Just Figure It Out

Recently my wife and I attended her high school class reunion. For her sake, I won’t say which one, but let’s just say that it’s been several decades since her high school days. The event was well planned and quite enjoyable. As we were eating dinner at the banquet, I learned that the restaurant originally scheduled to cater the food bailed out just two weeks earlier. I inquired as to how this possibly could have happened and it was explained that apparently a new manager had recently been hired and there may have been other staffing issues. The restaurant is well-known and long-established in the community and it’s shocking that it reneged on its commitment. Fortunately another restaurant was able to step up at the last minute and cater the class reunion.

I understand that things happen. Hiccups occur in the entrepreneurial world. However, it’s times like these where the real entrepreneurs shine. When we make commitments we do whatever it takes to honor them. Sometimes this requires a great deal of creativity. Sometimes we actually lose money. But no matter what, we always honor our commitments. In the case of the original caterer for my wife’s class reunion, I don’t know what prevented them from following through and providing the food for the event. I found it interesting that while the reunion was in full swing, this restaurant was open and serving dinner across the street from the reunion site.

Real entrepreneurs have a “we’ll figure it out” attitude. Our word is our bond and we’ll die trying to deliver what we promise. Since I don’t know the exact circumstances surrounding the failure of the caterer, let’s game out some scenarios. Perhaps the restaurant found itself with an unexpected labor shortage. The management may have felt that when understaffed, it could not deliver on the catering assignment. I happen to know that this restaurant has locations in other towns that aren’t too far away. One entrepreneurial approach might have been to pull staff from another town to make it possible to honor the catering commitment. I realize that this might have cost the restaurant an extra amount of money, but that shouldn’t enter the equation where a commitment is concerned.

A second scenario might have been one where the former manager made the commitment at a price that caused the restaurant to incur a loss. Maybe that’s why there’s a new manager! Regardless, if the commitment was made at the specified price, it should have been honored. A third scenario might have been one where there was a problem in the supply chain. I find this rather implausible because the cancellation occurred approximately two weeks before the event – more than enough time to resolve an issue with a supplier. However, should that have been the case the restaurant could easily have made other arrangements to procure the necessary ingredients even if it meant buying the items at the grocery store.

The point is that a real entrepreneur would just “figure it out.” Sometimes we do things with bubble gum and baling wire. At other times we deliver a result that is a work of art. The main thing is that the job gets done and the customer is thrilled. Welching on a commitment is simply unheard of to a real entrepreneur. In the case of the caterer, they are running a great risk as a result of their actions. I overheard some of my wife’s classmates who were so irritated that there was talk of boycotting the restaurant and writing negative reviews on social media. I’m sure the word will spread throughout the city and other high school classes will avoid using this restaurant for catering their reunions.

There is a caveat to all of this. It’s important to understand that “we’ll just figure it out” is a fine approach for entrepreneurs at the early stages of our ventures. Eventually we need to refine our systems and processes and create redundancy in every area of our operation. It’s not possible to reach a level of scale if “we’ll just figure it out” is our long-term strategy. While it may sound laughable that any entrepreneur would do this over the long haul, I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve seen many, many companies that are in this mode for years.

Real entrepreneurs always honor their commitments. And sometimes this requires them to “just figure it out” through unconventional means.

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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Mystery of the Undercooked Steak

Customers quit all the time. Many entrepreneurs work extremely hard to prevent the big screw-ups that alienate and enrage customers. Yet, even with this effort, there are still customers that leave and don’t come back. What’s up with this?

Consider this scenario. An entrepreneur has opened a new restaurant and works 24/7 to develop a loyal clientele. Over time the restaurant grows and enjoys success – it’s even profitable! But then its trajectory levels off. It’s not growing like it was and some of the regular faces aren’t there anymore. The entrepreneur studies his operation but can’t find anything glaring that is causing this trend. His puzzlement and frustration grows. Why isn’t he winning like he used to?

Had the entrepreneur taken a much closer and more granular look, he might have discovered the root cause of his problem. Had he followed one of his oldest customers – we’ll be original and call him Mr. Smith – he might have observed the following occurrences. On one occasion, Mr. Smith made a reservation in advance, but when he arrived the time was wrong. The hostess apologized profusely, but it did cause minor inconvenience to the customer. In another instance Mr. Smith’s credit card was declined. After an embarrassing moment for Mr. Smith, the server found that the credit card terminal was on the fritz. A few weeks later Mr. Smith was in a hurry to leave for a business appointment and his lunch was delayed due to a mix-up in the kitchen. Another time his steak wasn’t properly prepared. In still another instance, one of the side dishes he ordered was forgotten.

These seemingly small and inconsequential issues continued to occur over a period of months. Mr. Smith did not encounter problems every time he ate at the restaurant. But they happened often enough that he began to feel as though this eatery wasn’t the bright and shiny object that it had once appeared to be. Gradually Mr. Smith came to the restaurant with less frequency. The final straw came on a day when Mr. Smith noticed he had been charged for an appetizer he hadn’t ordered. The bill was corrected, but that was the last time Mr. Smith ever patronized the restaurant.

I call what happened here The Cumulative Effect of Little Things. The entrepreneur who owned the restaurant was prone to look at each minor problem on a stand-alone basis. And when viewed in this manner, it’s a mystery to see how a slightly undercooked steak here or a credit card snafu there could be enough to chase away a customer. He was looking for and trying to prevent, much larger issues. What he failed to understand is that the small stuff contributes to an overall customer experience. If Mr. Smith had visited the restaurant only once, he probably wouldn’t have given much thought to the fact that his meal arrived four minutes before that of his dining companion. But Mr. Smith was a regular customer and his impression of the restaurant was driven by an accumulation of experiences.

We can keep The Cumulative Effect of Little Things from causing our customers to quit. How? There are two ways. First, we must be sticklers for the small details. With the right systems, processes and team member training, we can eliminate the small mistakes that seemingly happen every day and yet are excused as too minor to matter. Second, we must be joined at the hip with our customers. It’s crucial that we know what they are experiencing at all times. Continuing with the restaurant example, when the owner or general manager shows up at my table at some point during the meal; chats briefly with me and asks (genuinely) what can be done to make my dining experience better, then I know I’m dealing with someone who really cares about me as a customer. I generally don’t ever encounter problems in those restaurants.

Customers leave more often than not as a result of The Cumulative Effect of Little Things rather than a major malfunction. Caring about the little details AND the customer will go a long way to creating a loyal following.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Steak