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Monthly Archive for November, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving and Beyond

Posted by on November 24, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Now is the time to give thanks to your employees, customers, clients, shareholders, partners and all those who help make your company hum.

Better yet, I suggest that you carry the Thanksgiving spirit with you throughout the remainder of the year and into 2012. No company or organization ever succeeds alone. It is always a group effort.

By demonstrating a little humility and thankfulness, you’ll greatly increase the chances that your company will be around next Thanksgiving and many Thanksgivings to come.

Using the Old Bean

Posted by on November 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm

Nothing says November like the feel of wearing a wool sweater from L.L. Bean.

I’ve been a fan of L.L. Bean’s no-frills, long-lasting clothing products for over 30 years. They are comfortable, affordable, and always get the job done.

If I had a dollar for every “Blucher Moc” moccasin shoe that L.L. Bean has sold over the years, I would, well, have a lot of dollars. The shoe is timeless and iconic, and the product description today was the same 30 years ago: “The handsewn upper conforms to your foot for a fit that only gets better with time. Traditional rubber sole has channel grooves to provide traction on wet surfaces.” Current retail price: $69 a pair.

If it ain’t broke, keep selling it. Or something like that.

L.L. Bean owes its success not only to great products, but to great customer service. Year after year, L.L. Bean ranks among America’s top 10 companies for customer service according to the National Retail Federation, based on written surveys of over 9,000 shoppers.

The company was founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean in Freeport, Maine — a place that knows something about the importance of keeping warm and dry. Today, L.L. Bean’s flagship store and campus is still in Freeport on the original site where Bean opened his retail business.

Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the 200,000-square-foot flagship store draws nearly three million visitors each year.

Next year marks L.L. Bean’s 100th anniversary. Few companies on the planet survive long enough to celebrate this milestone, much less one that is still at the top of its game. The company’s annual sales now top $1.5 billion.

L.L. Bean wrote the book on succeeding as a mail-order business, and decades later was able to successfully pivot to capitalize on the e-commerce revolution. Like its famed Blucher Moc, L.L. Bean has been able to effectively adapt and conform “for a fit that only gets better with time.”

Yet, L.L. Bean’s current President, Chris McCormick, knows that the company’s success will continue to rely on its commitment to putting the customer first: “It goes back to L.L.’s Golden Rule of treating customers like human beings.”

That’s using the old bean from which we all can learn.

Are You Using the Right Metrics?

Posted by on November 7, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Companies today live by metrics and measurements. In order to improve performance, you must first know your current baseline so that you can measure progress.

Metrics are important in today’s highly competitive global business climate, but many senior managers can sometimes lose sight of the performance forest for the metrics trees. Corporate leaders can become too reliant over a particular set of metrics while never stopping to ask, “Are we using the right metrics?”

This month’s Harvard Business Review featured an article written by Office Depot’s President, Kevin Peters, who discovered first-hand that his company was not focusing on the right metrics to improve customer service and drive increased sales.

Based on his own incognito visits to 70 stores in 15 states over a several week period in 2010, Peters found out that Office Depot’s current customer metric scores were correct, but that their scoring system was not. “We were asking the wrong questions.”

Peters said that his company had been grading store managers and associates with questions such as: Are the floors clean? Are the bathrooms clean? Are the shelves fully stocked?

Based on his own field analysis and random interviews with customers, Peters felt the company should be focused more on whether a customer walks out of the store without a purchase. And if so, how could they improve the in-store experience to reduce the no-purchase rate?

As Peters describes the office products business, “This is not a browsing industry – people are shopping with a particular purpose in mind. If they don’t make a purchase, something has gone wrong.”

Customers told Peters that they care more about knowledgeable associates and smaller and easier-to-navigate stores. He also found that associates were not asking the right questions of customers. For example, instead of asking, “How are you today, and are you finding everything okay?” associates should be asking, “What can I help you find today?”

In response, Office Depot recently instituted a simplified sales process called “ARC” – Ask, Recommend, Close. They have also sought to shrink the size of their stores, coupled with a greater focus on the in-store experience.

The bottom line according to Peters is this, “If you think your company is doing well with customer service, ask yourself, ‘Am I really sure?’ Do I know what the customer experiences?”

Make it a point to challenge your own corporate metrics on a periodic basis to ensure you are asking the right questions. Otherwise, your company may find itself racking up some very nice scores, but taking the wrong test.