The Systems Thinker Blog

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 It may be a little outdated, but good customer service is based upon true and enduring principles, so adapt it to your modern-day methods and technologies.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: Wordpress.com

 

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.

Footnote:

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)!

 

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

Better Than a Suggestion Box: Tap into a Wealth of Employee Ideas!

Posted byRon Carroll

“You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence and success. The problem is, you just don't see them” (Jay Abraham, marketing consultant).

Let’s talk about a simple strategy that will help you harvest an abundant crop of new ideas that are sure to motivate employees, give customers a better buying experience, and increase financial results.

Business Improvement Ideas

An Untapped Asset

Though perhaps unnoticed, the people around you possess a wealth of experience, talent, insight, and creative ideas that are just waiting for the right opportunity to be shared.

Sadly, many useful and innovative thoughts that could improve your company are never expressed. Why? You don’t have a business system to tap into the collective intelligence of workers who are intimately involved with your daily operations; this includes the "average" folks that rarely speak up.

Everyone in your organization is potentially a problem-solver and an innovator. If you have an idea-rich culture of continuous learning and improvement, your employees are always thinking: "How can I do this easier, faster, better or less expensively.” 

Researcher Alan Robinson says "ideas are 'free' and employees will gladly make improvements as part of their job if the environment you create is right.”

So what kind of system can you create to harness the knowledge, imagination, and renewable energy of your employees?

The Outdated Suggestion Box

Some companies have tried a “suggestion box.” Employees write ideas or recommendations on a form and put them in a labeled drop-box. Managers read the suggestions (sometimes) and implement the ones they think will work. However, suggestion boxes typically aren’t very effective. They allow anonymity leading to frivolous suggestions or mean-spirited remarks. They focus on problems but not necessarily solutions, and solutions offered are not always feasible. Employees often propose more work for other people who are already busy, and thus no action is taken. Finally, this old-style system usually doesn’t reward successful implementation and sustained results stemming from the suggestion.

There is a better way!               (Photo: Bright Ideas Campaign)

Employee Improvements

Ideas for Improvement

Here are some ideas to implement a business system that will solicit real improvement ideas, generate enthusiasm from employees, and save or earn your company thousands of dollars over the coming year.

  1. To begin, let’s get rid of the suggestion box and replace it with a filing system by worker name. After all, we expect every person to submit many suggestions—often small ones—over the course of a year.  It’s also a good idea to review the employee’s file of suggested improvements during performance evaluations or other interviews.

  2. Next, give the system a new name—something that emphasizes solutions instead of merely suggestions. You could call it the “business improvement program” or the “employee ideas-for-improvement program.” If those sound a little lame, have a brainstorming session or contest to name the system. Let me know what you come up with.

  3. The person with a new idea for a solution or improvement completes a brief form (get a sample form in The Zone) and hand-delivers it to their supervisor or someone who could provide the time and resources needed. Good ideas might help with customer satisfaction, cost savings, productivity, process improvement, revenue-generation, and so forth. A brief plan to implement the proposal is also included. The merits of the idea are discussed, and an action plan generated.

  4. Ideally, the submitter of the new solution should be responsible for its implementation. Ownership increases the likelihood of success. Active participation by the submitter removes one of the major complaints with the old suggestion box: “I gave the company a good idea, but they didn’t do anything with it.” Lack of action kills the motivation of any improvement program.

  5. Always thank employees for their time, effort and feedback. Positive reinforcement will keep the good ideas flowing. Create a reward system for people whose ideas are successfully implemented. Frequent acknowledgment of the many small improvements is more effective than occasional recognition of a few big ones. Consider giving a vacation day, tickets to a sporting event, or a gift card. When others see that good ideas are rewarded and appreciated, they will join in. If appropriate, give financial compensation, partial when the solution is first implemented and the rest over time with proven results. The reward system helps the submitter maintain ownership and a vested interest in assuring that the new solution is understood, accepted, and practiced by everyone.

  6. If you want to create a little healthy competition, do something visible like posting a chart that shows the number of ideas submitted by each person, team, or department. Be creative. Recognize winning ideas in your weekly Business Improvement Workshop. Celebrate achievements with perhaps a pizza party.

