As a person who eats very specifically, I often get salads when I’m meeting someone for lunch or when I’m picking up food to eat at the office. There are two places in town that I like to use – both offer a variety of delicious salads. Both offer consistent results. You might assume that their consistency is why I go to those places but an examination of their consistency will help you understand why being consistent can be both positive and an opportunity.
Restaurant #1 is close to my office, so I go there most often. I am consistently greeted by name; they know what I like and they do little things to show me that they appreciate my business. Rarely do I encounter anyone who isn’t friendly. However, their salads are consistently inconsistent. One time I may get a to go plate that is overflowing. The next time it may look like I ordered a half salad. Sometimes ingredients are omitted. I never quite know what my food will be like.
Restaurant #2 is further away. They are unfailingly consistent in the food they provide. The portion sizes are the same. The contents are all in the salad and every aspect of the food is consistent. They are also consistently unfriendly and unhelpful. Any request that isn’t exactly what they usually do is declined without exception.
It is a fact that customers like to know what to expect from your business – meaning they like consistency. But consistency alone doesn’t create a positive experience. Consistently unhelpful or consistently inconsistency in the product provided isn’t a good thing.
How can you, as the business owner or the manager, address these issues?
Consistent products are created when the way things are done is standardized. The restaurant with the salads that are always the same has measurements for everything. They don’t grab a handful of tomatoes – they have a tool to measure the same quantity of tomatoes each time. A person could add tomatoes before they added cucumbers but the quantity of each ingredient remains the same because it is measured. Management is responsible for establishing the measurement, ensuring the tools are in play and holding employees accountable for utilizing the tools. They also don’t waste a lot of time trying to convince someone that tomatoes have to be added first because it doesn’t impact the final product.
Consistent helpfulness is a matter of culture. Culture is both created by the way employees are trained and by what is allowed within the organization. Management sets the tone and reinforces behaviors that fit the culture. In fact, if you look at the attitudes of the owner and/or manager, you can often predict the way that the employees will behave. A strong culture, once established, requires little maintenance because every existing employee will address improper deviations with newbies.
While a strong culture can reinforce desired behaviors, it will not overcome a person’s natural personality. This is why I advocate for hiring people who fit your culture, even if that means they don’t have as much experience. You can teach people how to do things but it is very difficult to convince someone to completely change who they are to fit in your organization. People tend to be consistent too.
As an owner / manager, you need to be clear about what things and behaviors you want to be consistent within your business. You need standard operating procedures (SOPs) that ensure a consistent product or service is delivered. It is important that you focus on which things must be done a certain way to get the final result and let go of focusing on things someone can do a little differently and still arrive at the same results (same quality, same timeliness). SOPs are the cornerstone of training new employees, for holding existing employees accountable and for measuring success.
Measuring your customer experience is important. You may think you know what it is but I suggest you get some mystery shoppers or interview some of your actual clients who you know well enough to be confident they will tell you what they experience. If you don’t know what is happening, you can’t take action to correct it. Then take consistent action to improve and check again to see what is better and what still needs attention. Your consistency will pay off!
Charlise Latour a business coach and owner of Accelerate Your Success. She works with each client to determine what their goals are and create a plan so they can achieve them. She is actively involved in Dancing & Singing With The King which raises money to promote dance education including working with local schools to offer dance classes during the school day. This is a natural fit as she is an avid ballroom dancer.