Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Scenography: A Ritz-Carlton Secret For Creating A Magical Customer Experience

A frustration I have as a customer service consultant is the difficulty of convincing business leaders I work with to think in a less transactional, less fractured manner about the customer experience, to correct their misconception that improving independent pieces of the customer experience in isolation is sufficient, as if customers will logically tally up every aspect of working with their company and then dispassionately rate it.

This, of course, isn’t how the customer mind–the human mind–operates. Instead, a customer either decides that she enjoys being your customer or decides that she doesn’t. Your challenge in business, therefore, is to create this state of enjoyment for your customers: to envision what pleasure looks like for your customer and then­–and only then–get to work on the individual pieces that will make up this whole.

One approach I’ve had success with in getting this through the heads of leaders is to ask them to think of directing a movie with their customer as the star.  Once you decide to direct such a movie, and to put the customer (rather than your business, its processes, its internal org chart) in the starring role, we can get to work creating a tremendous customer experience.

Scenography at the Ritz-Carlton

There’s nothing more potentially interchangeable than a hotel room. Rectangular, built to particular safety standards, available at a particular price point.  What infuses a hotel room, and the surrounding property, with life is the experience of the guests within it.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company works every day to escape the commodity rut by taking the idea of moviemaking seriously, to the point of set design, music, lighting, and the rest. In Ritz-Carlton lingo, their approach is called “scenography.”

What “scenography” consists of is a little bit soft-focus, gauzy, hard to pin down.  And that’s the magic of it.  Scenography isn’t about features. Spec sheets. Room upgrades, and other easily-copied competitive advantages.  It’s about creating a feeling.

Scenography involves creating a property-wide theme and supporting it with accompanying design elements, lighting, cast participation and so forth (I think you get the theatrical metaphor here, so I won’t belabor it).

This overarching theme supports the specific hotel or resort’s “sense of place,” its uniqueness, even its quirkiness, something that has been an important change in the Ritz-Carlton brand's identity from its earlier, more cookie-cutter incarnation.
bagpipper

For example, Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, perched as it is above the Pacific Ocean, has adopted a theme related to sunset:  Candles.  S’mores or wine around the firepits. A bagpiper who plays each night as the sun falls into the sea.

Or look at (listen to, really) what’s going on at Ritz-Carlton’s Dove Mountain Resort, in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Guests having cocktails outside its Ignite bar will suddenly hear melodies played on a handmade wood flute by a Native American musician (pictured below) who is perched on a hill some ways away from the hotel–played in a way that makes use of the answering echoes from the opposing mountains. Giving an auditory guide, in a sense, to the local landscape.

sonoran desert

The thing is, I’m laying out these component elements for you individually because, well, it’s my job as a customer service consultant to break things down into their individual components to see how a “whole” has been created.  But in practice, if you ask a Ritz-Carlton guest what they loved about their visit to, for example, Half Moon Bay, the answer is by and large “it was great,” not “the bagpiper played a modal air for eight repetitions before retiring for the evening.” Because the elements are designed and executed in a way that lets the guest, the “star,” go about their activities, but with critical enhancements that they wouldn’t necessarily notice on their own but would miss if the elements were absent.

To succeed with scenography requires first and foremost creativity on the part of the hotel staff.  This creativity has to reach all the way up to the traditionally RevPar (revenue per available room)-obsessed General Manager and throughout the ranks of the employees to make the program a success. Rather than there being a list of “ten rules for successful scenography,” the rules that matter are more like the following, to paraphrase Fred Dust from Ideo, a creative firm that was involved in the creation of scenography. “1.  Leaders, be more creative!” and 2. “Empower your employees to be more creative as well.”

The Ritz-Carlton’s commitment to scenography is such that they’ve written into their business plans that every year each individual hotel GM has to deliver three unique scenes as part of this scenography. Let me say that again: this fluffy, fuzzy idea of scenography is required now as part of each property’s business plan, to lay out that “these are the scenes we are going to be working on this year, and here’s the date that we’ll put them into motion.”

