Where do I start to make things better?

Dear Ken Keller,

The year is not going according to plan despite our best efforts. My people are frustrated and I’m not happy either. I can keep kicking myself and get mad at people, or I can find a path forward to better days. Where do you recommend I start? — Steve B.

Dear Steve,

Your company can most likely get traction quickly by taking the time to improve the customer experience.

That you are not having the year you wanted can quickly spiral out of control when people are frustrated, disengaged and unfocused.

The first casualty of a bad year is usually the customer because all of the negatives that your team is enduring or struggling with come out in one way or another in their customer interactions.

There are two big challenges facing you. The first is people and the second is process.

As for the people, you are going to have to lead by example when you start down the path of making things better for your customers. You are going to have to spend months eating, sleeping, working and thinking non-stop about making things better for your customer.

Everything you say and do will be watched and listened to by your employees who will question and test your commitment. They are already disappointed in the results so far so many will wait to make sure that you are serious about making improvements and it will be a long, hard sell to persuade them to up their game.

You know this will not be easy. Even when you give people orders they won’t necessarily be doing it with their heart. But there are people already working for you who will immediately grasp what you are trying to do. Those individuals need to be nurtured and acknowledged. You’ll have to coach them when they face resistance.

There are likely going to be some individuals who won’t buy into any of this and you will be forced to make difficult decisions about keeping them or letting them go.

If people fight you on making changes, not because they have a better way but simply because they are not interested in changing, and you allow them to stay in your company, it will be interpreted as you are not serious about making significant changes to improve the business.

If you cave in, you lose the battle and eventually, the war. You can’t have this happen.

There are probably going to be some people who will simply say, “What’s the point?”

They won’t be against you, but until they see a very good reason for making the change they will be skeptical of your motives and processes. Telling them “because I said so” isn’t going to change hearts or minds.

Change is hard and your employees will want to see you do it first and they will watch you to make sure you stay with it.

The second piece is changing your internal processes to improve the customer experience.

One of the best things you can do is to map the current customer experience; where customers actually connect with the company are called “moments of truth.”

Once you map the process, look for making small changes to improve efficiencies and how the customer is treated. Small improvements can make huge positive differences.

This mapping will be the foundation for having improved customer retention, positive word of mouth, larger purchases and more frequent purchases.

All of this will take time, but it is one of the most rewarding and revealing exercises an owner can undertake because it can truly transform your business.