To lead or to follow: that is the question. To my mind, you need to do both, in balance. Every day you open up the doors on your business, you are faced with the existing condition of your business, your staff, your customers, and the market.
This is why you do the things you do, even though you may know better. Sometimes you stick with the current methods because you decide that to change them might either be too hard for too little gain, or too risky regardless of the gain that might be had.
Take a look at the way we treat warranty, for example. Every jobber I speak to complains about the fact that warranty is an unresolved issue. They throw up their hands in frustration, saying that there doesn’t seem to be much they can do about it in the larger sense. Even if they get tough on a customer every now and then–I think my favourite was refusing the labour claim that included towing and the doughnuts the tech got on his way back–most will agree that they take it in the neck when it comes to warranty. Most suppliers would probably agree with this, too.
This is just one example of the difficulty in executing change. Sometimes it is less about the knowing, and more about the convincing.
Sometimes, however, it is about the knowing. Sometimes we do things the way we do because we are not aware of the alternatives. This is the most insidious type of deficiency. If we’re stuck with an old computer system, for example, we may not even know what a new one can do because the current one can’t do those things now, so we never thought about doing them.
Or, to put it another way, we don’t know what we don’t know.
I suggest a challenge to you all that you make a change. Go out, today, and ask your customers what you do or don’t do that bugs them. Pick your best customer if you like, or your worst. Ask them to help you serve them better and don’t let them get away with a pat answer like “lower your prices.” Then take their answer and do something about it.
Chances are good you’ll hear about getting credits processed more quickly. Instead of joining them in the complaint by passing the blame onto some internal or external system, start thinking about a way to solve it. Maybe it is a tracking problem. Maybe it is a record keeping problem. Maybe your bookkeeper thinks he is doing you a favour by processing all of the receivables at the end of the month, but all of the payables and credits at the start of the next.
Whatever the topic, you should not suggest that things are the way they are and you are powerless to change them. If there is a good reason things are a certain way, be upfront with the customer. You should be prepared to tackle any issue with an honest commitment to consider change. Staying the same will be the eventual death knell of any business.
Sometimes, however, change must occur in advance of your customers. Hearing what they say and understanding what they want may be two different things.
They may ask for better pricing, but what they want is more money left in their pocket. They may not ask you for a broader selection of import parts, say, but they may want to be able to lessen their dependence on dealer parts. They may not say “I need you to help me attract a more affluent customer base that can support the door rate I need to make a profit,” but that may be just what they need.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you start talking now you will be able to separate what they want from what they need, and then you can lead them in the right direction for tomorrow.