The thing about the creativity requirement is that it’s not just required to create these scenarios. The requirement for staff creativity continues to be important in implementation, in keeping each hotel property from becoming a slave to its pre-determined theme. Because every guest is unique, and the concept of creating, directing, supporting scenes needs to be modified, sometimes on the fly, based on the nature of the guest and the visit. For example: If you’re not much of a drinker, you can count on Half Moon Bay’s empathetic staff to pick up on this and not force their “red wine by the firepit” theme down your throat.

Ditto for smaller touchpoints, each instance of which may require adjustment for each guest: A stressed and jetlagged exec arriving at two in the morning needs one “scene” while   leisurely lovers arriving midday need another, and so forth.   The same approaches apply: preparing for likely scenarios (such as these two) and throwing out the script if something even more unusual is called for.  Creativity, again, carries the day.


5 Steps to Building a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign

4-22 Crowdfunding smallIt seems like nearly every day, there’s a new crowdfunding campaign or request for support that comes up. There’s a good reason for this, and that is: crowdfunding has become an exciting way for small businesses to build capital to launch a new business venture. If you’re not familiar with crowdfunding, it is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people through the Internet. If you think crowdfunding may be a viable option for you to raise money, let’s look at how it works and what you need for your campaign to be successful.

There are more than 500 active crowdfunding websites, with the biggest five being Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Go Fund Me, Crowdrise, and RocketHub. While each site has different features and capabilities, they all function basically in the same way. The sites take a commission fee from what you raise (typically 5 – 9 percent). Before you select your platform, you need to decide on your fundraising goal and the time frame. Make sure you research the platforms and their policy on whether you get any funds if your campaign doesn’t meet its goal. Some sites (like Kickstarter) require you return the money to donors if you don’t meet the fundraising goal. This means if your goal is $5,000 and you get $4,999 in pledges and donations, you get nothing.

How to Build a Successful Campaign

Once you decide on the right crowdfunding site, follow these five steps to build your campaign.

1. Work your network first. The worst mistake you can make is starting your campaign and then start using social media as your go-to place to reach prospects. You should be active on sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn at least six months before the launch of your campaign. Your first 30% of pledges will come from your personal network, and if you can’t get people who you know to invest in your idea, no one else will.

2. Tell a good story. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to make a sale. If you have a strong idea, tell a compelling story about it. Then write engaging copy that focuses on the story, and create a short video that explains your idea. These will become the basis for your crowdfunding website profile.

3. Do not exaggerate. It’s important to be enthusiastic about your business idea. After all, how can you convince a customer to buy unless you also believe in what you’re selling? But make sure you don’t overhype your project either. If you promise things you cannot deliver, it will turn into a public relations (and possibly legal) train wreck.

4. Have great rewards. People love to get something, even if it’s small, for their donation. Create a list of rewards you are willing to give in exchange for a donation. The rewards should range in significance from the lowest amount to the highest. For example, if you’re crowdfunding to publish a book, perhaps the smallest donation receives a credit in the book as a reward. The highest donation may receive a signed copy and book cover poster.

5. Donor relations are critical. A successful crowdfunding venture does not stop the minute your campaign ends. Have a plan in place to communicate with your network and donors after the funding campaign is over. These people helped you raise the money you need to build your business. Make sure you keep them informed about what’s going on, and thank them whenever you can. You never know when you may need them to raise more capital in the future.

Crowdfunding is a great way to fund a business venture from the ground up. Start researching successful fundraising campaigns, look and your network, and decide whether this is the right medium for you.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why You Need Customer Service Meetings

People in a Business MeetingHandling customer service is a 24/7 job for a small business, so it’s tempting to let regular meetings with your customer service employees fall by the wayside. Don’t. Meeting regularly with your team is essential to keeping your customer service stellar. Here are topics you and your team should discuss at your meetings:

Weekly:

Weekly customer service meetings should be fairly quick—30 minutes to an hour at most—to keep the team energized and enthusiastic (and informed).