  7. Maintain a simple log of new ideas presented, the person’s name, and date implemented. This helps the supervisor know what is going on at a glance and allows for a frequent review of progress. Again, talk it up at your Business Improvement Workshop.

Never Stop Improving

Get connected with your knowledgeable, imaginative, inspired, resourceful, eager-to-contribute employees who are quietly working in their cubical or on a production line. Capitalize on this great hidden treasure you are already paying for.

Every little improvement—hundreds a year— will make your business better and better, until one day, you have a smooth-running, people-pleasing, money-making system!

P.S. - Get the "Business Improvement Suggestion Form" in The Zone.

 

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Tags: People, Improvement, Innovation, System Example

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

How to Create Results-Oriented Job Descriptions

Posted byRon Carroll

Many small-business owners do not have formal job descriptions. Big Mistake! A job description is more than just a list of things an employee should do. As important as that is, the job description is also the primary tool used to fit the right person to the work assignment.

Hire the Right Person

People are often the most valuable and expensive components of your business ystems and processes. Every hire is important. Every miss-hire is expensive. The job candidate should fit the job function just as you would fit a component part in a piece of equipment. Think of a job description as a specification for a system component called "accountant," "welder," or "salesperson." The better your part fits, the better your business system or process performs.

Job Analysis

To prepare a job description you must first perform a job analysis. This is done by gathering information about the job through observation, questionnaire, and interviewing employees. Your analysis will identify the following:

  • The purpose of the job
  • The essential functions of the job (duties, responsibilities, methods, desired results)
  • The qualifications needed (training, knowledge, skills, experience, personality traits) 
  • Special requirements (schedules, travel, environmental conditions, physical demands)
  • Salary and benefits

Results-Oriented Job Descriptions

Job descriptions are developed from the job analysis. They are used in the employee-selection process, training, performance appraisals, and when considering compensation. A results-oriented job description defines what job-results the organization requires to accomplish its mission, strategy and goals. It focuses first on the desired job outcomes, and then adds the tasks or duties necessary to accomplish those outcomes (get "Results-Oriented Job Description" sample form).

For example, a receptionist’s duty may be to answer the telephone. However, the person’s real responsibility is to help customers. A human-resource person hires and terminates employees, but their underlying purpose is "to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus" (Jim Collins, “Good to Great”)—to fit people precisely to job requirements.

The value of a results-oriented job description is to remind employees of why they do a task, and how it benefits the organization.

Uses of the Job Description

A clear and concise job description contains all relevant information pertaining to the job and what is required to be successful. In the job interview, the potential candidate can determine whether the job is right for them. This will prevent your company from hiring the wrong person and wasting valuable time and resources.

In addition, job descriptions provide an agreement between supervisors and workers as to the expected performance results. This is particularly important for employee evaluations and monetary considerations. Job descriptions also give solid legal backing for wrongful termination and discrimination claims.

Elements of a Good Job Description

The following is a brief description of the categories that make up a well-written job description:

  • Job Title – Consider internal and external status issues. Avoid inflating titles.
  • Department/Location – Where will the person work?
  • Reports To – What is the job title of the person's supervisor?
  • Job Purpose - Include one or two sentences summarizing the primary function and general purpose of the job.
  • Essential Functions – Most positions will have five to eight major function areas. List them in descending order of importance, and if desired, indicate the percentage of time spent on each duty. Use clear and concise language; closely related duties should be grouped together in one responsibility statement. Avoid gender-based language. Identify the major functions of the job with short headings that begin with action verbs. Describe the work in terms of desired outcomes (see "Results-Oriented Job Description" sample form).
  • Disclaimer Statement – Supervisors may revise and/or add duties in response to changes in requirements or employee skill levels. To reflect this, the following statement should be included in all job descriptions: "The employer reserves the right to change or assign other duties to this position."
  • Job Qualifications – In a results-oriented job description, use the following statement: "Job qualifications are stated in the Essential Functions section of the job description. An employee must be able to accomplish the Essential Functions in order to be competent in the job. Other special requirements are noted below.
  • Special Requirements – Include requirements not specifically mentioned in the Essential Functions. List minimum specifications for formal training, education, certifications, and licenses. Identify specific knowledge, skills, and/or abilities that are required. Describe physical demands, special environmental conditions, unusual work schedules, and travel requirements. If important, indicate required work experience and desired personal qualities.
  • Type – Is the person Part-time or Full-time?
  • Term of Employment – Is the work Permanent, Temporary, or a specific length of time (e.g., 12 months)?
  • FLSA Status – Is the person subject to overtime laws—Exempt or Nonexempt?
  • Wage or Salary – List the specific wage or wage range.
  • Date Written – Note the original or revision date of the Job Description.
  • Approving Authority – Include the supervisor’s signature and date of approval.
  • Employee Acceptance Signature – Get the signature and date from the job candidate.

