Because of some work that I’m doing, the question made me think how I would have answered it: what is it that makes an operator jump from being simply good to outstanding in what they do?
Over the past few months, since my departure from the managing director role at Punch and while I look for my next role, I have been working with several businesses that wanted advice and guidance on how they embark on the next part of their journey.
They all gave me a different brief, but fundamentally they all wanted help to improve every aspect of their business, so they could compete successfully in their marketplace.
It’s been exciting talking to people about their businesses in a consultancy capacity while I look for my next role, and being able to suggest they make small tweaks to their business has been very rewarding.
What I have enjoyed is that rare luxury called time: time to listen and time to stop and consider what the best course is for those businesses.
We all know that great customer service is key, having a well-trained and engaged team can be the difference between success and failure.
But if you think about Dragons’ Den, being ‘nice’ and having a great product isn’t enough. It’s about the detail; the facts and the figures, the profit and loss, the operations.
The winners are those that have the detail nailed, they know every aspect of their business – the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. They can pull the facts and figures out of the bag when under fire from a panel of ‘dragons’.
I have tried to answer a complex question by looking at three things to start with; but I’m fully aware that running any business is more than just these three things.
- The financials
- The people in the business
- The consumers
A good operator, therefore, is someone who has recent management accounts to hand and is aware of the profit and loss the business has made over the past couple of years. Financially, they will have a budget for the next six to 12 months and will always respond to business issues quickly. When things go wrong, they will review what happened and set goals for their team to improve performance.
Customer service will sit at the heart of the business with clear plans in place on how teams can deliver a superior experience. Staff training will be available and ideally supported by a reward and recognition programme.
In terms of their customers, they will have a good website and use social media well with up-to-date posts on their feeds. They talk to their customers through these social media avenues (as well as when they come into the business) and keep them updated on events. They do more than this, but much of what they do is reactive, off the cuff, unplanned and often all done on their own without engagement with their team, with no measurement of success.
So, you might be thinking what does excellent look like? There are hundreds of aspects to an excellent operator, but here is my starter for 10…
An excellent operator has the management accounts for the recent years to hand, but these historical accounts are a tool to understand where the opportunities and threats are for their business in the coming year.
More importantly, they have a plan on how they will mitigate the risk and exploit the opportunity for their business.
They will have a two to three-year business plan with detailed milestones and KPIs for at least the next 12 months for each part of the business.
Vitally, they will communicate the opportunities and KPIs to their team, so everyone is engaged with and understands the trajectory of travel for the business. There will be a clear plan for each week, month and the year ahead.
To help their staff, they will have all the training tools the good operators have available, but they will also have a personal development plan for their key team members, making sure they grow their skills as the business grows.
An excellent operator will recognise the value of investing in staff performance and skills, and will know how this supports motivation and loyalty.
There is clear evidence that motivated and engaged team members will give what I call ‘extra discretionary effort’ to the business, which is a win-win because it improves performance and enhances customer service.
While on the subject of customers, these excellent operators will have the same social media streams as the good operators, but these guys will know which social media avenue works best for their business.
They will have an authentic personality and know what content works best and the best time and day to post.
In some cases, they will personalise their campaigns, making sure the recipient first of all sees the communication and, more importantly, values the interaction.
As well as talking to their customers, both in person and online, excellent operators will also have the tools to listen to them.
They will appreciate the value of honest customer feedback and use this to help them make small tweaks to the offer, service and standards that will deliver memorable guest experiences.
Customers will feel engaged and become raving fans of that business, which makes them more forgiving when sometimes little things go wrong.
I haven’t talked about the offer yet but, for me, the good operators have an idea what their offer is, and they work hard on it, but the outstanding operators really understand what they are trying to deliver (as do their team), they understand what makes their offer stand out from the crowd and work hard to differentiate from the competition, giving it a real unique selling point.
Consumers might not be able to instantly put their finger on why the offer is better, but they know it’s very special and they know what the USP is.
There is so much more involved in running an excellent business, but I guess what the few words above tell me is that being good in today’s tough market with increasingly demanding consumers just isn’t good enough.
- Take time to think about your business, look ahead more than you look back (but don’t forget to learn from the past)
- Aim big with your goals and communicate your plan to your team
- Inspire your people, demand excellence, engage, develop and reward them
- Communicate with your customers and, most importantly, listen to them – make them raving fans of what you do
- Appreciate customer feedback and use this to make small tweaks to your offer, service and standards that will deliver memorable guest experiences
- Use the data you collect, measure what works well for your business so you can do more of it
Finally, the team at Facebook says ‘access to information is key’. For me, it’s what you do with that information that is key to any successful business.
I hope this gave some ideas for your business and good luck in achieving your goals.