  • Briefly review issues that have come up since the last meeting, such as specific customer service problems that representatives had difficulty resolving. Discussing these with the whole team enables you to tap into everyone’s experience to come up with guidelines that all your customer service reps can follow if the situation arises again.
  • Review the prior week’s customer service metrics such as average time for a call to be answered, average time spent on a call, average number of contacts for an issue to be resolved, etc. This can be done quickly to see if you are on track to meet your goals or if you’re falling behind.
  • Introduce new business such as new employees on the customer service team, new systems or procedures, and new products or services that customer service employees need to know about.
  • Reward outstanding customer service representatives by honoring employees who went “above and beyond” in the past week. Be sure to explain how what the person did can be a model for other customer service employees in the future and what lesson should be learned from the actions.

Monthly:

At monthly customer service meetings, it’s a good idea to focus on one subject in depth. This could include:

  • Explore your metrics over the past month in depth to note trends and, if necessary, brainstorm ideas for improving performance. For instance, if you notice calls are taking longer than desired, is this because employees are having trouble resolving problems, or because they’re spending more time interacting to build customer relationships? If the former, find a way to fix it—if the latter, perhaps you should set longer goal times for calls.
  • Providing extensive training about new products and/or services. You might bring vendors in to demonstrate new products, or offer in-house training in how to resolve potential problems with a new product or service.

While technology can help streamline service, there’s no substitute for meetings with your customer service employees if you want to help them be the best they can be. 


Mondays with Mike: Take A Lesson From The Marketing Masters

4-20 Marketing Experts smallThere’s something to be said for trusting the experts, and also for taking the time to do a little research.  Rather than believing you have to come up with all the answers on your own, sit back and learn from the real masters of marketing.  Who are the folk you should pay attention to?  Read on.

  1. Walt Disney.  Not only was Walt Disney the master of sales and advertising, but he was also one of the first true marketing masters.  One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying up on Disney is his belief that the people who design something should also use it.  Only when a designer fully understands the needs and desires of customers, can he or she build an experience perfectly.  Disney had all of his ride designers for his amusement parks ride every ride, over and over, until each detail was just right.  Even details as small as the fireflies on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were carefully managed.
  2. Mary Kay Ash.  If we can learn anything from the pink-hued world of the woman who built an amazing cosmetics empire, it’s the power of multi-level marketing.  Women all over the country earned their pink Cadillacs simply by selling to their friends and family, building a network and recruiting other sellers.
  3. Steve Jobs.  Jobs didn’t just want to produce machines that did new things.  He understood the huge impact of intuitive design and super stylish packaging.  Rather than selling a smartphone that took a PhD to operate, instead, Apple launched a phone that didn’t even require an instruction manual.  Packaging products with stickers that identify users to other users is also a masterful tactic in image marketing.
  4. Tim Ferriss.  Ferriss is nothing if not a big ideas guy.  He teaches us that a claim needn’t necessarily be one hundred percent true in order to be a powerful selling tool.  While we don’t literally believe we can work just four hours a week, or become a chef in four hours, we’re still lured in by the idea that we can be substantially more efficient or more educated in a short period of time.  Ferriss operates on the principle that we all want to improve, and none of us has boatloads of free time to do it in.  Wild claims can work.
  5. David Ogilvy.  Whether you’re a new entrepreneur or a veteran, the most important lesson you can learn from Ogilvy still holds true.  Split testing pays dividends.  Make sure you’re making the very best decisions by testing variations and alternatives.  Try two versions of the same email offer and track the results, or run two versions of a new ad, each in a different zip code.  The point is we may think a move is successful, but unless we test it, we don’t know for sure.
  6. Michael Phelps.  Though we don’t necessarily think of the Olympic golden boy as an entrepreneur, he can certainly teach us a thing or two about brand building.  Phelps shows us the benefit at working all out, with single-minded dedication to becoming the very best at just one thing.  Phelps is focus personified.
  7. Seth Godin.  Godin gave us the purple cow – his term for a remarkable product, one that stands out from the crowd.  What Godin teaches is the benefit of making your brand distinct from everyone else.  Be your own, unique thing, and do it better than anyone else.