Tips

Education and experience requirements are where inadvertent discrimination may occur. Your educational requirements must be a real necessity for the job. If someone could accomplish the work with equivalent job experience, but who lacks a specific credential, the job description should be modified. To avoid age discrimination, experience should not include an upper limit. Credentials, such as degrees and licenses, are absolute necessities in some jobs. However, be sure that whatever credentials you establish have a direct bearing on the candidate’s ability to become a top performer.

Job descriptions are be written in clear and concise sentences. The basic structure for sentences in a job description should be "implied subject/verb/object/explanatory phrase." It is best to start with action verbs like "operates" and "maintains" (James R. Lindner, "Writing Job Descriptions for Small Businesses," Misc. Pub 93-9, Ohio State University, Piketon).

The job you describe must be truly doable. When you combine several tasks into the same job description, make sure you’re not creating a job that very few people could fill. For example, I recently saw an ad for a website developer. The company was seeking someone who was a graphic designer, a programmer, content writer, search engine optimizer, and marketer. It would take a pretty special person to have all of those skills.

Focus on the end-result of the task, not how to achieve it. For example, "Must be able to move 25-pound aluminum parts from a 40-inch high conveyor belt to a 60-inch high platform 3 times per minute for 2-3 hours daily," is preferable to "Must be able to lift 25 pounds."

Use specific language such as the examples below.

Too general: Computer literate
Specific: Proficient with Microsoft Word, Excel, QuickBooks

Too general: Good communication skills
Specific: Ability to communicate technical information to non-technical audiences

Too general: Handles administrative chores
Specific: Receives, sorts, and files monthly personnel action reports

The last item of your Essential Functions should be a catch-all phrase such as: Contributes to organization success by accepting new assignments, helping team members, learning new skills, and striving to improve team results.

Job Descriptions Should Be Written and Clear

Create results-oriented job descriptions (sample form) if you want to get the most out of employees and your business systems and processes. When expectations are written and clear, people work better, and they work better together.

 

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Tags: Business Systems, People, System Example

Your Invoicing System: Six Tips to Get All the Money You've Earned!

Posted byRon Carroll

Do you care about getting paid for the goods or services you sell? Silly question, but many dollars are lost every day by companies with a lame invoicing system. It is not only possible but probable that some invoices are inaccurate, incomplete, or missed entirely. Scary thought, huh?

Invoicing System

So, I ask: Could your invoicing system be broken? How do you know? Have you checked lately?

I once helped rescue a company that provides services for people with disabilities. The business had two-million dollars of annual revenue. We discovered the company was missing many invoicing opportunities—EVERY MONTH! There were some billing codes overlooked by untrained people in a half-baked business system. We made a few simple changes to the invoicing process, and the company has been raking in the EXTRA cash ever since.

In another case, my computer sales and service vendor made mistakes on more than half the invoices I received from his company. I became conditioned to examine each invoice in great detail. Sadly, I couldn’t trust their work. Keep in mind that without a good system, this could happen to anyone, including YOU.

Effective business systems and processes are the only way to put important details within your control!

Six Tips for Improvement

For companies with varied and/or complex sales transactions, inaccurate invoices can leak a lot of profit over the course of a year. And what’s worse, you may never detect it!

Here are six tips to keep you from losing some of your hard-earned money.

  1. Review your sales invoicing procedure and identify ways money could slip through the cracks. Modify your procedure to plug the holes and create a bullet-proof system.

  2. Require customers to provide a detailed purchase order—with prices if possible—that you can compare with your outgoing invoice. Contact the customer if there are any discrepancies.

  3. Be on guard for pricing mistakes or incomplete invoices. Look for legitimate billing opportunities that could be missed by your company.

