Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Most business owners don’t practice their craft, they just perform it. It’s one of the biggest reasons their business never develops into something bigger than themselves.

Cal Ripken performed in a record 2,632 consecutive baseball games. But he didn’t just perform. He dissected the strike zone into a number of smaller zones and practiced hitting pitches in each micro-zone to figure out which ones he could hit and which ones he should just hope the ump called a ball instead. He practiced at levels most people don’t bother.

I chatted with Yo Yo Ma, the greatest cello player of our time, backstage a few years ago. I asked him in front of my daughter, an aspiring cello player, “How do you become a great cello player?” He replied without hesitation, “It’s not enough to practice. You have to learn to love to practice and to practice every day as if you were on stage at Carnegie Hall.” Yo Yo Ma loves to practice, not just perform.

Theo Bikel first played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof in 1967. He is now 87 years old and still works full time in many roles. He has played Tevye now over 2,000 times in 45 years.

In the 30th anniversary Broadway tour revival of Fiddler I was playing clarinet/sax in the pit orchestra when they came through Denver. For a week I listened to Bikel’s incredible rendition of Tevye (couldn’t see from the pit, only hear). By the fifth or sixth performance I could nearly repeat his rhythmic interpretation of each line, the rising, falling, the long pause here and there. He became incredibly predictable.

Every performance was the same, but the amazing part was that every performance was magical. Theo Bikel was not winging it and was not just performing. He had practiced this part and dissected it over and over again to discover the highest interpretation, then he did something few business owners (or actors) would ever do – he stuck with what worked and never varied from it.

Practice, then be consistent
I’ve never heard a more consistently repeated performance, or a better one. Theo Bikel had learned two things:

1) Practice, and lots of it, is the only way to become better. Performing is not how you become better.
2) Stick with what works. Don’t mess with success.

Learn to love to practice
Most business owners will never have a chance to stick with what works. They’ve never practiced enough to find out what truly works and what truly puts them on top of their game. They’re too busy winging it.

And even when they find something that works, most business owners will abandon it long before it has stopped working. Why? Because THEY are bored!

Learn to love consistency
They hate practicing and get bored doing the same great performance over and over. They are willing to sacrifice the success of their business so they can keep performing with variety and never practicing to find the best way to do something. Remember, your customer, like each theater goer watching Theo Bikel, is experiencing you for the first time. They aren’t bored and you shouldn’t be either.

Practice to find your groove
A great golfer practices until they find the swing groove that works the best all the time, and they never vary from it. You could look at shadow figures of some of them and know who it is by their swing (like Jim Furyk). They practiced like crazy to find it, and then do it the same every time.

I went from a 20 handicap to a 1.9 by practicing like crazy. While I was doing that I played (performed) with a lot of golfers who had never been on a driving range or taken a lesson. They thought it was a nutty idea to practice a lot, almost beneath them, and prided themselves in hacking around, never practicing, always trying a new club, a different swing.

They’re still 20 handicaps and hide their incompetence by poking fun at people who practice. It’s not manly – real men don’t practice. They laughingly say, “Practice is a sign of insecurity.” Too many business owners feel the same way.

Want to be successful? Reach your tipping point? Have the business outgrow your own capabilities and become something that makes money while you’re on vacation? It won’t happen by performing.

The way to Carnegie Hall
The tourist leaned out his car window and asked the cop, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice.”, was the answer the cop gave, as he waved they tourist through.

Repeatable, consistent performance is the key to a business outgrowing you and your own talents. And the only way to find what your business should do over time is to practice until you find it.

Variety is not the spice of business
Practice like crazy, learn the best way to do what you do, then do it that way every time. Variety is not the spice of life – it’s the road to mediocrity.

Silver bullet, anyone?
This blog post won’t likely get a lot of hits. There has to be a faster, easier silver bullet. The people who think that will still be 20 handicaps in their business 10 years from now, while those willing to practice hard will actually be enjoying themselves on the golf course while they’re business makes money without them.

Simple Processes Create More Revenue

Once in awhile Mom would tell me on the way out the door to school that we were having hamburgers that night. But when I came in from playing to eat dinner, I found chicken on the table. I was disappointed by the switch, which was completely irrational because I like chicken just as much as hamburgers. But she had set one expectation and fulfilled it with another. I was an irrationally unhappy customer, but unhappy just the same.

A realtor sold a house and sent a weekend voucher to a high-end hotel/spa to the new owners as a thanks. They recommended the realtor to friends, and after the friends sold their house, the realtor sent them a very nice, expensive house-warming gift. They were disappointed and never recommended her to others.

What happened? It’s simple. The realtor didn’t have a process in place for relating to clients and ensuring she got referrals. She was winging it. The first customer told the second about the weekend and when they got an equally expensive house-warming gift, they felt short-changed because the realtor had set an expectation for how they would be treated, then changed the rules of the game on them. The second seller thought they were getting hamburgers and they got chicken instead.

Simple, effective processes are a necessity for every small business. If businesses spent a few hours putting a few processes together instead of spending weeks on fancy business plans that never see the light of day again, they would be much more successful, much more quickly.

Creating processes to help us run our business is one of the keys to getting off the treadmill.

From Brian Phillips’ Third Secret of Small Business Success (of Four Secrets):
“Consistent results come from consistent actions. Too often we fall into crisis management mode and the wheels fall off the cart.”

