leadership dot #2529: testing

Retailers and service providers make many efforts to get their product in the hands of the consumer: taste testing in the grocery store, free samples, trial size packaging and liberal return policies that reduce the risk of a purchase.

The goal of all these is to allow people to see what the product is really like – something that’s easy to do with a bite-size sample or by trying on clothes. One area that has been challenging is household paint: how can you tell from a 2×2 chip of paper what the color will look like on your wall? Retailers have tried offering small bottles of paint, but in order to try them you need to commit to repainting – like it or not – or you’ll have a swath of different colors streaking your room.

A new solution comes from Magnolia (Joanna Gaines) that offers peel ‘n stick options for multiple colors. You can place a large piece on your wall, assess it in the existing light, and then make a decision as to whether to proceed with painting. Either way, the color sample peels right off and allows you a substantially-sized color chip to take with you for accessory or furniture shopping.

Time is the most precious currency in this hectic world. If you can find a way to save someone time (in this case, by providing ways to evaluate options without any paint involved), people will pay you to save them moments. Think about how you can peel away barriers in your testing process easier and make it stick with your clientele.

leadership dot #2528: mistakes

I went into the Dollar Store and was astonished at the number of balloons that were lodged in their ceiling. This picture just shows a fraction of the waste; in reality, there were dozens more.

In a similar situation, on my previous excursions to Land’s End clearance sales and outlets I have seen bins of stockings, backpacks and totes that were incorrectly monogrammed – and thus accumulating unsold even at the bargain price of a dollar.

It’s one thing to make a mistake once, but another to make the same type of error over and over again. Gains in speed are offset by the losses from carelessness, not to mention the environmental impact of that which ends up being tossed before use.

Take a moment to assess your mistake rates. How much food ends up in the compost pile because it was incorrectly prepared? How many reams of paper head straight to the recycle bin because of errors in printing? How much paint is wasted because of improper color matching?

We generate enough waste from things that are done correctly. Don’t add to the problem by adding a host of mistakes to the landfill.

leadership dot #2523: coming or going

I was amused when I drove by the Texas Roadhouse steakhouse to see the grocery store catering van parked outside. Was the store picking up steaks and ribs or were they delivering – you couldn’t tell.

Either way, the image indicates a partnership or business exchange with an enterprise that could be considered a competitor. Both serve food and do catering yet they have found a way to have a collaborative relationship that presumably benefits both.

When you look around for those who may help you, don’t discount those who share your market. Playing nice in the same sandbox may benefit everyone.

leadership dot #2517: checklists

A good way to keep track of all the onboarding details that I wrote about yesterday is through a checklist. I’m a big fan of checklists as a way to remember things that occur over and over without expending any mental energy to do so. You just pull out the list and you’re on your way.

But checklists can also serve to do more than remind of us things. Thought leader Seth Godin wrote about how checklists are actually a way to express our carefulness and to put resilience into our systems. He cites the example of doctors writing their name on the limb that is to be operated on as a way of reducing the errors in surgery.

Checklists can also help others understand the complexity and myriad steps in a process. The National Association of Realtors presented to Congress a checklist of 184 steps that are completed with each real estate transaction as a way to illustrate the professional nature of its membership. The checklist can serve as a tool for both agents and buyers to reduce the details that may be forgotten during a sale.

You can also create checklists to record progress and see evidence that steps are being taken toward a goal. If you check off tasks or activities as they occur, a checklist can become a visual illustration that work is occurring toward a seemingly far off outcome and it can inspire persistence to continue the streak of checking things off.

Whether you use checklists to remember to pack the essentials for your next trip or rely on a checklist to drive your next project at work, the act of listing out the steps lessens the likelihood of any of the tasks being forgotten. If you think you’ll do something more than once – and that covers a vast majority of our work – it’s worth the extra time on the front end to create a checklist to minimize omissions on the back end.




leadership dot #2513: relay

I recently purchased a new carbon monoxide detector and the same day that it arrived I received an email from Amazon offering carbon monoxide detector installation services. While I laughed at the absurdity of needing to hire out such a mundane task, I was impressed with the business model that anticipated the next step after my purchase.

Why don’t more businesses or organizations think that way?

If you register for a conference, the next day you could get a checklist of things to do or ways to prepare for the event. When you buy a car, the dealer could send you a video on how to use all the non-intuitive electronics that are equipped in a vehicle. On the last day of classes, children could receive their supply list for the next term.

In my case, Amazon was both the seller and delivered the follow up, but opportunities for partnerships abound – like a relay race where one organization hands the baton to another for the next step in the purchasing journey. The day your new computer arrives, a partnership with a local firm could initiate a contact to offer software installation and a tutorial. A new puppy could come with a next-day delivery of training tools and cleanup materials from the pet store. A church could partner with a realtor to welcome new families to the neighborhood.

Don’t let the initial transaction be the last one. You can add value to your customers and to your organization by anticipating the next step and making it easy to occur.

leadership dot #2510: be prepared

Yesterday I wrote about data and the volatile nature of projections but what’s worse than inaccurate forecasts? Not doing them at all.

A colleague recently looked at attendance data and trends and calculated that the next event could have a substantially larger number of participants. As with all projections, he made assumptions to reach that conclusion, but they were reasoned and not totally off base…

…only they ended up being wrong. His staff did extra work and had high expectations for a record-setting crowd, only to find little increase in the number who showed up.

So, what happens next time? Do you ignore the trend line? Set up only for a lower number? Go through all the extra work again “in case”?

My advice: if the projections are reasonably thought out, you should prepare for them to materialize. Your staff might think you are crying wolf but is far better to be overprepared than to be caught off guard.


leadership dot #2507: self serve

A few years ago when Walmart announced it was closing 254 stores, a meme quickly circulated that said: “All 175 cashiers will lose their jobs.” While meant to be a slam on the dearth of customer service staff that is often found at the chain, it was a prescient forecast of what was to come.

Not just in Walmart, but in more and more stores, self-service checkouts are replacing cashier-staffed lines. Our Sam’s Club has indicated that they will go to all cashier-less once corporate figures out how to address alcohol sales and cash transactions.

What is striking to me is that instead of a customer revolt, for the most part, people have embraced taking on the checkout tasks themselves. It is a sad commentary on the lack of value-added that most cashiers provide: they can be totally absent and nothing is missing.

Instead of removing your front-line staff or replacing them with self-service kiosks, why not make them your most valuable asset? Use the technology on the front end of a transaction to allow your cashiers to have data that can be used to cultivate relationships with some of the regulars. Teach staff to have meaningful banter with customers, to actually provide service instead of just conducting a transaction by rote and to be so delightful as to be memorable.

No self-checkout will ever be as convenient as online checkout. If companies want bodies to come into their stores, they need bodies there to add value to the experience.