  4. Consider adding a second approval for sales invoices over a specified dollar amount. Employees typically aren’t too concerned about invoicing issues; it’s not their money. So YOU or a supervisor needs to touch the invoicing system when bigger dollars are at stake.

  5. Perform an occasional spot check or audit of customer invoices for a particular time period. This helps keep people on their toes. Use the information you find to improve the system, not to scold people. If invoices are carelessly prepared, well, that’s a people problem you need to address.

  6. Collect money up front whenever possible. If you offer terms, create a strong collections system to get paid promptly when money is due. Big Tip: Receiving cash payments at the point of sale will have a significant positive impact on invoice accuracy and efficiency, cash flow, and ultimately your profit margin!

Create a Near-Perfect Invoicing System

This will not surprise you: if an invoice error is in favor of your customer, they usually just assume the dollar amount was adjusted down for some legitimate reason they don’t have time to inquire about. If the invoice amount is higher than your customer expects, you will definitely get a phone call. In the end, a mistake-prone invoicing system will rob you of hard-earned dollars, create unnecessary cost to research and rework errors, and diminish your customer’s confidence.

The invoicing system is one area of your business that should be near perfect (Six Sigma)!

Consider this fact: if your company makes 8% net-profit, you’ve spent 92% of the invoice amount filling the order. At that rate, it would require the net-profit from about thirteen orders to pay back the lost dollars of one missed invoice. YIKES! (see "Sales Equivalency—The Surprising Power of Cutting Costs!")

Now, go make sure your customer invoicing system is asking for all the money you deserve!

 

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Tags: Business Systems, System Example, Financial Systems

Systems Thinking: What We Can Learn from the Legendary MacGyver!

Posted byRon Carroll

From 1985 to 1992, there was a popular television character known as MacGyver. He was a secret agent with a scientific background and an unusual knack for solving urgent and often complex problems with simple everyday materials he found lying around. Of course, he was never without his duct tape and a Swiss Army knife. In every episode, MacGyver would jerry-rig a clever contraption to accomplish his purpose and save the day.

Years later, people still refer to MacGyver when using chewing gum, a paper clip, duct tape, or whatever is simple and handy to solve a pressing problem.

Solve problems like MacGyver

Wallpaper by PhantomBladeV18


A MacGyver Moment

One of my MacGyver moments came when our family moved into a new house that had an unfinished basement. When it began to rain, I was distressed to find water running down one of the inside concrete walls and flooding the basement floor. I grabbed an empty fifty-five-gallon drum left from construction and pushed it against the wall to catch the running water. However, the drum could not sit close enough to prevent the water from running behind it.

I looked around in storage boxes and found an old 16x20 picture with glass in the frame. I removed the glass, set it on top of the barrel rim, and leaned it against the wall. I then applied duct-tape to seal the top edge of the glass and hold it in place. The water cascaded down the wall, hit the glass, and successfully ran into the barrel.  However, within a few hours, the barrel was three-quarters full and too heavy to move... and it was still pouring rain!

From our garden shed, I grabbed an old hose, dropped one end into the bottom of the barrel, and ran the hose out the sliding glass door to a low spot in the backyard. I then sucked on the end of the hose to start a siphon. At that point, the barrel began to empty at about the same rate it was filling. We continued to have torrential rains for three days. However, my little MacGyver water-collection and draining system prevented hundreds of gallons of water from filling the basement.

What Would MacGyver Do?

So, what does this have to do with your business? Keep reading; there’s a message here. But first, let’s look at another example of MacGyver thinking in a business setting.

A toothpaste factory had a problem of sometimes shipping empty boxes—no tube of toothpaste inside. This was due to a minor timing deviation in the mechanical production line that couldn’t easily be controlled in a cost-effective way. Understanding how important it was not to frustrate customers, the company CEO finally decided to hire an engineering company to solve the empty-box problem.

After six months and several hundred-thousand dollars, a solution was in place—on-time and under-budget. The problem was solved by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a passing toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The production line would automatically stop while a worker walked over, removed the empty box, and pressed the conveyor restart button. Everyone thought the solution was fantastic.

One day, the CEO decided to look at the return on investment of his project. The results were amazing! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Customers were happy, and the problem was solved. “That was money well spent,” he said, before noticing the other data in the report.

