September 24, 2009

Small Changes Make a Difference


Hostway Team

By Winmark Business Solutions

For many small companies, the secret of continued business success in competing against larger companies is to do everything a little bit better than the competition.

Many companies search only for the great quantum leap in quality or products that will provide a competitive edge, often at the expense of making smaller improvements. But those quantum leaps may be few and far between, while the chance to make small improvements is there almost every day. For example, Procter and Gamble is famous for its marketing expertise. However, it also insists on quality and expertise in oral and written communications in all departments, including careful documentation and analysis of event successes and failures. Much of its success is based on trying to do every task in a consistent and high-quality manner.

Quality (and uniqueness) of product is important. But it is also important to have quality in serving customers, quality in advertising and promotion programs, quality in packaging, in company trade show booths, in design, engineering, written and oral communications, trade logos or symbols and so on.

Do an extraordinary job of the ordinary. Sometimes, a small company has an advantage in simply delivering products and services as ordered by customers, on time, every time. Domino's Pizza built a small company into a large company by guaranteeing delivery of pizzas within 20 minutes. If the delivery took longer than 20 minutes, it was free, regardless of weather. Although safety concerns subsequently caused Domino's to change this policy, it created an expectation and perception in the minds of customers that they would receive faster-than-ordinary service.

Many local distribution companies have trouble satisfying orders, meeting delivery turnaround times, and keeping out-of-stocks down for their grocery store and mass outlet customers. The number of items stocked by modern chain stores and therefore direct-store-delivery distributors has multiplied several-fold in the last decade, going from less than 5,000 to close to 20,000 items per average store. Some superstores stock over 50,000 items.

Distributors struggle to fulfill "just the basics" of routine delivery of ordered items on a daily basis. The distribution complexity, evolving store item counts, and growing end user customer needs and wants for variety and "mass customization" is rapidly changing the way new and current products will be delivered to stores and customers in the future. The giant retail stores of today are rapidly approaching a physical limitation on their ability to receive and stock products in their stores on a daily basis.

Try a quality improvement exercise. Every company, regardless of size, can improve quality and customer service. A simple exercise to improve quality is to track an order from its inception to final delivery. Try this checklist and see if any improvements can be made:

  • How are products and services sold (with what materials)?
  • How and by whom is the order obtained from your customer?
  • How is the order recorded for your company and your customer?
  • How is the order processed within your company?
  • Is there a system to check for any order discounts to customers?
  • How long does it take to process and deliver the order to the customer?
  • Do you have any accuracy checks for the order, with the customer and internally?
  • How is the final product or service delivered to your customer?
  • Have you checked customer relationship "manners" with everyone who has direct contact with your customers?
  • Have you allowed everyone associated with order processing to meet periodically and discuss improvement possibilities?
  • Do you have a customer follow up procedure for orders?
  • Do you review your order and service satisfaction level at least quarterly with each customer?

About the Author

Winmark Business Solutions (WBS) is a free Web site for small businesses and entrepreneurs containing over 6,000 pages of business-critical information and downloadable tools at WBS is a division of Winmark Corporation, a multi-brand franchisor with nearly 900 franchise locations in North America. With over 25 years working with small businesses, WBS draws upon years of experience to bring important small business articles, information, tools, forms, checklists, calculators and downloadable forms to the small business owner to help their business grow. WBS contains over 6000 pages of business-critical information all available at

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