Why does everyone want to make sausages?
We worked with a marketing company a few years back, trying to clarify the fundamentals of our offering – what really was our ‘Point of Difference’? They took us through a process that involved a number of interactions including workshops, questionnaires, face-to-face meetings etc etc.
The materials and media used in the processes were often inadequate, not appropriate or extremely crude. As a team of custom software developers we talked to them about adding a bit of polish and sophistication to their suite of tools, to convey a more professional image that better reflected the type of service they were selling – a team of highly experienced branding, marketing and business leadership experts.
As a result, they started to talk to us about their own business objectives. They wanted to create a repeatable system that they could take their clients through to drive efficiency, productivity and allow them to scale.
In describing their aspirations, they went one step further... using a rather confronting analogy - their ambition was to create a sausage factory. Put client meat in one end, and pop sausages out at the other.
In their enthusiasm I think they forgot they were talking to their potential sausages!
As a service business the widget you’re selling is time. And as such, there are a number of challenges to scalability – the greatest of which is surely the number of hours you can produce. So if you want to truly scale your business, perhaps you’re going to have to come up with something else to sell or at least a different way to sell your service?. The most common way to do that it seems, is to productise your process. i.e. make sausages.
More and more these days, when we look for expert service and advice we’re thrown into the sausage machine and sent on our way to become very successful and high achieving sausages.
I listened to a great webinar today by Anthony Kennada, a cofounder of Gainsight, and he talked passionately about ‘Customer Success’ which he defined as:
having the customer at the very centre of how the company operates
And this works well in a symbiotic way for businesses that sell an actual product. Attuning your product to the pain points and needs of your customers should yield great results for both you and your customer.
But when service businesses attempt to turn what they do into a product, as a customer I feel anything but the centre of their company.
So what’s the answer?
Question: Is it even possible to scale a service business whilst retaining that personalised service?
I think so. But it has to be people and systems, not just systems!
A certain amount of systemisation adds enormous value for both your team and your customers. It helps with managing expectations and creating a sense of security, in the same way that (systems) routines are good for little children. Providing clear expectations around the process builds confidence that whoever is running this show knows what they’re doing.
And having your service supported by sophisticated tools, conveys, expertise and professionalism. They help add a robustness and surety around the areas of your business that are just process. But the tools need to do exactly that – act in support. They can’t be your business.
The tools, systems and processes can assist with scaling a service business without losing sight of your customer. They can strip away time consuming admin work or facilitate the smooth addition of new service experts! “This is how we do things” should relate to the methods we use to deliver the service not the service itself.
And your tools and processes need to be adaptive and flexible. By all means use a framework but allow your clients to break out and run free for a bit without risking the wheels of your machine falling off.
I can draw inspiration from a great article posted by Glenna Fulks recently about ‘The Art of Active Listening’. If we focus too much on fitting our customers into a sausage machine, we stop listening and responding to what we hear – consequently our service loses significant value.
In fact, too much system and not enough people could be seen (by cynical people) as a mask for a lack of expertise? If you rely too heavily on your processes - then there’s plenty of scope to simply stop thinking?
Going back to the example of little kids and routine, maybe think of parenting as a type of service and your kids are your customers? Even that long held belief is being challenged by most modern, evidence backed parenting books these days. They now advocate a more individual or family based routine because what works for young Mike may not be great for Gemma. While it’s definitely important to have expectations and be consistent, you don’t want to fall into the trap of militantly enforcing an arbitrary regime because “that’s how you should do it”.
At Custom D we want to produce truly great work for our clients and we want our team happy and fulfilled. For this to happen there must be opportunity to think freely and explore. But we also have bills to pay and a business to grow. And that requires a certain amount of process and predictability. Finding the balance is tricky.
Thinking on Anthony Kennada’s webinar – customer success cannot just be a means to your own success - it needs to be more genuine, authentic and atlruistic than that. In my opinion that is the secret sauce for a service business... now we just need to work out a way to productise that ;-)
If you’re more than just a sausage, then lets celebrate the great non-sausage makers out there. Tell us about a great experience you've had by organisations that really listen!