To his surprise, the number of defects picked up by the scales after several months of production was zero. "There should have been at least a dozen a day," he thought. Maybe there was something wrong with the report. After investigating, the information turned out to be correct. The scales really weren't picking up any defects because all boxes that got to that point in the line had toothpaste tubes in them. There were no empty boxes!

Puzzled, the CEO traveled to the factory and went to the production line where the precision scales were installed.

A few feet before the scale, there was a $20 desk fan blowing any empty boxes off the conveyor belt and into a bin.

“Oh, that,” said a nearby worker, “one of the guys put the fan there because he was tired of walking to the scales every time the bell rang.”

Three Lessons Learned

So, what can be learned from these two stories? Here are three takeaways you can apply to your business for better problem solving:

1.     Apply Systems Thinking, a creative—MacGyver like—approach to business problems. (What would MacGyver do?)

2.     Choose the simplest and least-expensive solution that gets the desired results (Ockham’s razor).

3.     Go see the problem first-hand and get input from workers before undertaking any grandiose or expensive solution (Lean Thinking).


Now, put on your MacGyver hat and go save the day!

 

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Tags: Systems Thinker, Innovation, Laws/Principles, System Example

Turn Dust-Gathering Procedures into Business Systems that Wow!

Posted byRon Carroll

Yesterday, I was talking with a user of Box Theory™ Gold software. He told me how Systems Thinking and Box Theory™ have turned him into a keen observer and critic of the business systems he encounters as a buying customer. At a recent visit to a restaurant, he and his wife were able to easily spot numerous ways the business could improve. This kind of exercise builds Systems Thinking muscle. I highly recommend it for improving your own business.

Metaphorically speaking, Systems Thinkers not only see the hands on the clock that tell the time of day, but they see the gears and springs in the background that cause the clock to keep perfect time throughout the year.

Transparent System

So let’s look beyond the surface at the gears and springs that really make a business system or process “run like clockwork.”

Transform Boring Procedures into Magical Systems

Once I spent a few minutes (very few) watching a television program called, “Dancing with the Stars.”  I was fascinated by its power to illustrate the potential of effective business systems.  Here are my brief observations.

A short video clip showed dancers in sweats rehearsing laboriously to music from a boom-box. The only components of the practice session included the dance partners, music, and a dance routine or “procedure.” The scene was nothing anyone would care to watch for more than a few minutes. The routine was like many small-business systems—loosely structured, focused mostly on procedure, full of mistakes, and not something to get very excited about.

The dance itself could never hold the attention of an audience—the customer. As a television program, it would be a guaranteed flop. However, on the night of the broadcast, this rather mundane dance procedure becomes a high-drama and engaging “system” that excites and entertains. The following added components help to bring about this transformation.

  • Dazzling sets and costumes
  • Popular music
  • Celebrities paired with professional dancers
  • Behind-the-scenes interviews and stories
  • A cheering crowd
  • Professional judging, scoring, and candid evaluations
  • Viewer participation, call-in votes, social media buzz
  • Recognition of winners and losers, trophy chase, substantial cash earnings
  • Weekly advertising that builds anticipation
  • Can you name other system-building components?

Now it’s these “little” things that make all the difference. They change a basic dance procedure into a compelling and even addictive entertainment system—a system that keeps millions of viewers glued to their television sets week after week. This well-executed business system attracts customers and makes money—big money. And YOU can do the same in your target market!

When television programming styles or genres are copied—“So You Think You Can Dance”—they are sometimes described as following a formula. And, of course, a formula is really just a system that produces a predictable result. Vast fortunes have been made by simply following a formula or “recipe” for success.

Consider this “Dancing with the Stars” Review:

The “Dancing with the Stars” season is a wrap and what a season it was! Before the dazzling finale, we were treated to many weeks of shoes flying, stars crying, pros stumbling, and an ever-changing leaderboard! The hits kept coming (as did the misses) as the stars rehearsed hard and danced harder in pursuit of the coveted Mirror Ball Trophy.” 

Dancing Couple

When people start talking about your business—its core products and services—with this kind of enthusiasm, you’ve got a winner. The essence of every great business system is found in the details, the system components that excite and delight both customers and employees. With a little imagination (the art) and powerful system-building principles (the science), you too can create a remarkable business!

I invite you to learn this breakthrough skill so you too can start “dancing with the stars!”

