Developing a culture of innovative thinking keeps customers happy

The service we provide (gritting and snow clearance) is critical as it keeps organisations operating in the worst weather but, by its nature, is delivered in the toughest conditions. Yet, last winter, our annual end-of-season survey of clients revealed 99.2 per cent satisfaction with the service they received.

This satisfaction led to us being listed as the 37th fastest growing business in the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 in December 2011, on the back of an 83 per cent increase in sales.

The secret is simple – build your business around your customers’ requirements and continually listen to them so you and your team understand the challenges they face and can respond with innovative ideas to help them.

Sounds easy, but what practical steps do you need to take to develop a culture of innovation in your business?

Focus on the customer
By focussing on your customers’ needs rather than your own, you’ll be able to stay ahead of the market and anticipate the challenges your customers are likely to face. This provides an opportunity to have a solution ready when it’s needed.

When the economic downturn hit we recognised the impact it was likely to have on our customers’ budgets. Our response was to introduce a variety of pricing options, which include a fixed cost model that means our customers’ costs are set for the winter, no matter what the weather brings. We even provide rebates to customers on certain packages, if the weather is milder than average.

Find inspiring people
After happy customers, your second biggest asset is your staff. Having motivated and passionate people representing your business will mean they’re always doing the best job they can for you and your customers.

We select everyone we work with based on their attitude, skills and knowledge (ASK) – in that order. Having a ‘can do’ attitude is essential – it’s easier to teach people the skills needed for the job, than it is to change a person’s work ethic.

Keeping staff motivated and inspired is a challenge all businesses face and we’ve found the answer is to keep them closely aligned to the business.

There needs to be an internal culture which promotes and rewards innovative thinking. We have an open management style and freely share information with the team, as we find they make better decisions when they know the big picture about the business.

Create robust, yet flexible systems
Once you’ve got motivated people in place, you need robust systems and processes that enable every member of the team to consistently do the job to the standards you demand, whilst being as flexible as possible to meet individual customer needs.

As technology improves, the possibilities become endless – so never again should staff need to say “computer says no”.

Finding the right processes is unique to each business. We’ve invested heavily in proprietary software and have integrated additional systems to provide us with fully customised technology for our specific needs.

Our systems have been developed so everything we do is automated, from receiving accurate weather forecasts and alerting teams which sites need to be serviced, right through to keeping customers updated and invoicing.

However, as there are huge variations in our customers’ sites and the level of service they require, our systems have also been designed to be flexible. We tailor the contract and service agreement to each individual.

Be proud of what you do
We are extremely proud of the partnership we have with our customers and it’s all down to putting them at the centre of everything we do. And of course it’s not all about the bottom line; there is nothing more satisfying for you and your staff than a customer being delighted with the work you’ve done and telling you so.

With the recession leaving a legacy of consumers and businesses demanding more value for their money, meeting your customers’ needs has never been more important. Those who will thrive will not just make customer service one of the things they do, they will ensure their business is based entirely around the customer.