Take a cue from Starbucks to deliver consistent service to your customers.



I was in Starbucks the other day ordering an afternoon iced coffee treat when I overheard the barista say to the lady taking my order, “How much time has it been?” She promptly and quietly replied, “Two minutes and 17 seconds.” He then continued what he was doing with a purpose and walked away. I realized they were speaking about the order time for a customer in the drive-through line. They were obviously measuring the time it takes from order origination to order fulfillment.

This is a very simple and small thing in the big picture, right? But then I thought to myself, Starbucks has more than 17,000 stores and employs more than 200,000 people. They must have a system for everything. Of course they do, this is what makes them deliver a consistent product in a prompt manner all over the world. So what? Starbucks is in the coffee business. What does their system mean to us as contractors?

I say it means everything.

We need to create and manage systems in our own companies just as a Starbucks does. This is the only way to truly measure objective results and create consistency throughout all areas of our businesses. I know what you’re thinking. Easier said than done, right? Yes, it’s true; it takes some serious intention on your part and the part of your managers. It’s a culture shift, a different way of thinking. In fact, it requires a different way of operating.

I think about my own company, Peterson Plumbing. While we’re not perfect by any stretch, we have created a level of systemic thinking among my leadership team that is a true talent. Systemic thinking is simply a way of looking at things from a holistic point of view. Meaning if we have an issue or “problem” in my company, there needs to be a cure or fix that is part of a system, which in turn is part of the whole of the company.

Creating systems by changing mindset

Many contractors I speak to don’t feel they have the time, energy or skill set to create systems that run the company. This is absolutely not true. If you’re in business, you have the ability to create systems, but you must begin to view things differently. I remember many years ago when I was in Santa Rosa, Calif., attending The E-Myth Academy, Michael Gerber used to talk about creating systems that run the company and then have people run those systems.

This is exactly what we want to do if we plan to have any consistency to our business and not rely on each job or position being done differently based on the person holding that job title.

A system can be as simple as how your phone is answered, what process is followed for a vacation request or exactly how your company performs a water heater installation. I know it can seem like an incredible amount of work, but don’t get overwhelmed! Most small businesses aren’t very system-oriented because the leader believes it’s too much work. It’s easier to just give an answer or a quick-fix “Band-Aid” to a situation instead of creating a measurable system for the challenge at hand.

Many small businesses can’t operate successfully for more than a few days without the owner’s direct involvement. What about your company? What would happen if you walked out the door today and didn’t return for a month? Would your people know what to do and how to do it? Where would they go to get their questions answered? How would they know if they were “winning” or not?

The system should provide the answers

These are the questions that drove me into creating a system-based company at Peterson. I don’t want to be the one with all the answers, but I do want the answers to exist. The next time a team member comes to you and asks a question you’ve answered 101 times, simply ask him what he would do if you weren’t there. What you’ll begin to find is your team would make good choices even in your absence.

Now, I’m not advocating you walk away from your business tomorrow, but rather I’m advocating that you begin to think about your business as a system-oriented entity. If you had 20 locations, how would each location know what to do each day? How would a manager know what numbers to pay attention to or what training to focus on?

As the leaders of contracting companies, most of us “grew up” in this industry. Many of us started and evolved as technicians, and now we’re leading companies. If we want to grow in effectiveness as leaders we must get out of our “technician” mindset of fixing things. We must begin to embrace a mindset of solution-based systemic thinking. As technicians we were taught we need to have all the answers. As business owners, managers and leaders, we must look to create systems that have the answers.

Remember, I’m a very people-oriented leader and I believe in helping people grow within companies. I’m not advocating for a moment that we take our focus away from people. In fact, I believe by helping our team create systems that work, then training our people to grow, challenge and improve the system, we will all win. Most importantly, our client wins with a system delivering a service experience that is exactly what we promised would be delivered.

Pay attention to where your mindset is and what you specifically work on today. Creating a system-based company takes time. Oftentimes you can only commit 30 minutes or an hour a day to “work on your business.” If you begin with a little bit at a time, eventually you can get to a point where all you’re working on is strategically improving your business.

I’m pretty sure that Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks, won’t make even one latte today. However, he’ll certainly be at work on the systems that help make that latte exactly what you want, every time you order it.

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