What we can learn from big business and multi-nationals

Set aside the criticism

Multinational companies have been much in the news recently over their tax arrangements. This is not the place to discuss those, but as we have heard so much criticism of Amazon and Starbucks amongst others I think it is time to remember what we owe these companies in gratitude.

Days of OJ

I first bought books from Amazon.com in 1995. At the time I wanted to purchase publications which were not available in the UK about the trial of O J Simpson. I had watched the trial live on Sky News most nights until the early hours as I was recovering from major but successful surgery, and I was in too much pain to sleep. I made a complete recovery but also became fascinated by the detail and the “bloody glove”  and wanted to read the books from some of the main players.

The only way to get these books was to order them from Amazon in Seattle. They did not work out as too dear, and they were delivered within a week. Actually I made several purchases as the books were published and all arrived fairly quickly considering they came such a long way.

Now Amazon in Europe delivers very quickly even on Super Save / free delivery terms. They have not let me down.

Coffee houses and City business

English: This is a panorama of 3 segments take...

Leadenhall Market. “Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0”

When I first worked in the City of London, it was difficult to get a decent cup of coffee except for the cappuccinos in the Italian diners such as Obertelli’s in Leadenhall Market. This was ironic when remember that the City’s financial business originated in coffee houses; the Stock Exchange, the Baltic (shipping) Exchange and Lloyd’s, the insurance market. When Starbucks moved in, everyone upped their game and their model was copied by others. Suddenly you could get a very good coffee in many places and of course the coffee chains have spread all over the country and the world.

As with Amazon, we have become used to good service and reliable products such that we take them for granted.

Distant days

When I was a young lad we could not always rely on good service from businesses, large for small. I remember that my Mum was happy with the service in the local dress shop but the draper next door was “miserable” and presumably not committed to good service or refunding unhappy customers.

It was a large chain of stores in the UK, Marks and Spencer, who first offered almost no-question refunds on items customer took back. Now nearly all the stores do it. Customer service is a recognised culture.

What lessons can we take?

We in small business can build our reputations by not only offering the great reliable service that many of the large companies manage to deliver, but by putting our own personal stamp on the service. We can be available to the customer and often build a more personal relationship such that we will be recommended and not taken for granted as Starbucks are, though they deserve more.

We can be better than the best large company because we can be flexible and we have discretion, which an employee of a multi-national perhaps cannot always have. Obertelli’s is still in Leadenhall Market too as proof of how a successful small business (as it was) can compete strongly.

So thank you for the lessons, Amazon and Starbucks, and for teaching us customer service and showing us how we can be the best, and even better than you.

What do you think?

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Trust, networking and the black hole

Simulated gravitational lensing (black hole go...
Image via Wikipedia

When we refer someone to a friend or colleague or fellow-networker, we do need to be able to trust the person we have recommended. That is obvious and should go without saying. Part of the way we can feel comfortable to refer someone is simply by being acquainted with them for a length of time.

Taking this further, that means we have to see the person we may refer regularly. We may have had a one-to-one (I hope we would have), but at least we need to see the person often at networking events. Turning up is very important because being there establishes reliability. Not being there indicates quite the opposite.

I like to refer the best person for the job. The best person is usually the one who turns up; not always of course because working with someone is a matter of comfort too for the person who needs the service or product. Mostly though we need to refer the person whom we know better than the others.

I cannot refer someone whom I don’t see very often even if we both belong to the same club or group. If I simply haven’t see a business owner for a year or several years, he hasn’t got a hope of getting business through my suggestion. If I haven’t seen the person in the last three years since she would have been the obvious choice, she might as well have fallen into a black hole as far as I am concerned. Of course I care about her well-being but I cannot stake my own reputation on her work even if I can find out how to track her down.

Did you know someone who had disappeared just when you thought of him or her?

© Jon Stow 2010

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Being in business is not a game

I hope you enjoy running your business. I know I enjoy running mine. Business should be fun and give pleasure and a sense of achievement, as well, of course, as making money.

It might come as a surprise to some of you that there are people who just play at business. They enjoy what they do and may have a special talent. However, somehow they are easily diverted and want to do too much. They may want to dabble in some other activity which means they do not have the time to devote to their main business, which is of course their main source of income. They may decide to go on an extended holiday or take a sabbatical. Now that is OK if they have other good people to “look after the shop” while they are away, but often a small service business is about the person, and clients buy the business owner as much as the service they provide.

Customers or clients of a business like that need to feel special, to talk to the owner. Indeed the owner should keep in touch, check how they are if they have been quiet and generally give them a feeling of security. If the business owner is not always available or even goes away for a couple of months or half a year, the customers or clients will find someone else. What’s more, they won’t come running back when the owner returns.

So if you have a business which is all about you, your personality and your talents, you need to take care of your business and be there when needed. That applies whether you offer commercial photography, graphic design, Swedish massage or hairdressing. Look after your clients and give them continuity, because if you don’t they will feel neglected. You will lose their trust and probably won’t get them back again.

We are all entitled to have fun, but business is not a game; it is deadly serious.

(C) Jon Stow 2010