Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Credibility Is Quality

Yes, I love food.  And I love relating my theories to food!
Your daughter’s birthday is coming up. You want to get her favorite kind of cake—a triple-chocolate mousse cake. You decide to try the new bakery around the corner. The guy behind the counter is very happy to see you. He takes your order—your daughter’s name, the occasion, size of the cake, flavor—and tells you the cake will be ready at the end of the day.

When you return at the end of the day, the cake is not ready. The bakery is having problems with this, that, and the other, and it turns out Janet’s cake will not be ready until the next morning. This is pushing it since your daughter’s party starts the following afternoon. The cake still isn’t ready in the morning—they need a little more time.

When you finally pick up the carrot cake (you ordered triple-chocolate mousse) half an hour before Janet’s birthday party begins, it reads: Happy Graduation, Janice.

Are you ever going to return to the corner bakery? No.    

Credibility is quality. If you are credible, people will correctly assume you produce a quality product. If you seek to run a successful business (which of course you should—otherwise why are you running it?), credibility is a key factor in making your customers feel confident they have come to the right place. Credibility will compel them to return.

There are certain basic ingredients that go into making a person and/or company credible, just as a chef needs key ingredients for making a delicious cake.

To begin with, reliability and timeliness go hand in hand. Stick to your promised deadlines—say what you mean and mean what you say. A client has to know when you say they can expect a product on such and such date, they will get that product on that exact date. If people feel that they can count on you, they will count on you. This translates into business. Of course, unexpected circumstances and events arise from time to time, and when they do, you must always communicate with clients and keep them informed at all times. Surprises are rarely pleasant in the business world.

It’s also important to be realistic about projects. Assess the workload honestly. Never set an impossible deadline or budget to appease the customer in the short run. In the long run, missing that deadline will come back to haunt you like a boomerang. Pay now or pay later is a phrase that applies to both customer and provider. You know how much the work you provide is worth, and you know how much time it takes. If a customer expects you to compromise on the level of quality you pride yourself on delivering, then your company may not be a suitable fit for that customer. At the very least, they should expect a lesser degree of quality. At the end of the day, such an expectation is unacceptable. Never compromise on quality. It is a direct reflection of who you are and what your company stands for.   

Listening is another key component to sealing your reliability. If you don’t know exactly what the client wants, how can you deliver it? The guy at the bakery obviously wasn’t listening when he was told it was Janet’s birthday. Maybe his mind was on the horse races or some such thing. At any rate, when clients seek you out for your specialized service, you owe them your full and complete attention. If you are unsure about anything, always ask, always keep the lines of communication open. Never assume!   

In addition to building upon your own honorable reputation, another benefit of making your word your bond is that fact that a number of other human beings out there aren’t in the practice of doing this. Rest assured that every time you come through on a project, there is someone out there who didn’t. There are plenty of examples you could come up with in the business world: The cable guy who showed up three hours late. The painters who made a mess of your house. The barber who shaved your head when you wanted a little trim.

Not surprisingly (but unfortunately), there are just as many examples of this in our private lives. We all have the flaky friend, sometimes more than one: The friend who never calls back, who’s always late to the movie, who always forgets our birthday. (Why are you friends with this person? Cut ‘em loose!)  Make sure you aren’t that flaky friend. If you are—and shame on you if you are—you are probably also a flaky business associate. And it’s probably costing you!             

Today’s challenge:
Make a credibility checklist for companies you have to deal with both professionally and personally. Examine what these companies have done wrong and what they have done right.

Determine whether or not you are the flaky friend!  Keep track of who you owe calls to, favors, how many people you’ve rescheduled on simply because you didn’t feel like seeing them, how many times you promised you would do something by a certain date and then missed the date, etcetera.

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