Enter Edward Deming – 1950 – Japan.
What is a process? – “A system [process] is a network of interdependent components that work together to try to accomplish the aim of the system. A system must have an aim. Without an aim, there is no system.” Deming

Edward Deming, the father of modern quality and customer satisfaction had an 85/15 rule “85% of a worker’s effectiveness is determined by the process he works within, only 15% by his own skill.” One-person companies need processes as much as 500 person companies (more actually). If I’m operating without processes, I’m being as ineffective as possible, and my great chicken will not be well received.

Why we don’t create processes for ourselves.

  1. Only big businesses need processes – my company is small enough to not need all that “organization”. We couldn’t be more wrong. Operating without processes makes us reactive, but most importantly, when we’re “winging it”, we create inconsistent experiences for our customers, ourselves, our employees. Inconsistency is one of the keys to failure.
  2. Creating processes sounds too complicated. Keep it simple – a few bullet points for each process, not a 30 page detailed procedure manual. Just write down what you are already doing, and decide whether what you wrote is really what you want to see happen every time. If so, you have a process. If not, you have a piece of paper that will go in a drawer.
  3. I don’t have time – You don’t have time NOT to do this. A couple hours a week over a few weeks should get you most processes written down. If you have 3-6 processes in your business, and you dedicated four hours a week to this, you would be done in 1-4 weeks. You likely waste more time each month and lose more customers “winging it” than you would spend in one month completing your Processes.

Why we should create processes for ourselves.

  1. Effectiveness/Profitability – Natural talent is not a good way to run a business. All of us would make more money if we systemize what we’re doing.
  2. Consistency – If each customer (or vendor or employee) has a different experience, I’m creating issues. Why not ensure everyone has the same good quality experience every time? McDonald’s is successful not because they have the best food, but because you know exactly what you’re going to get at every location, everywhere in the U.S. Consistency builds loyalty. Inconsistency builds confusion and disappointment.
  3. Transferability – which is a key to consistency. When Tom goes on vacation or takes a day off, or worse yet, leaves the company, the “procedures” in his head no longer exist. A good, simple, WRITTEN process can be carried out by the next person without dropping a beat, especially if you have done cross-training on each process to ensure more than one person already knows how to do it.
  4. Profitability/YPH – all this leads to making more money in less time!

Next week we’ll talk over specifically about how to write a good process – I’m betting that what we describe won’t be what you imagine as “processes”, but something more practical and easier to implement.

People Buy Consistency, Not Quality

Okay, you make a great product or provide a very unique service. You’re in love with it and so are your customers. It’s a wonderful product/service. I get it. Now get over it. Because your customers aren’t buying it. They’re buying things you aren’t even selling.

I met with one of the top digital communications companies in the U.S. on Friday to discuss how to improve performance in their many call centers. They were measuring the standard things – call length, one-call resolution %, wait time, abandonment, after-call time, # of transfers, etc. The objective was to get the stats to go down.

The problem was that every call center director had been given the directive to figure it out locally, under the assumption that giving them ownership of the problem would create a better solution (which is like telling 12 different manufacturing facilities to produce their computers any way they want – disastrous idea). I told Corporate that my belief, without even looking at them, was that the call center with the highest quality of customer service was creating as many problems as the call center with the lowest quality of customer service. How could that be?

Because their customers aren’t buying the HIGHEST QUALITY product or service, they are buying the most CONSISTENT EXPERIENCE. We’re all out there trying to sell the best made chair, the greatest insurance, the grandest piano, and the slickest software. But our customers aren’t buying what we’re selling.

Don’t believe me?

What percentage of Americans would you say think McDonalds sells the BEST hamburger? Probably none. Yet they make billions, because we know that every McDonalds window you drive up to will produce the same hamburger coast to coast. It may not be the best, but it’s the same every time – reliable, consistent, and average. We can count on it and McDonalds can take it to the bank. Ray Crock had a motto on the wall in his office “In Pursuit of the Most Efficient Hamburger in the World.” Notice it did not say the BEST hamburger. We don’t buy quality from McDonalds, we buy consistency.

We don’t buy quality from Nordstrom’s either. Surprised? While Nordstrom’s sells higher quality goods, we’re buying the “Nordstrom’s experience”. There are dozens of other retailers selling the same stuff, but every time we go to Nordstrom’s we get that same legendary experience. We’re buying consistency there, too, not quality.

Every wonder how really awful, cheap products, as well as outrageously over-priced products keep being successful? Because we’re buying consistency, not quality. We have a minimum quality level expectation of both Nordstrom’s and McDonalds (at much different levels), but the thing that has created long term success for both is the consistency of the experience.

This is one of the reasons Microsoft is losing market share to Apple. People are buying the consistency of experience they can’t get from Microsoft.

A realtor once gave a weekend away to a friend for having referred a high-end house to them. They told another friend who referred a house, and they were given a large gift certificate to a high-end department store. They were disappointed. Even though both gifts cost the realtor the same amount of money, they second person was expecting the same experience as the first – a weekend away. Consistency is so important.

Do you have a written Customer Satisfaction Process in place that creates a consistent experience for everyone every time? If not, stop working on making your product so great, and start pouring your energies into creating that consistent customer experience. The guy who makes the best chair does not have the loyalist following. It’s the guy who “manufactures” the best, most consistent customer experience.