Do Business With Your Tactical Business — See If You Like It

You can uncover holes in your processes or service by approaching your business from the customer’s point of view.

Do Business With Your Tactical Business — See If You Like It

istock photo/Tero Vesalainen

How many of you have put your own business through its paces, either as an actual customer or a spy? I’ll bet not many, and for those who have, you’ve probably not done it often. It might seem like obvious, old-school stuff, but there’s no better way to see how you really look to the world — and to test the quality of your service and your people — than to “do business with yourself.” If you never look in from the outside, it’s like being in a room with no mirrors — your fly might be down, and everyone knows it but you.

There are many ways to test your own company. Though some of these may not work for some businesses, below are a few things I urge you to do at least a few times a year. For these self-examinations to be effective, it is critical that you approach them without defensiveness, pride, ego or company-think. Just be Joe Outsider, be honest with yourself, and be prepared to say “boy, we really stink at that.”

Give yourself a call: Most automated phone systems drive customers crazy. Typically the level of insanity is directly proportionate to company size, but even small companies — which includes most specialty retailers — have been known to serve up some telephonic hell. So ring yourself up and try to accomplish a few phone service goals. And above all, make sure to see how easy or difficult it is to get to a real person quickly.

Pay yourself a visit: If your business involves walk-ins, well, walk in. Of course, in a small business where everyone knows everyone, this is a silly idea — unless you are really good with disguises — so in that case, just enlist a trusted friend or relative. One way or another, the age-old “secret shopper” test will reveal much about what it’s really like to be a visitor on your planet. 

Surf your site: If you don’t use your own website often, you are missing (or avoiding) one of the simplest and most important self-tests for any business. You must make the time, on an ongoing basis, to surf and test every nook, cranny, function and feature of your site. Sites do “break,” information gets out-of-date or stale, and updates get overlooked. I guarantee you will find things that need fixing.

Buy yourself something: Whether by phone, online or in person (or even by mail, if your business still does that), complete a transaction with your company. Browse, get assistance, buy, and even return/exchange. Again, if you or your name are likely to be noticed, use a trusted shill and give him or her clear instructions. But one way or another, you absolutely must test the customer experience from start to finish.

Sell yourself something: Huh? Well, this is for advanced players. If you care about the way your company treats vendors and other people who are legitimately and professionally seeking to do business with you, give it a try. Most companies give cold-callers the runaround, and many treat them like dirt. Sometimes it’s hard not to, since for every reasonable call there are many more unwelcome and often annoying solicitations. I hate those as much as you do (probably more). But people who sell you things are inevitably part of your business. And if your goal is to run a business with a great reputation and overall culture — and I would argue that every business should have those goals — this is a challenging but necessary element. It might even be the ultimate test: Can you accommodate legit inquiries helpfully and decently, while dispensing with pests quickly and efficiently, yet as politely as possible?

There are other tests as well — see what people are saying on social media and enthusiast forums, read your literature and your press if applicable, talk to customers, employees and suppliers. Create a detailed checklist of the things you want to test (counter/phone courtesy, waiting time, ease of online checkout, delivery, etc.) and grade yourself honestly.

One of my favorites is the “google suck-test.” Go to your favorite search engine and enter “[your own company name] sucks.” Hopefully nothing will pop up about your business, but plug in just about any major company or brand name and you’re almost guaranteed to see plenty. Take it as a cautionary tale.

One way or another, find a way to see your company from as many outside perspectives as possible. Chances are you will see, hear or experience things that you aren’t happy about. And that’s OK — you’re in the company of most companies. What matters is that you make a commitment to do what it takes to get to thrillsville. So start doing business with yourself. Kick your own tires. I guarantee you and your business will be better for it.


Author bio: Michael Hess is Vice President of Marketing for Armament Systems and Procedures, a major supplier of equipment and training to the law enforcement and military communities. Prior to his career at ASP, Hess was a business founder and owner, and a regular small business columnist for CBS News Moneywatch and Entrepreneur Magazine.


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