Written By: Mike Southon, Financial Times
When was the last time you said “wow” about the quality of customer service you received?
My guess is that you are thinking about the number of times you said “grrr”, especially during the holiday break when civilisation in the UK seems to grind to a complete halt.
Perhaps you were fuming at the state of the rail network, or, like me, waiting for your dentist to amble back to work. You might even still be trying to arrange delivery of a Christmas present ordered online.
You have two alternatives in the face of these broken promises. One is to slump into a Victor Meldrew-like state of resigned desperation and look for an alternative supplier, if you can be bothered. The other is to consider the glass to be half full and regard your short-term misery as a new business opportunity.
The latter is the attitude of the serial entrepreneur. Of course, few of us are going to rush off and buy a rail franchise or become a dentist, but perhaps you might be considering your own internet-based business, with reliable delivery. The barrier to entry for this last kind of enterprise is relatively small, and there are plenty of people doing very successfully in their own niche markets. You might even know one who can give you some pointers.
"What you can definitely all do in 2008 is put the "wow" back into your existing businesses, even if you are just an employee. This is the manifesto of the inimitable Paul Dunn, a serially successful entrepreneur based in Australia. Dunn has tried to retire several times but cannot seem to stop himself getting involved in new things. He is much in demand as a speaker, and focuses on getting people and organisations to improve their products and services so that at the end of the experiences, the customer says, "Wow!"
This is far too important to leave in the hands of your marketing department. However big your company, people do buy from people, and customer service problems typically revolve around poorly-trained staff, not your carefully thought- out business processes. The upside is that all the best ideas for improving your wow factor will come from the same pool of talent.
In small companies (which we define in our Beermat model to be fewer than 30 employees), there is rarely a problem. The tribal nature of the organisation lends itself to regular social gatherings, where all sorts of crazy ideas are kicked around.
The skill is in filtering these ideas and deciding on the ones that will really make a difference.
In larger companies, there is a paradox. A structured organisation requires processes and rules, and these are the natural enemies of innovation.
I have run many workshops in large companies instilling the entrepreneurial mindset, and it is sometimes an uphill struggle.
Common complaints from the delegates are “nobody actually listens to us” and “we can’t make a difference”, so the first part of the session involves getting everyone motivated and explaining that good ideas come from everybody, not just the extroverts.
We are all creative in different ways. In fact, the best new business ideas often come from the quiet ones, who observe, reflect and consider before making their contribution. The skill in running such a workshop is making sure these people get heard.
When people do come up with plausible ideas, I suggest that they try them first in stealth mode, backed up by an internal sponsor. The mantra for entrepreneurship in large companies is: “Never ask for permission, only ask for forgiveness afterwards.”
Alternatively, you can always take that great idea and run with it yourself; maybe 2008 will be your big year, after all. If you have identified a problem out there, all you need to get started is the passion to solve it – your own wow.
I asked Dunn about his personal wow. It is a very simple concept, called Buy One, Give One Free. What if every time a plasma TV was sold, a blind person got the gift of sight? What if every time a book was sold, a tree was planted? What if every time someone dined out, a hungry kid was fed? Dunn is applying a social purpose to consumerism, and everybody wins. Wow.