It was once said to me – I’ve long forgotten by whom – that success boils down to your own mindset, regardless of (and often even counter to) the prevailing cultural mindset.
For example, farmers are our ‘Aussie battlers’, forever doing it tough. And SME owners also have it tough – often scraping to make ends meet and putting in long hours to earn a living.
Don’t get me wrong – I know first-hand the struggles of working for myself, and have close family who operate their own businesses or are primary producers, so the challenges they face on a daily basis are not lost on me.
But not all of them subscribe to that ‘battler’ mindset. Plenty of primary producers and SME operators, while they work long and hard, love what they do, and their passion shines through. Give some of them a microphone and they can talk for hours about how great their business is and the satisfaction it affords them (again, first-hand experience).
Their mindset is what sets them apart and keeps their businesses chugging along.
The same is true of innovation. Innovation isn’t so much a ‘light-bulb moment’ as it is a mindset – one of being open to possibilities, throwing off the status quo and thinking critically about how things can be done better.
It is this mindset that is leading plenty of businesses to come up with new ways of appealing to their customers and capturing greater market share. These innovations are helping them get goods faster, making their payments easier and saving them not just money, but that other precious and finite resource – time.
This factor is what strikes me most about Australia Post, which has been hitting the headlines of late for all the wrong reasons – its business is ‘flagging’, its costs are ‘soaring’ and so on. Yet innovating its business and business model doesn’t seem to be on the radar – or at least, not publicly.
I recently had a package shipped from interstate after a family holiday shopping spree left our luggage undeniably in excess. The package was taken and shipped from the retailer we bought it from on the Sunday we left.
Australia Post emailed me with a tracking number and directions to its site where I could keep tabs on the progress of my package. This showed it had been picked up around 2.30pm on the following afternoon and taken to a nearby mail depot. And there the tracker stayed. And stayed. And stayed.
The next thing I knew, in the middle of the following week, was that someone had tried to deliver the parcel while I was at work. No notice, no provision of an estimated delivery date or time so that I could have made arrangements for its collection. Just a ticket wedged loosely in my screen door, exposed to the elements. But OK, no big deal, I thought; I’ll go pick it up on Saturday.
But my local post office shuts at midday on a Saturday, and I hadn’t remembered until it was too late.
So I decided to return the following Saturday, armed with the knowledge that at least in this instance, the early bird definitely does catch the worm.
But just a couple of days later, another card arrived in my mailbox – this time threatening that if I didn’t collect the package pronto, it would be returned to sender. Panicked, I arranged to leave work early the next day to make my ‘pronto’ collection.
Once in store, I waited behind several other people, all armed with the same red and white cards that I had.
“I was at home all day, and no one ever knocked on my door,” said the man in front of me to the clearly unsympathetic man behind the counter, who barely made eye contact, let alone cracked a smile.
It’s a line I have heard many times, and even experienced myself. Yet Australia Post recently made the announcement that it plans to start charging for the collection of undelivered parcels from its stores. Social media and talkback radio were abuzz with disbelief and dissatisfaction.
To me, this a prime example of one of the biggest failures in business – failing to understand the needs and wants of your customer, and failing to provide a service that your competitors can’t match.
Customer service shouldn’t be something that business owners ignore. In fact, it should be the core facet of their business – regardless of their size.
For instance, knowing that most customers aren’t home during the day could help Australia Post tailor its parcel deliveries – say, evenings between 5 and 7pm, and Saturdays.
Knowing that a tracking facility should do what it says it can do (i.e. track the progression of an item) would deliver a far superior customer experience.
So would knowing that if you are spending too much of your resources on holding uncollected parcels, then you should look to the root cause of the issue and find a value-add solution, rather than slugging your customers with yet another fee as a means of offsetting those costs.
It is this element of customer service where SMEs can – and often do – excel: having close interactions with their customers, understanding the value they can add and doing so with a smile. Having a willingness to go above and beyond to not only meet, but exceed, their customer’s expectations in order to keep them coming back. And being nimble enough to make changes to their operations as and when change is needed.
As SME owners, your customers are your greatest resource – they not only deliver you revenue, but can provide a wealth of feedback on what you’re doing right, what you can improve on, how you fare against competitors and what would make their lives easier.
That should be your source for driving innovation. And that’s what your mindset should be.
Those businesses that actively tap into this resource are the ones I’m putting my money on to outgrow their competitors down the road.