Remember to Get Back to The Future

Last Updated May 12, 2010 5:30 AM EDT

I was with a client last week and we were discussing customer service. "We always used to send a thank-you note to our customers when they placed their first order with us." explained the MD, "Our customers used to love it -- they often commented on what a nice touch it was. I'm sure it helped us win more business."

"Why don't you do it now?" I asked.

"I don't know," he replied, "I guess we forgot."

As businesses grow and change, they often forget the little things they did that sometimes helped to make them successful.

It's nobody's fault. Life moves on, we get busy and those things just slip away into the dim and distant past.

I bet there are things in your business that you don't do anymore. Things that customers loved or that staff really valued, stuff you did that motivated or inspired them.

It's often those little things that made a difference, but for whatever reason, you've stopped doing. They've simply been forgotten, and worse, many of your current people never even knew you did it.

It's not always productive to reminisce about the good old days, but sometimes it can be useful to revisit some of the ideas and processes that worked well.

It's a simple 'innovation' process I call Back To The Future:

  1. Revisit: Take time out (get others involved too) and list some of the stuff that you used to do -- the things that made customers feel special, helped you win business, made your place fun and special, and importantly, made you money.
  2. Re-evaluate: What were the benefits? What made it work? Why did you stop? Could it work again? It's not about blaming people if they don't do it anymore, it's about reflecting on why and how it worked and whether it's worth trying it again.
  3. Reinvent: This means looking at what you might need to do to make it work today. Sometimes it might be just doing it again in exaclty tghe same way, but it may mean modernising a specific practice or remodelling it to suit your current circumstances or current communication channels with customers (such as online). Find ways to make it relevant today.
  4. Reignite: It's about getting others involved. The real danger here is that it's perceived as getting back to the good old days by new staff. It's vital you avoid that, so work on demonstrating the benefits, why it worked, and how it worked.
  5. Reintroduce: What needs to happen for it to become a way of life in your business again? Give a named individual responsibility for making it happen. Is there a training need? Set targets and monitor progress. Make sure that the resources are in place to get it working again.
  6. Re-establish: Don't let it become a nine-minute wonder. Monitor progress. Champion your champions, namely the people who adopt it and make it work. Talk about it regularly and get it on the agenda. Make it become a habit. Ensure that you celebrate success when it works well.
Clearly, just looking backwards is no way to run a business. It's simply a process that can help introduce or reintroduce innovation into your business. Why not do it now? If you can Identify one thing that you used to do personally that worked, it's worth the effort.

(Pic: Lee Jordan cc2.0)