There’s so much entrepreneurial literature out there, you could spend your entire career simply reading, rather than working.  Since none of us has that luxury, it’s essential that we extract the heart of the very best advice out there.  Following the examples of the very best – the marketing masters – sets you up for success.


Millennials Are The Biggest Generation Of Customers In History (Here’s What They’re Looking For)

Friends shopping together and using smart phoneHere’s the story you already know. Millions of soldiers, sailors and airmen return from World War II to the embrace of millions of riveting Rosies, apparently very riveting, judging by the fruitful output of these couples during the postwar decades: 2.4 children per couple, the biggest generation America has ever seen. These kids, the Baby Boomers, grow up to transform the social and economic landscape of a nation.

Now, here’s the story you’ve heard less often: The baby boom has happened again, and then some. The Boomers themselves, in the fullness of time, have given birth to an even bigger generation. Their offspring, the millennials (also known as Gen Y), are the young adults and teenagers born between 1980 and 2000 who are poised to transform a nation once more.

Specifically, and of most importance to those of you in business, they’re about to become the most important consumers–customers–in history. Their wallet power, already significant, is rapidly expanding, and will soon equal and then eclipse that of the Baby Boomers. In fact, it’s estimated that Millennials in the U.S. alone will be spending $200 billion (or nearly that amount) annually by 2017.

[And to compound the effect, it’s far from only B2C dollars they’ll have at their disposal. Remember these young customers are also becoming decision makers at major corporations, thus controlling purse strings that affect the success and failure of those of you with B2B companies.]

These customers have had an upbringing that's different from that of previous generations in ways that are commercially significant. For their entire lives, broadband internet has been the norm. "Telephone" has by and large meant a smartphone. The economy has been global, and competition for their business has been only a click away in the event that their first choice of brand proves to be a disappointment. Parents, educators, coaches and mentors have invited them to participate, to have a voice, to collaborate–which they now want to do with the brands and companies from which they buy.

But enough with the history and sociology. As someone who will be dependent on these younger consumers for a significant portion of your revenue, and a large portion of your word of mouth, you need to know how they want you to serve them, the customer service and customer experience that they’re looking for. Here are five areas you need to look at, five changes in approach that are required.

1. Deploy human beings in ways that actually provide value to customers

Millennials, having grown up in a connected, app-ified, Amazon-defined world, have different ideas of where humans should fit into customer service delivery. The last thing they want is for human beings to gum up the works if they don’t add value. So make use of automated service solutions, self-service, algorithmically assisted service, in addition to deploying the brightest, most empathetic human employees you can find.

To put it another way: Be careful not to do a "half Zappos": If you decide to emulate Zappos, home of the warm and fuzzy 10 hour customer service call, be sure you also emulate their highly efficient, automated, algorithmically enhanced ordering process.  Because this combination is required to win the millennial heart; the warm and fuzzies alone aren’t enough to do it if they’re combined with the slow and sloppy rather than the up-to-date and efficient.

2. Spice up the customer experience with adventure

The millennial generation of customers are particularly likely to view a commercial interaction as an opportunity rather than as a burden, as long as there are experiences, even adventures to be had along the way. New service models need to focus on helping customers discover and enjoy experiences, not just on getting them, figuratively or literally, from point A to point B. Take, as an example, business travel. According to Jay Coldren, who helms EDITION hotels, a cutting-edge hospitality collaboration between Marriott and Ian Schrager, “Millennials view business travel not as a necessary evil but as a perk and an opportunity to view the world.” Embrace and support this worldview and you win their business.

