Small Changes Make a Difference

For many small companies, the secret of continued business success in competing against larger companies is to do everything a little bit better than the competition.

Many companies search only for the great quantum leap in quality or products that will provide a competitive edge, often at the expense of making smaller improvements. But those quantum leaps may be few and far between, while the chance to make small improvements is there almost every day. For example, Procter and Gamble is famous for its marketing expertise. However, it also insists on quality and expertise in oral and written communications in all departments, including careful documentation and analysis of event successes and failures. Much of its success is based on trying to do every task in a consistent and high-quality manner.

Quality (and uniqueness) of product is important. But it is also important to have quality in serving customers, quality in advertising and promotion programs, quality in packaging, in company trade show booths, in design, engineering, written and oral communications, trade logos or symbols, and so on.

Do an extraordinary job of the ordinary. Sometimes, a small company has an advantage in simply delivering products and services as ordered by customers, on time, every time. Domino's Pizza built a small company into a large company by guaranteeing delivery of pizzas within 20 minutes. If the delivery took longer than 20 minutes, it was free, regardless of weather. Although safety concerns subsequently caused Domino's to change this policy, it created an expectation and perception in the minds of customers that they would receive faster-than-ordinary service.

Many local distribution companies have trouble satisfying orders, meeting delivery turnaround times, and keeping out-of-stocks down for their grocery store and mass outlet customers. The number of items stocked by modern chain stores and therefore direct-store-delivery distributors has multiplied several fold in the last decade, going from less than 5,000 to close to 20,000 items per average store. Some superstores stock over 50,000 items.

Distributors struggle to fulfill "just the basics" of routine delivery of ordered items on a daily basis. The distribution complexity, evolving store item counts, and growing end user customer needs and wants for variety and "mass customization" is rapidly changing the way new and current products will be delivered to stores and customers in the future. The giant retail stores of today are rapidly approaching a physical limitation on their ability to receive and stock products in their stores on a daily basis.

Try a quality improvement exercise. Every company, regardless of size, can improve quality and customer service. A simple exercise to improve quality is to track an order from its inception to final delivery. Try this checklist and see if any improvements can be made: