Hi, I'm Isaac.

I'm a consultant and advisor  for social enterprises - using business to change the world.

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Standardisation vs Autopilot

Standardisation vs Autopilot

service design standardisation

Whenever I hear managers talking about “standardisation” of their services, I get an awful sinking feeling in my stomach.
I hear “do it as cheaply and unremarkably as possible”.
What makes this so deadly is that it presents itself as a cost saving exercise.
If we can simplify the process, then our cheaper staff/systems can serve all customers the same way.
Ironically, this often cuts out all of the invisible extras that made for a memorable experience.
In the attempt to boost margins, the business ends up damaging its reputation, and loses its competitive advantage.

You might have seen this principle for yourself:
When something is done well, it either becomes invisible or it looks easy.
·      Refereeing in sports
·      Sorting and washing your laundry
·      Hosting an event
·      Giving a speech
·      Making a good latte
·      Driving through a city in peak hour

We take these for granted, and only notice them when somebody does them the wrong way.
Your business is the same – there are things you do intuitively that make the whole process flow smoothly, either by accident or by design.
If you get your team to perform your role without those magic touches, your customers will no longer have an experience worth talking about.
It will take a while to flow through to your finances, but you’ll eventually see a drop in revenue.

Systems aren’t inherently evil – they’re a part of running a business.
The problem is systematising the wrong things, or rather failing to systematise the important things.
A system can kill the magic, or preserve the magic - it’s up to you.
That’s why you need to be clear on where your magic comes from, and find ways of incorporating that magic into every transaction.

Antelope Canyon customer experience

In 2017 I went to Antelope Canyon in Arizona.
I bet you’ve seen it before.
We looked at tours online, saw an overwhelming amount of five star reviews, and decided to book.
Our tour guide did something interesting; he told stories about the location, then grabbed our phones.
He became our art director, telling each of us exactly where to stand and where to look.
At each bend in the canyon, he’d say “There’s the Google photo” or “There’s the Microsoft background”.
These were the perfect angles for pictures, and looked exactly like the most famous photos we’d seen online.
By telling everyone where to stand, he ensured we all got stunning images from the trip.
Right at the end, he gave out a business card and asked for a five star review.
Having happily promised to do it, that’s exactly what we did.
The kicker? That was the only review we left for the whole trip.
Our guide went above and beyond for the business in two areas – photography and asking for a recommendation.
One has an instant impact, the other takes more time.
But without those recommendations or those great photos, the canyon would see fewer tourists.
Guess how that business will train their future tour guides…

The same thing happens in our accelerator programs.
Each facilitator has their own recipe for creating a magical moment – and with experience we’ve each become obsessive over the finer details.
For example, my focus is on good coffee, background music and interactive case studies.
My colleagues also focus on well-designed workbooks, oil burners that enhance concentration, and warm up games that build trust amongst strangers.

In the past we’ve let new team members use our slides – not anymore.
On paper they teach the same content, but the vital details are missed.
They play crap music from their phone, make instant coffee with cold milk, forget to light the oil burner, and skip the warm up – then wonder why the feedback scores dropped off.
When we “standardise” our sessions, we ensure that new staff members understand why we do what we do, and the steps that go into creating breakthrough moments.

(Unofficially, I’m observing a difference in the participants who we connect with outside of the program.
They don’t get extra content, but rather they get a more honest dialogue and a chance to talk about really tough topics, which opens them up to faster development.
We don’t yet have a way to standardise this, and it certainly won’t happen on autopilot.)

Instagram Customer Experience

I see the same thing with businesses on Instagram.
People treat it like a billboard and just post ads, then wonder why it doesn’t lead to sales.
They receive comments and can’t be bothered to write replies, then wonder why they don’t get more engagement.
They stop posting so many photos, or use their phone cameras, and wonder where the crowds went.
Each individual action seems minor and ineffective, but collectively they create an appealing brand for relatively little money.

So where do you start?
The first thing I would suggest is mapping out the customer journey from start to end.
How does a future customer first hear from you?
Who tells them? You or someone else?
What’s their first impression?
How do they perceive your story?

When they step in the door or click on your page, what do they feel?
Are they overwhelmed?
The right amount of whelmed?

What nudges them into making a purchase?
What tricks do you use to keep their attention and help them make decisions?
How do you apply pressure? How do you remove pressure?

What’s their last impression?
What makes them tell other people about their experience?
What makes them come back?

The 5 E’s framework is useful, it captures their actions, key moments and their mood.
You can use this to map out your business today, then identify the most important interventions your team makes to improve your chances of winning a new customer.

Selling to customers in a market

The second thing I would do is to actively monitor my own behaviour.
What do I naturally say or do for customers?
What preparation makes the sales process easier?
What do I give people, and what do I ask for in return?
The aim here is to identify the philosophies that shape my behaviour, as well as the checklist of actions that contribute to the customers’ experience.

The third thing I would do is to create training scenarios.
You won’t predict the mistakes your staff will make, but you’ll certainly know them when you see them.
Role plays and training can seem cheesy, and they’re lucrative – improving customer interactions from the beginning can massively increase your revenue over the long run.
You can then use systems to reinforce the things that staff don’t naturally do.
If they naturally do it, it doesn’t need a system.
For things like asking for the sale, requesting a positive review and calling up prospective leads, you may need to give tips, reminders and checklists.
These will be qualitative and quantitative, regarding the amount of time something takes, or examples of where other people have done it well in the past.

The fourth thing I would do is to look for new opportunities to go the extra mile.
These will probably increase your costs, but also increase your revenues – you’ll be able to charge more, increase the odds of repeat business, or increase the chances of people telling others about their good experience.
For example, the free beer at the barbers isn’t free, it’s built into the price but it feels like a treat.
The time you spend asking a customer about their exact needs costs money, but it also allows you to make good recommendations and develop trust.
This boosts your chances of genuinely solving the customers’ problems, and may win you a new ambassador.
The return on investment might not be immediately measurable, but word of mouth can save you a lot of money on traditional advertising.
Take those savings into account.

The best experiences are usually the result of a passionate person.
If that person can find a way to translate their passion and diligence to their future team, then you’ll have a business that can scale into new locations.
If they can’t, then you’ll either have a niche small business, or a soulless franchise.
This process takes time, but the alternatives aren’t particularly appealing.
By all means standardise your processes, but don’t let your team do it on autopilot –someone else will come in with more passion and steal your customers away.

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