3. Stop controlling your customers. Focus instead on collaborating with them.

Allowing customers to control their own destiny needs to be a component of your new, millennial-friendly service model. Give up old notions of control and replace them with a transparent model that allows, wherever possible, your customer to be in the driver’s seat. Embrace crowdsourcing: You can’t control product ratings, product discussions, or much else, except by providing the most extraordinary customer experience possible and letting your customers, and your critics, hash out their discussions of it in public.

The crux of the matter is this:  Millennials don’t necessarily see a clear boundary between the customer and the brand, the customer and marketer, and the customer and service provider. Alex Castellarnau at Dropbox, the popular file transfer service, put it to me this way: With millennials, “a new brand, service or product is only started by the company; it’s finished by the customers. Millennials are a generation that wants to co-create the product, the brand, with you. Companies that understand this and figure out ways to engage in this co-creation relationship with millennials will have an edge.”

4. Speed up your service, but never rush your customers

Millennials’ internal time clocks and customer expectations are shaped by the instant gratification they’ve grown accustomed to from the online/smartphone experience. They’re by and large superb multi-taskers who put a premium value on convenience. Speed and efficiency are of the utmost importance: in how quickly you respond to a customer, ship to a customer, and offer up choices of product or service to a customer.

However, the millennial generation is also a very social generation, yearning for face to face interaction and collaboration – from their peers and, often, from your more empathetic employees. So the combination of speed and leisure can be powerful, as Starbucks continues to show. While the millennial generation wants their custom-brewed coffee in their hand in no more than a few minutes, they also want the world to linger with them over coffee.

5. Make sure your customer service style is genuine and rings true.  And never talk down to this generation of customers.

Authentic, caring communication is in, scripted service is out. Dress codes, prohibitions on visible tattoos, stiflingly choreographed customer service?  That’s not what Millennials are looking for from service providers. The new generation is exceedingly informal, and has different words and methods of communicating.  Jay Coldren from Marriott again: “The Millennials want to converse in their own language, according to their own rules. They speak in tweets, texts and Facebook posts. If you want to reach them, you have to speak in their native tongue. And you have to be completely authentic.”  Candor and transparency are very important to millennials, and are used as a proxy for them for deciding overall how much to trust and ultimately engage with your brand.

Condescension is in particular a no-go with this generation. Boomer parents by and large avoid talking down to their children, as did the educators and even the television they watched as youngsters–Blues Clues, Barney, and Bob The Builder–which taught them a style of peer to peer, eye level communication that puts them on level with the society rather than being subordinate to it or in conflict with it. For this and other reasons, the best style to engage a millennial is a peer-to-peer, eye level style of service, rather than standing up on a haughty brand pedestal and looking down your company’s nose at them.

When I say "be genuine," I mean it, and I'm not just talking about funky looking fontography and the like. I'm also talking about behaving in a way that proves that your values match your stated claims.  Values matter a lot to millennials; because of increased competition and increased transparency, millennials have more opportunities to engage in values-based buying than previous generations, and they exhibit a strong inclination to do so. When millennials do business with a company, they’re more likely than previous generations to care about the social values of that company: its social responsibility, green profile, and how ethically it does, or doesn’t, treat its own employees and those of its suppliers. They will reward your company if its behavior mirrors their own ethics, and punish your company if it doesn’t.


Why Wanting to Be Mark Zuckerberg is Hurting Your Business

Dream Mind MapMany entrepreneurs dream of being Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs or Barbara Corcoran. They want their company to be the next Google, Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp. Unfortunately, this goal is actually hurting their business.

I understand the romance of wanting to “be them”. I admire what these people and companies have achieved and how they shine in the spotlight. I see how the media adores their every move. But their amazing results actually hurt entrepreneurs everywhere because their kind of success is an outlier. It’s almost a mirage. With seven billion people on earth, 99.999999 percent of us will never be them. Measuring any one person’s business success against what these superstars have achieved will only end one way: disappointment.

