. It was returned again. The third door had the wrong style hinges. Finally, the right door arrived. The carpenter, of course, had to make a special trip back to hang the door, and the painter had to come again to paint it.

  • The subcontractor who poured the driveway forgot to lay a sprinkler pipe under the concrete. The landscape company had to run two pipes and electrical wire three-hundred feet around the house to get to the other side of the driveway, just twenty-five feet away.

  • The builder buys kitchen cabinets from Missouri (high humidity), where I assume he gets a better deal. The cabinets were installed in the very dry climate of Utah. Five of the cabinet doors warped in the first week. The builder said, “Don’t worry. It happens all the time. They are under warranty, and the manufacturer will replace them.” (Do you see anything wrong with this picture?)

After the footings and foundation walls were poured, Eric, the project foreman, told us we were on a thirty-nine-day schedule to completion and move-in. I calculated the date in my mind and thought he could never do it. To my surprise, the house was finished exactly on time. He gets an “A” for speed!

My wife and I shopped around before buying the house, so we felt it was a good value. The overall buying experience also met our expectations except for the frequent mistakes—most of which were fixed. The problems that couldn’t be fixed, we will have to live with. (I will probably murmur for a while and then forget about them.)

Our real estate agent was great, and Eric the foreman was a gem. He did everything possible to solve problems and keep us happy. He was patient, diligent, accessible, and easy to work with. Eric made all the difference!

A Simple Checklist

So, you can see, the builder did a pretty good job. His quality problems—with the accompanying waste of time and materials—could largely be eliminated if he were to provide a specific “builder’s checklist” to each of the twenty or so subcontractors hired to work on the house.

For example, the checklist for the concrete subcontractor might include: 1) Put expansion joints every ten feet, 2) Lay three-quarter inch sprinkler pipe under the driveway before pouring, and 3) Clean concrete splatter from house siding, door threshold, etc.

A signed checklist submitted with the vendor invoice keeps everyone informed that the task was completed as expected. This simple but important step added to the process will also prevent subcontractors from being victims of their own slip-ups. Everyone comes out ahead!

Let's be honest. Not all mistakes can be eliminated. However, good business systems will avoid the most common and repeated ones. You should strive to be at least a 4 Sigma company, as well as better, faster and cheaper than your competition.

How Would Customer's Grade Your Company?

Eric didn’t ask, but I am going to write him a letter of reference. He was an outstanding foreman and a great asset to his employer.

Good things happen when companies listen and build upon the voice of the customer to create a culture of excellence. Are you listening? What grade would your customers give you? If you don't know, maybe you should ask them!


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Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, Customer Retention, Quality, Efficiency/Speed, System Example

The WOW Factor: Six Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems!

Posted byRon Carroll

To a Systems Thinker, there is a significant difference between a business process or procedure and a growth-producing, customer-pleasing, waste-removing, profit-generating, business system.

In addition to the six qualities of effective business systems described in the Box Theory Way™, a seventh factor can make all the difference in boosting system performance and helping your business become remarkable.

Let’s call it the WOW Factor!

Business Systems that WOW

Nowadays, we are drawn to people, products and processes that can be described as impressive, engaging, memorable, even head-turning, jaw-dropping, or spectacular.

When people have an intensely positive reaction to something about your business, you’ve got a WOW Factor!

So, here are a few suggestions to get that WOW thing going in your business operation.

WOW Your Customers

  1. WOW Factor #1: Take the Lead – Innovate new products and services. Add or improve features and benefits. Expand technology. Be the first to market. Disturb the status-quo. Set the de facto standard. Become the best-in-class. Develop a game-changer. Introduce the next big thing. Differentiate yourself from competitors. Dominate your target market. In some way, become a standout!

  2. WOW Factor #2: Become the “Best Deal” – Make your products, services, or customer experience easier, better, faster or cheaper than your competition. Provide superior quality or workmanship, the fastest delivery time, widest product selection, or a legitimate price advantage. Offer exceptional value, the most convenience, or the best guarantee/warranty. Your entire business is your product, and it must shine throughout. When it does, YOU become the “best deal"!

  3. WOW Factor #3: Dazzle the Senses – Create a strong marketing “sensory package.” Engage multiple senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. Become a customer magnet—engaging, fun, entertaining, motivational. Tell relevant humorous or inspirational stories. Tease or arouse curiosity. Champion a cause. Offer a new vision. Be distinctive, thought provoking, dramatic, or even controversial. Razzle-dazzle your customers. Get inside their heads and hearts!

  4. WOW Factor #4: Offer Overwhelming Proof – Take away all doubt about the value or your product or service. Include testimonials, eye-opening case studies, enthusiastic reviews, demonstrations, samples, or no-risk guarantees. Provide statements of authorities, facts, or statistics to prove your claims—the more interesting, shocking, surprising, and compelling your facts and figures, the greater the WOW Factor. Make your case so convincing that the customer’s decision to buy from you is a no-brainer!

