Saturday, 31 August 2013

Be obsessive

If you’re selling people things and you want to make lot of money you really have to have an eye for detail. In fact you have to be obsessed with the details.

There’s a great story about Steve Jobs, the late founder and leader of Apple, that illustrates his particular obsession with tiny details.

Vic Gundotra, a senior manager at Google, wrote about a phone call he received from Steve Jobs just before Google launched their App for the Apple iPhone. One Sunday Steve Jobs was on the phone. He was worried:
“Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I've already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow" said Steve. "I've been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I'm not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn't have the right yellow gradient. It's just wrong and I'm going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?"
A CEO that concerns himself with details that small and on behalf of an entirely different and rival company is the CEO of a company whose products you can rely on. That obsessive perfectionism is one of the key reasons Apple is perhaps the company that inspires the fiercest loyalty from its customers.

Of course not all business leaders are Steve Jobs. But we can learn a little from his obsession for detail.

You can begin with web sites. Companies seem to forget that web sites aren’t things you get amateurs to make for you and nor can most people do them themselves. Web sites need to be carefully crafted and above all need to contain what customers need. Banks are a good example.

In the last few weeks we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the card skimming issue and one of the key findings is that bank don’t make it easy to protect yourself. In particular they don’t make it easy to find the emergency number to call if your card is stolen or if you think your security has been compromised. Some bank web sites don’t give the number at all and others give the wrong number. Let’s overlook the banks that don’t even have a 24-hour number for their customer to use.

You have to ask how difficult it can be for a company to occasionally check its own web page? You then have to wonder, if they’re that careless about the first thing many customers see, how careful are they going to be with your money?

Customers also have to be detail-obsessed. I’ve heard several times in the last few months about customers being short-changed in stores and filling stations. In the filling stations it seems a common practice by the fuel attendants not to zero the pump once a customer has left. The next customer then arrives, orders P100 of petrol but doesn’t notice that the gauge still shows the P50 the previous customer ordered and that’s where his petrol delivery starts counting. He pays for P100 but only gets P50 worth of petrol. The missing P50 goes into the attendant’s pocket.

In stores the practice seems to be to give some customers their change using lots of coins. It’s only when customers deliberately count it in front of the shop assistant that they say things like “I think I might have cheated you with P20”. Yes, that’s a real quote.

While you’re in the store, make sure you’re obsessively interested in labels as well. No, you don’t have to examine every single label on every single product, there are plenty of products that you can be confident are fine. Cans of beans, bottles of ketchup and jars of jam will be fine so long as the packaging is intact and undamaged. What you MUST obsess over are those products that really might kill you. Dairy products and all forms of meat, chicken above all. Don’t even think about putting it in your trolley if you haven’t checked the Use By date and also had a careful look at the item your buying. If it’s expired or there’s no label at all then don’t buy it. Instead take it to the manager and politely ask him or her to remove it. They won’t complain, honestly, stores don’t actually want to kill their customers.

It’s not just customers that have to be obsessive about checking receipts, it’s stores too.

We had a complaint recently about a store that had apparently sold a customer bread that turned out to be mouldy. The customer went back and because she could give them her receipt was treated, she felt, rather unpleasantly. We got in touch with the store and to their credit they reacted wonderfully. They invited her back to the store once more to meet the Regional Manager, they checked the security video footage and offered her a nice apology and a P100 voucher on top to confirm how sorry they were that she felt mistreated. She then contacted us saying she’s a very happy customer again.

The interesting point was what the store told us. The manager said:
“Due to the surge of organised shoplifting we are trying to satisfy ourselves that the customers paid for the goods. (They steal the item and come back for a refund for cash). This is the only reason that store management will question a refund.”
That’s fair, of course stores have a right to protect themselves by being slightly obsessive about proof of purchase. Luckily the sensible ones are prepared to be flexible when they encounter a customer who’s obviously honest.

Maybe if everyone was a little bit more obsessed with details life would be a little bit better? Perhaps even a lot better.

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