How many are too many when it comes to choices? If you’re running one of the world’s most successful businesses—McDonald’s—apparently it’s 145. That’s the number of options now on their menu and a fact singled out recently as the root cause of their record drop in revenue and alarming declines in market share and stock price. I used to rail on people who “read” the menu at Mickey D’s…it’s hamburger, cheeseburger, Big Mac and the occasional McRib (the thought of which still makes me feel a little ill). But these days, you really do need to read the menu; and, even when you do, the ordering process is more complicated than it should be. Ever order the #5 and then get peppered with questions about what you want on the #5? What’s the point of having a #5 if you then have to define what that is? For McDonald’s and many other businesses, trying to appeal to too many customers has impacted their ability to appeal to any customers.
American businesses are addicted to growth, and as a consequence, sometimes forget about profitability and sustainability. Belief in the adage, “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward” can lead some businesses to lose sight of the opportunity to “move forward” by being the absolute best at what they do. My advice to McDonald’s is as simple as encouraging somebody at Hamburger U. to take a plane to southern California and check out an In-N-Out Burger to see how focus brings ‘em in and keeps ‘em coming back for more. For other businesses tempted to grow their offerings in order to have more to offer, I’d serve up another adage of merit: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
One of the best pieces of research on this issue is discussed in the Harvard Business Review article “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers” (Dixon, Freeman, and Toman, 2010) that concluded, “All customers really want is a simple, quick solution to their problem.” So, how can you determine how best to focus your business effort to ensure that your brand is viewed as the go-to resource for something that matters to a large enough audience with the willingness and ability to spend to get it from you?
• Listen to your best customers—Seriously, when I tell you something you don’t already know, check the weather report in Hell (because it’s probably freezing over). But knowing it and doing it are two very different things. The first question we often ask our clients after an assertion about a belief they have is whether they’ve validated it. The answer in the vast majority of cases is “no.” It’s helpful to have a 3rd party do your survey research for you to promote the appearance and reality of objectivity. It should be a person/organization that is expert in getting people to share and that knows how to look behind the curtains and under the couch to really understand their preferences and beliefs.
• Listen to your people—The people interacting with your customers know SO much and are listened to so little. My Mom was a deli manager for a national grocery chain for over two decades and knew her customers down to what brand of Havarti they liked and when they’d buy more potato salad. But every two years, there was a new district and/or regional manager, and he’d know best. So in came the hot bar and out went sandwiches…and then back again. They had data on all this but created the narrative to fit their solution. Trust your data and what your people tell you it means…at least to the point that you test it and validate it. If you emphasize making what you do great and as easy as possible for your customers, the chances are much better that you’ll succeed.
• Promote a genuine environment innovation and service—When you’ve determined/refined your focus and emphasis as a business, you then need your people to do what they can to create remarkable experiences. This requires that they are confident that you’ll support them. Your support doesn’t mean that they’ll be empowered to do the same thing again if there’s a reason, upon reflection, not to; but it does mean that you’ll stand behind your encouragement to them to own their client relationships within the context of your culture and business model.
I’ve worked with any number of organizations and leaders who say this is what they want, but they don’t act like it. They either serve as bottleneck on the front end, telling everyone what to do; or they serve as the judge and jury on the back end, publicly undermining what someone has done with the best intent. I had a client, who’s business is in the technology sector, say the other day that he needed his people to figure out not just if they should update there software or networks, but whether they should “sell burritos.” I’m pretty sure he meant this figuratively, but the challenge they’re facing is a culture in which too many of their people perceive that it’s too risky to chance moving well beyond incremental change…so that’s all they’re getting at the moment which puts the future of this very successful business in some jeopardy. Bear in mind that the innovation can and should include HOW business is done, not just WHAT business is done.
The opportunity to excel in a clearly defined space where you’re simply better, nicer, faster, more responsive, and/or easier is enormous. To leverage this opportunity, listen, learn, try, trust, and repeat. You’ll benefit and so will we.
Jeff Lesher, Principal at entreQuest, blends his deep knowledge of organization design, human capital, and leadership with a pragmatic approach drawn from his own business experience and eQ’s philosophy to help eQ’s clients focus on their core purpose and move people effectively to action.