Celebrate Your Customers’ Victories

As a young man, I saw in an email from LinkedIn that one of my connections had earned a significant promotion. I knew her as a friend of friends from college. We weren’t close, but we were both living in the same city at the time. I called her to congratulate her. In my mind it was a small, sincere gesture and nothing more.

To her, it was more significant. It turns out that I was the first and one of few to do so, even counting her closest friends and family. She was grateful for the recognition. I believe it played a role in her marrying me four years later.

In the daily onslaught of doing business we often forget the humanity of what we’re doing. Behind every element of our industry are people, people with all the ups and downs that life brings and all the sensitivities of being human.

Look for opportunities to acknowledge that and celebrate the victories the people around you achieve.

In this week’s issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, Robin Lee Allen calls out consumers’ favorite restaurant chains. This is significant because it is not a shareholder driven poll with favorites chosen based on robust portfolios and healthy bottom lines. These are the chains that have won the favor of the people they serve.

Many of these chains may be your customers or you may want them to be your customers. Take a minute to write a simple, sincere note of congratulations to the people at these chains. It doesn’t matter if you even get a response, the mark you leave will be indelible and you never know where it may lead.

Make hay while the sun shines.

NAFEM 2013 exhibited very positive vibes. The mood was as sunny inside as the bright Orlando day outside. Although the aisles were not jammed with attendees, an overwhelming majority of the exhibitors with whom I spoke were quite pleased with the results. This was an improvement over NAFEM 2011, which was cautiously optimistic. And quite a contrast to the bleak emptiness of NAFEM 2009. (IHMRS in November was also upbeat, although that show is a shadow of its former self.)

At the end of February, the NRA Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) reported net positive same-store sales for the 20th consecutive month. A week later, the CRFA Show in Toronto set new attendance records. On March 21 a WSJ headline reported, “Existing-Home Sales Hit Highest Point Since 2009.” Is this a happy coincidence or a sustained trend?

In fact, the 18-month contraction of the last business cycle ended in June, 2009. It took another 15 months, until September 20, 2010, for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) to announce that the contraction ended the year before. The NBER has calculated that the average length of expansion in the 11 business cycles since 1945, the end of World War II, is 59 months.

Now, 30 months into this business expansion – halfway through the average duration – some operators see the light.

On the one hand, FE&S observes, “… operators are holding on to their equipment longer than before, as our studies show they continue to repair rather than replace.” Yet, the NRA RPI reports, “Restaurant operators are also more bullish in their plans for capital spending in the months ahead. Fifty-nine percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, up from 50 percent who reported similarly last month.”

Two and one half years into the current expansion, operators are shifting from the low cost, quick fix to investing in equipment that delivers longer term value of energy efficiency, productivity improvement and quality consistency.
Now is the perfect time to launch new products, beef up your marketing campaigns and sell smarter and harder. If not now, when?

Are you Cinderella or the evil stepsister?

 

Cinderella and her fairy godmother

Businesses often suffer from a self-awareness problem. Whether your business is like Cinderella or one of the evil stepsisters, your problem is the same. Your company self-image is inaccurate.  

Let’s start with the stepsisters. In the fairy tale, despite glaring flaws, each stepsister fancied herself filled with enough charm, smarts and good looks to win over the prince – in each girl’s estimation, the only real competition she faced came from her sister.

Then there’s poor Cinderella. The king’s proclamation clearly stated that all maidens were eligible to submit an RFP for the prince’s love, but what could she possibly offer. She was too busy taking care of everyone else to make herself presentable.

Of course, every child who hears the story can plainly see all the stepsisters’ flaws and all of Cinderella’s charms. The same is true about your company for your customers and prospects.

Most businesses, however, are rarely as clearly defined as the characters in the fairy tale. In fact, most business are part Cinderella and part evil stepsister. Improving your business begins with figuring out which parts are which.

Your customers, your colleagues within the company and you already have the answers.

BUT, you and your colleagues cannot extract the answers. You and they are simply too close, too invested and too knowledgeable about the inner workings of your company to be honest and objective.

You also cannot directly ask your customers. Too many of them will temper their answers to be polite.

A skilled partner – a fairy godmother, if you will – contributes objectivity and methodology to uncover your company’s inner Cinderella and evil stepsister.

It begins with external customer research, generally qualitative, surveying a representative number and diversity of customers. Your customers know you, but they also see a broader swath of the market up and down the supply chain, including your competitors..

It includes internal exploration of what you and other employees know with an impartial moderator systematically uncovering and documenting the information.

The resulting analysis gives you a clear picture of your company and brand, a path to celebrate and promote what’s unique about it along with an outline to fix what you didn’t know or couldn’t see before.

Rows of pizza, ice cream and foodservice technology

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