Related Articles:
The WOW Factor: Six Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems! (Part 1)
The WOW Factor: Six More Ways to Supercharge Your Business Systems! (Part 2)
Business Systems vs. the Misunderstood Operations Manual
Boost Your Business Profit by Adding the Fun Factor!
Does Your Business Have a Double McTwist 1260?

 

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Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, System Example

One in Ten Are Ready to Buy from You—Do You Know Who They Are?

Posted byRon Carroll

It is a brutal fact of business life that most people don't want to buy your product or service, at least not right now. However, don’t be discouraged. This knowledge could be used to improve the odds of your success. Let’s take a look.

Is Knowledge Power?

Marketing guru Chet Holmes declared, “Twenty years of research has shown me that there is always a very small percentage of folks ‘buying now’—three percent.”

To an audience of twelve hundred executives, Chet asked, “How many are in the market to buy a car right now?” Roughly, thirty people raised their hands. “How about office equipment?” Thirty different hands went up. “Home improvements?” Again, about thirty hands. Approximately three percent of potential buyers at any given time are ready to buy. “That percentage drives all commerce.”

Chet’s research also showed that 7% of the population are open to the idea of buying because they are dissatisfied with their current item or provider and are not opposed to considering a change. Of the ninety-percent that are left, approximately one-third are not thinking about the product or service, though not opposed or against. Another third don’t think they would be interested. The last third know they are definitely not interested because they are happy with what they have or don’t need the product at all (see The Ultimate Sales Machine, 62-63).

These facts are interesting—but of little value—unless you incorporate this knowledge into a working business system. 

Knowledge Plus Action Equals Power

 The Application of Knowledge

A few years ago, I created a lead-generation system for my accounting practice. I wanted to find those one-in-ten companies (3%+7%) that might be in the market for my services. First, I acquired a list of several thousand businesses in my community. I wrote a telemarketing script and had a person make phone calls for two hours Monday through Friday.

The telemarketer asked the business owner or a receptionist/secretary this question: “HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT CHANGING ACCOUNTANTS? The caller sought a yes or no answer and noted the level of interest from strongest to weakest. We recorded their response as follows:

Y3 – Yes, definitely thinking about it
Y2 – Yes, somewhat thinking about it
Y1 – Yes, secretary thinking about it
N3 – No, but should think about it
N2 – No, but might want to think about it
N1 – Not interested

Based upon the response, we developed a follow-up script to pursue the 10% hot leads and quickly passed over the low-interest responses. However, we also knew that in our industry there is often a growing dissatisfaction with accountants (especially those that lack good business systems). A company that isn’t thinking about changing accountants today may be at a higher level of interest in six months or a year.

This gold-mining system paid off. About three percent of prospects were anxious to meet with us immediately, and an additional seven percent wanted to know more. By the way, don’t underestimate what the secretary thinks. Many have influence and will help you get an audience with the decision maker.

The Secret Component of the System

Our question, “HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT CHANGING ACCOUNTANTS,” worked because it is low-key, non-threatening, and gets to the point quickly.  You may want to try it in your business. For example:

Have you thought about outsourcing your computer services?
Have you thought about getting a new copy machine?
Have you thought about installing new counter tops?
Have you thought about improving SEO for your website?

A great question like this is also effective with up-selling or cross-selling. “Have you thought about adding a humidifier to your new heating unit?” “Have you thought about the advantages of upgrading to granite counter tops?

This system worked for me. Some variation of it might work for you. By the way, “Have you thought about creating better business systems and processes?”

 

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Tags: Business Systems, Marketing Systems, System Example

Repetition—The Boring Road to Riches!

Posted byRon Carroll

Recently, I awoke from a vivid dream. I was standing in line at a Krispy Kreme donut factory and feeling the most pleasant sensation as I watched those hypnotizing pastries pass under the frosting falls and down the conveyor belt toward the finish line. It was heaven.

System Repetition

However, before you jump to any conclusions, you should know that my dream-state was not focused on the melt-in-your-mouth donuts. Instead, I was mesmerized by the manufacturing system that produced six perfect donuts every second of every minute of every hour. (Even when I dream, I’m a Systems Thinker.)

I marveled at the power of this repetitive process to consistently earn money for the business owner. Those little donuts could just as well have been quarters—the profit on a donut—coming off the end of the conveyor belt.

