Ever call customer service and their response made no sense but they couldn’t do anything about it? We’ve all heard those stories. Yes, you have to pay the fee and there’s nothing the agent can do to change it. We roll our eyes and complain about how Big Company X is horrible. To be honest, that’s probably why we’re entrepreneurs and small business owners. We create our own systems and know them intimately. Though it might not always seem apparent, there is some advantage to those big business systems. The key to success in any business is striking a strong balance between people (small business approach) and systems (big business).
I knew someone who lived on a military base and had a satellite dish. Oftentimes, when someone was moving out, we would see the dish sitting on the curb waiting for trash pick up. My friends stated they thought that wasn’t really cool and planned to return the dish when it was their time to move. However when it was their turn, the satellite company TOLD them to throw it away. Turns out it was too difficult for them to get on base to pick up the dishes and chances were the dishes had become outdated anyway. So it was the company’s policy not to pick up satellite dishes from that military base.
To me, here’s the best part of the story. My friend called the company a second time (to get another customer service agent) just to make sure he was indeed supposed to throw away the dish. We all suspected that if the first agent had been wrong, he would be on the hook for the cost of the dish. He knew when you’re dealing with a large company, you have to verify. With all of the systems, not everyone knows what they’re doing and consistency can be a problem.
I heard this line the other day: big corporations and government agencies are made up of systems, not people. You cannot expect one person to know the entire system; it is just too complicated. This line of thinking changed my perspective on how to deal with a ridiculous issue at a large business. It also made me think about what we as small business owners face.
As a small business owner, you are the system. There is no bureaucracy, no manual for how to handle situations No one is looking over your shoulder to make sure you addressed the issue within company policy. There is only you. Someone can call you about a problem and you can change it right then and there. You can adjust quickly to what makes the most sense. That doesn’t happen at a big business; it simply cannot. A big business’ ecosystem is so big, no one person can see the whole thing in all its detail like they can within a small business.
That said, there are benefits of a big business ecosystem that we can apply to our small businesses.
Benefits for Small Business
- If you’re planning to grow, be sure you’re creating systems that can be seen and that you are empowering your people to make informed and consistent decisions.
- Beware that as you grow, “being” the system as the small business owner can hold your team back.
- Consistently work at creating systems that empower your people but that also keep you in the know or in control.
- If you plan to stay small, consistently keep the customer in mind as you implement decisions, policies, etc.
When “Being” the System can Hurt your Business
A small business owner once told me she held a team retreat with her staff. She had hired a coach to facilitate. In preparation, the coach asked if he could have time with her team without her there. She was courageous enough to agree. When she came back the next day, they had a sort of “come-to-Jesus” discussion about invoicing. She had been insisting on reviewing each invoice for all the exceptions before they were sent out. As a result, her team felt they could not move forward in their individual roles and as a team. They were constantly held back by her “being the system” in their invoicing. Essentially, she was inhibiting her team. It was a difficult conversation to hear. Because she was willing to listen and respond accordingly, it ultimately made them a better company.
While, as a small business owner, you don’t want to have so many systems that one hand can’t see the other. You do want to have enough that your team can fully meet their and the company’s potential. Not only will your company grow, but you will have more freedom as well!
Big businesses struggle to respond effectively because no one person can see the entire ecosystem. Small businesses may struggle to grow because only one person knows the whole system (you, the owner). Striking a balance in between will bring you, your team, and your customers peace of mind.
For more tips on running your small business, check out the Freedom Makers blog. Looking for some extra help in running systems at your business, contact us about hiring a virtual assistant.