This is the problem with dreams. Aim too high and you are almost guaranteed to be disappointed. Aim to low and your business will never accomplish anything. Dan Ralphs, Dream Manager at Infusionsoft, http://www.infusionsoft.com an Arizona based company that provides sales and marketing automation software for small businesses, says that there are two types of people: those with imagination and those that are doers. The perfect dreamer in all of us blends both of these together. In fact, sometimes in business they don’t exist in a single person, but in a collaborative management team.

The best way to approach a dream is to define your own brand of business success. For every entrepreneur, it must include a financial component (since that is how the business world keeps score) and other elements that are personally defined. I don’t need to be Mark Zuckerberg to feel accomplished. I define success as being able to support my family at helping others while doing something I love.

The key is to set a big well-articulated goal, but then set mini milestones that can be celebrated along the way. Think of the any business journey as a series of linked successful dreams.

How much does luck play in the success of achieving a goal? Every dreamer has to admit the role that luck plays in their business. But as late movie mogul, Samuel Goldwyn says “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Forget Mark Zuckerberg. Find your own dream and go out an achieve it.


Should I Borrow Money from Friends or Family for My Business?

3-15 loaning friend money smallGetting your business started requires money, and while there are many sources for finding this funding, one often overlooked source is friends and family. On the one hand, a friend or family member may be able to offer you an interest-free loan that you wouldn’t qualify for at the bank, but on the other hand, money and the people you’re close to don’t always mix well. Family and friendship dynamics are delicate, so carefully evaluate your relationship with possible creditors before opting for this financing source. Use these five steps to ensure a successful outcome.

Assess the risks from the outset

Begin by having a blunt conversation with your future financier. Talk to her about the risks and pitfalls of this transaction. The idea is not to spoil her enthusiasm in investing in your business, but rather to confront the harsh realities that small businesses sometimes face. If, after this conversation, your benefactor is still ready to loan you money, you have done your part to let her know of the risks she’s taking.

Decide if it’s an investment or loan

Continue the discussion by assessing whether or not your creditor would like to come aboard as a partner and take equity in your company or simply loan you the money and stay out of operations. Be comfortable with the terms and the equity you give, and consider whether this person would be an asset as an advisor to the company or not.

Have a formal agreement

Even if you trust one another implicitly, having a formal contract for the loan or investment is still a good idea. You may not need a lawyer to work out the details, but if the amount of money is substantial, you’ll definitely need an accountant. If your benefactor wants to forego a formal agreement, it may still be necessary to discuss more precise procedures such as what to do in the event of default or bankruptcy. Never promise something that you cannot deliver.

Keep it professional

Treat your private creditor like you treat your bank. Pay on time or early if that’s part of your agreement, and keep track of every transaction. Don’t take advantage of your personal relationship to pay late or not at all. Being formal and professional ensures that you don’t blur lines between business and personal relationships.

Put everything out on the table

Create the habit of communicating with your friend or family member. Let her know regularly how business is progressing. Never make her pursue you for updates. Whether you have challenges or successes, keep her in the loop in the way you would other partners or investors. She will appreciate this and feel more vested in the success of your company.

Deciding to borrow money from someone you’re close to is a decision you need to spend time reflecting on. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize your personal relationship with that person, and money has a funny way of doing that sometimes. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure you properly manage your investor’s expectations.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Don’t Let Technology Destroy Your Humanity

4-14 automated customer service smallWhen it comes to customer service, how much automation is too much? For a small business owner, using technology to automate customer service assistance—such as enabling customers to schedule appointments online or request quotes online—saves time and money.

However, it’s important to think about customer service not only from a business standpoint, but also from your customers’ point of view as human beings.

A friend of mine recently had two experiences in medical offices that illustrate this point. When she visited her doctor’s office, she was surprised to see that the entire check-in process had been automated. She signed in on a clipboard next to a sign saying “Check In Here” with an arrow pointing to a computer terminal. The touchscreen guided her to update and confirm address, insurance and other information. The receptionist and two nurses sitting a few feet away never even bothered to glance up.