  5. WOW Factor #5: Impress with Exceptional Know-how – Preparation, knowledge, expertise and professionalism produce immediate confidence with customers. People want to do business with those they trust—those who inform them, teach them, or take them by the hand and show them exactly what to do. Become the best resource to solve their big problem. Take away their worry or frustration. Make their task easier. Lighten their burdens. Encourage and reassure customers that they have come to the right place.

  6. WOW Factor #6: Give Killer Customer Care – Provide a fast resolution to customer problems. Apply the Golden Rule (treat customers the way you would like to be treated). Go the extra mile. Exhibit a high degree of fairness and integrity. Give the most value you can for every dollar the customer spends. Systemize customer-service processes for consistency and reliability. Deliver on your sales promise, and exceed expectations if possible. Continually seek ways to surprise and delight your customers!

There Is No Other Way

The only way to add a WOW Factor to your business is to incorporate it into a system component or procedure. There is no other way!  So, go ahead and apply some of the suggestions above to boost your business revenue and profit with supercharged business systems.

Next week we're going to apply the WOW Factor to your internal customers, your employees and business processes.

Related Articles:
The WOW Factor: Six "More" Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems! (Part 2)
Turn Dust-Gathering Procedures into Business Systems that Wow!
Business Systems vs. the Misunderstood Operations Manual
Boost Your Business Profit by Adding the Fun Factor!
Does Your Business Have a Double McTwist 1260?


The Next Step...

Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, Marketing Systems, Innovation, Customer Retention

Voice of the Customer: Are You Listening to Your Five Customer Types?

Posted byRon Carroll

Like most business people, I believe the customer is king. The customer is why we exist. The customer is our boss. So, who exactly is our customer and what do they really want from us? Consider with me five possible customer types, four of which you may not have thought about before.

Customer is king

First: The Voice of the Customer

The “Voice of the Customer” (VOC) is a phrase used to indicate that the opinions and needs of customers are always being considered; customer desires are foremost on your mind.

The customer is always looking for the “best deal,” and for each prospective buyer, certain things are “Critical-to-Quality” (CTQ). You must meet these customer CTQ specifications (specific/detailed physical requirements) or expectations (planned/hoped-for result) precisely, or you will lose them.

After you have learned from the Voice of the Customer what is Critical-to-Quality in their minds, you ensure that every part of your business is aimed at fulfilling the promise to deliver as expected.

Five Customer Types

What may not be so obvious is that you likely have more than one type of customer, each with different specifications and expectations. Let’s take a look at five possibilities:

  1. Primary or Direct Customer – This is the customer you directly serve and who usually pays your invoice. The primary customer may be consumers (B2C) or other businesses (B2B).

  2. Secondary or Indirect Customer – This is the consumer or business that buys your product or service from your primary customer, usually the end-user. It may also be another interested and influential party to the transaction. It is essential to please the secondary customer even though you don’t sell directly to them. When they are happy, your primary customer is happy.

    Two Examples: A software developer sells a product to a chain of retail computer stores, the direct or primary customer, who then sells it to the end-user, an indirect or secondary customer.

    A non-profit business serving people with disabilities must please the funding agency (State), the disabled person, and the parents of the disabled person. Each of the three customers has unique expectations and requirements.

    It is very important for your product or service to meet the specifications and expectations of both primary and secondary customers!

  3. Customers of Multiple Product-Market Sets – You may also have more than one "product-market set." For example, a computer store may sell hardware and software off-the-shelf in one market and do on-site tech support in another market. A lawn and yard maintenance contractor may serve one clientele and provide custom landscaping to another clientele.

    Each product-market set requires a distinct customer profile. The Voice of the Customer telling you what is Critical-to-Quality will also vary. Selling different product-market sets is really like having separate but related businesses.

  4. Internal Customer – In your business operations, the next step in a business process is the customer of the previous step in that process. In an assembly line operation, for example, station two is the internal customer of station one. The order-fulfillment department is the customer of the order-processing department. The sales process is a customer of the advertising or lead generation process. Each “customer” in a chain of business activities is happiest when their specifications and expectations are met.

  5. Employees as Customers – Employees are also customers of the business. They too have specifications (e.g., work hours, wages, and benefits) and expectations (e.g., rewarding assignment, opportunity for advancement). Whether spoken or not, if you fail to meet their requirements, they will eventually go elsewhere.

What Your Customers are Looking For

Customers—OF ALL KINDS—want the same four things. They seek goods and services of 1) high quality (no mistakes or problems), 2) that are on time, and 3), that provide excellent value. They also want 4), a good experience along the way.

So, look at the four buying expectations for each of your customer types and see what improvements you can make to your business systems and processes.

Wouldn’t we like all our customers to think, "I would be crazy to go anywhere else?"


The Next Step...

Tags: Business Systems, General Business, Customer Retention