Picture the scene…
Headache inducing lighting; dirt everywhere. People herded into waiting areas or running around in a panic, all trying to race each other to the finish line. It’s every man, woman, and child for themselves.
Either you’ve been entered into The Hunger Games, or you’ve just descended into the bowels of Penn Station.
Those of you who have commuted regularly between New York and DC (like Rachel!) will know exactly what we’re talking about. Penn Station is three major transport hubs all smooshed into one underground building with terrible lighting and worse signage. Which isn’t great.
Even worse is the fact that they never, ever know which train will be pulling into any given platform until about five minutes before it arrives. Oh, and just to add another little sprinkling of stress to the situation, some of the train lines have this weird app you have to download and activate within a certain timeframe. So as soon as your train is announced it’s a crazy, Mad Max-esque fight to get to the right platform before your train leaves without you.
It’s like they’re working to some awful business equation:
Low margin for error + high probability for error + really low level of competence = headaches for commuters and staff alike.
And the thing is, it REALLY doesn’t have to be like that. I know we all expect public transport to be kind of sucky but it’s not a given. Look at the rail network in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Germany, Japan — if the Shinkansen staff at Tokyo station tell you you’ll be passing Mount Fuji at 10.56, you can bet your 401k that you’ll be passing Mount Fuji at 10.56.
Is your business more Penn Station or Tokyo?
Ok, so Japanese bullet trains are setting the bar kind of high. But honestly, if your business is operating more at the Penn station level of customer satisfaction, it’s time to shake things up.
Of course no one sets out to be inefficient or to give their customers a horrible, stressful experience. So where does it tend to go wrong?
This type of situation tends to go right down to the foundations of a business. So you can have decent customer service in place, you can be offering a great product or service, but if the basic design of your business is flawed, none of that other stuff is going to hold up.
Are you working with a basic design flaw?
Penn Station sure seems to be — they have several transit companies all supposedly working together but completely uncoordinated. It’s all tangled up.
And we tend to see the same thing happen all the time in smaller businesses too. Entrepreneurs often get to a point, maybe three or four years into running their business, where their own systems become all tangled up. They have loads of grand plans for scaling but when these plans come to fruition, they’re not equipped to deal with it. They don’t have the systems in place to deal with rapid growth. And that’s when things start to get stressful for your people; quality goes down, orders don’t get delivered on time, your employees (or you!) freak out and everyone ends up having a shitty time.
How to make life easier for your people.
The key to making sure everyone has a great experience — whether we’re talking about your staff or your customers — is to build your entire business around being good to people. Seriously, guys, make it a goddamn business policy.
Like REI, this week’s super shiny example of a good business. They’re an outdoor equipment Co-op and in the interest of full disclosure, Illana used to work for them so she might be a teensy bit biased. Seriously though, these guys have sussed out how to make people happy.
They don’t pay a ton (if they did, Illana might still be working there!) but they’re like the only retailer to make it onto the list of the best places to work. Staff are empowered to make decisions and don’t have to have every tiny thing signed off by management. They get free food and regular parties and BBQs, paid volunteer days and, get this, they actually close on Black Friday so that their staff can spend time with their families. How freakin’ revolutionary is that?
And they treat their customers well too. It’s super easy to return stuff, their stores have wide aisles for accessibility, and they’re big on financial accessibility too — they have regular scratch and dent sales to open up sales to folks who can’t normally afford to shop there.
They have a whole formula that just works — and they know not to fuck with it.
Find your own formula.
And that’s exactly what you need to do too.
So as you’re building your business, and making your awesome exciting plans for growth, have a think about how you’re going to handle an increase in sales, in clients, in income, in exposure. Think about how you’re going to create the systems and processes that’ll help all that stuff run smoothly when it happens. If organisational shit isn’t your forte, hire someone to come in and help you do it.
And while you’re designing your processes, consider all the different ways you can make life better for the people in your business — the ones that work for/with you AND the people that buy from you. How can you be more accessible? Like Illana you might want to introduce a scholarship to certain clients, do some pro-bono work when you can, or even just find little ways to totally fucking delight people. Send customers a hand-written note on their birthday, go the extra mile when you’re delivering the goods, even just send them some free content that you think might be relevant to them.
At no point in your business should people feel like they have to fight tooth and nail to get what they need — figure out how to help, how to give people great experiences, and just how to treat them like human beings instead of Hunger Games contestants.
Remember: be good to people and they’ll be good to your business.