My friend admitted that while she understood the motivation behind the change, it bothered her a bit. “When you’re about to put on one of those skimpy exam gowns and bare your all to the doctor, it would be nice if someone at least said ‘Hello’ first,” she grumbled. She left the office feeling awfully dissatisfied with the customer service. 

A few weeks later, the same friend went to get some tests done at another medical office. This time, she was given an iPad to check in on, but it was a totally different experience. First, she was greeted by a genuinely friendly receptionist, who handed her the iPad, showed her how to get started, walked her over to a seat, and checked on her a few minutes later to make sure she wasn’t having any problems. What a world of difference! My friend left feeling delighted with the new technology—and feeling positive about the medical office.

Whenever you’re making technological changes to your customer service, keep in mind that…

…Different generations have different expectations. My friend is 50, but a 20-something customer might have loved the concept of the no-human-contact medical office. Seniors, for whom doctor’s appointments are often one of their only social outlets, would likely hate it. In general, younger people love self-service, while older people feel slighted by it.

….Your industry matters, too. A high-touch or social-oriented business like a beauty salon or restaurant may benefit from more of a personal touch in customer service.

…Customers’ emotional state matters. Customers who are stressed about a decision or problem may prefer to talk to a live person; those who just need some basic information may be happy to get it from a FAQ list. If you offer financial consulting or tax preparation, you’re likely to be dealing with the former. If you sell shoelaces, you can probably get away with the latter.

The lesson: When it comes to customer service, don’t let your technology get in the way of your humanity. 


Mondays with Mike: How Ripple Innovation Can Invigorate Your Business

4-13 Ripple effectIt always hits me the same time every year.  I don’t know whether it’s a craving for warmer weather, or the realization that it’s time to dig deep and get started making the year a successful one, but the end of the first quarter is always a tough time for me.  I’m tired of winter in New Jersey, and my summer vacation is too far off to lift my spirits.

 Whatever the reason, by the end of March, I feel like I’m in a slump.  My strategy to shake off the winter doldrums, though, works every time.  I find a problem in my business – something I simply haven’t tackled yet, and I set out to make things better.  One of the most effective ways I’ve found to fix something that’s broken, and brighten my spirits at the same time, is to use ripple innovation.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Ripple 1:  Find the solution within your own company.  Far too often we can’t see a solution because we’re stuck in our own head – blinded by our compartmentalized approach to problem solving.  So you’re looking for ways to improve your IT support?  Ask your sales force.  Not only will they have situational awareness your IT guys and gals don’t, but you never know – they might also have more tech skills than you realize.  Look outside the department you’re trying to revitalize.
  2. Ripple 2:  Find the solution inside your industry.  Look to your competitors (who typically face the same challenges you do,) and see how they do business.  Maybe your competitor’s Facebook page brings in tons of new business.  Maybe the guy down the street has found a sharper price on office supplies.  Look around to find best practices among your competition.
  3. Ripple 3:  Find the solution in any industry.  You may think your business is industry specific, but you’ll be surprised what you can learn from broadening your perspective.  The food truck that moves around town, yet always manages to have a line when they pull in?  They might be using Twitter in a way you can imitate.  The jewelry store with a reputation for the best customer service in the world?  You can learn something about consumer loyalty that will translate to your company, too.
  4. Ripple 4:  Find the solution in nature.  If you’re really stuck, try zooming out even further, to look at the way the natural world works.  Say you’re having trouble retaining employees, even though you pay great wages.  You might need to look at animals who spend a little longer nurturing their young before sending them off into the world.  After all, animals who hatch and have to fend for themselves right away often have rather high mortality rates.  Try implementing a longer training period, so when you turn your employees loose, they’re able to thrive on their own.

The basic idea of ripple innovation is that you have a whole world to learn from.  Broadening your perspective to include other departments, companies, industries, and even other creatures can only benefit you and help inspire a new period of growth. 




 
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