Wouldn’t you like a company where you could open the door every morning, flip a switch and everything would start humming along, making you money? You may not have an automated factory; however, it is possible to create business systems and processes—marketing, hiring, training, customer service, order fulfillment, and so forth—that work consistently every day to accomplish your business and financial objectives.

Repetition Generates Profit

Being innovative gets me excited. I love to create and try new things. Innovation also attracts customers and creates buzz in the marketplace. However, the daily repetition of effective business systems and processes is what generates profit. I REPEAT: THE DAILY REPETITION OF EFFECTIVE BUSINESS SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES IS WHAT GENERATES PROFIT!

Those boring and repetitive routines will make your business remarkable. People will see your company as being organized, consistent, predictable, standardized, reliable, orderly, disciplined, and trustworthy. Repetition increases employee productivity and quality while lowering cost. It engenders confidence in customers and keeps them coming back for more.

Nature is Our Best Example

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws (American Poet, Lecturer and Essayist, 1803-1882). Like Nature, a business is a unique organism that operates best when there is a harmonious interaction of its vital systems. Repetition is the steady heartbeat of a prosperous organization.

You can only leverage the profit-generating power of repetition by implementing effective operational systems and processes that consistently produce your version of “melt-in-your-mouth donuts.” There is no other way!

The ultimate reward for creating a systematized business is the opportunity to hire someone who can run it for you, replicate it in other markets, or sell it for top dollar.

Just like Krispy Kreme, repetition is a key ingredient for you to enjoy the sweet smell of success!

 

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Tags: Business Systems, Laws/Principles, Quality, Efficiency/Speed, System Example

A Cool Business System that Attracts Customers and Cuts Cost!

Posted byRon Carroll

Last week, my wife and I went to dinner at one of our favorite eating spots, Tucanos Brazilian Grill, a local chain of restaurants. They have a cool food-service system that is part of their brand, but also saves them thousands of dollars every year.

The restaurant offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of tasty salads and side dishes, while entrée servers walk around from table to table with skews of beef cuts, barbecued chicken wings, bacon-wrapped turkey, pork, sausage, shrimp, grilled pineapple or vegetables, and so forth. They cut off slices or push pieces down the skewer for customers to grab with tongs and put them on their meat plate.

The Tucanos Cue System

Once patrons are ready for servers to visit their table with these delicious morsels, they turn the wooden “Tucanos Cue” with the green side up (go). If they need to pause, or are full to bursting, they turn the Tucanos Cue over, with the red side up (stop). The servers immediately discontinue bringing selections to the table. Laying the cue on its side signals that customers are ready to pay their check.

Tucanos Cue - A Cool Business System

This distinctive method of serving the entrée makes Tucanos Brazilian Grill an unforgettable experience for customers. However, it is also a significant cost-saving strategy. Here’s how.

Fun and Profit Producing

A Tucanos Restaurant feeds an average of 1200 people per day with about fourteen entrée servers per shift. The servers visit the tables approximately fifteen times throughout the customer's thirty-minute eating frenzy. They spend roughly ten seconds per person each time they visit. Were it not for the Tucanos Cue in the red position, my observation is that they would spend at least an extra sixty seconds per person during the meal with needless visits and chatting.

The average savings of one minute per customer is equal to 1200 minutes per day or twenty person-hours. The entrée server is paid $2.50 per hour by the company (tips are added). This amounts to a savings of $50 per day or $15,600 per year (Tucanos is not open on Sundays). The Tucanos Cue System enables the restaurant to provide a quality service with one or two fewer entrée servers than might otherwise be required.

In your business, using minimum wage employees for a five-day workweek, similar time savings would add up to a whopping $37,700 per year. A nice bit of change resulting from a little creative thinking, don’t you think? With minimum wage going up, or higher-paid employees, the savings is even more impressive.

Where’s the Magic in Your Business Systems?

Remember, an effective business system is not just a flowchart or a checklist. The best systems include a mixture of left-brain and right-brain thinking that make your company a fun and motivating place to work and shop. The effort will translate into lower costs, repeat customers, and a thriving enterprise.

Become a Systems Thinker and you will discover the magic in your business!

 

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Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, Customer Retention, Cost Cutting, System Example