Arment Dietrich

Laser Focus to Improve Customer Experience

By: Arment Dietrich | January 11, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Lisa Gerber.

I had an interesting conversation at a holiday cocktail party with the COO of a ski resort. He was sharing with me a complaint he had received about the quality of grooming on the cross-country trails. It was bothering him and he was trying to decide how to respond.

The problem, he explained, is people have high expectations for the cross-country trails but the profit margin is so small it’s not a priority for them. When the weather is challenging (that’s ski resort speak for “when it rains”) grooming requires more resources so everything is shifted to get the alpine trails groomed, and cross country trails suffer from it.

So what do you do? Offer him a refund? Apologize and explain about the weather challenges? Tell him he isn’t an important customer and the focus on grooming last night was on the more profitable alpine skier?

That last comment wasn’t really part of our discussion, but it crossed my mind later as I thought about it more.

My advice? Get out of the business if you can’t service it well and provide an exceptional experience. If you aren’t able to support each segment in your company with the resources required, then you shouldn’t be in the business.

Let someone else operate it or eliminate it from your product offering.

In the age of the long tail, we talk a lot about focus. We fire clients who aren’t profitable, and are a drag on our time and resources. We narrow our target markets so we can be experts in one thing. The same should go for product lines. Spin off products and services in which you are not passionate, don’t have the expertise, or aren’t as profitable.

You can’t exactly eliminate cross-country ski trails at a ski resort, so why not lease it out to someone with lower overhead, someone with the expertise and passion for the business?

Let’s stick with the ski industry theme here: Why do you think the food is usually so lame in ski lodges? Because it’s not their core business. It’s a needed service, but not a focus. So visitors suffer hockey puck-like cheeseburgers and cold fries for lunch, or they brown bag it (zero revenue for the ski resort now). Customers cope with it because the skiing sure is awesome, isn’t it?

What if they did something like Panorama Mountain in British Columbia does and lease the little mountaintop lodge to a couple passionate about running it?

The husband is a chef, and the wife is the happiest woman alive, and it shows because she’s working the room of happy skiers, on top of a ski mountain with views in every direction. She has ownership in the restaurant, the food cost isn’t the end all, be all, and it means everything to her that you have a memorable time.

I was there a few years ago and it increased my customer experience tenfold. You know why? Because the skiing sucked that day. But I remember it as a great one because I had fun with my friends eating fondue and drinking German beer at the summit. That’s a win for Panorama.

Where is the drag on your profits, time, and effort? What is the cross-country ski segment of your business model?

  • Great insight, Lisa. I think a lot of companies have this same problem, especially in the service sector. We offer a wide variety of products or services because it’s what people want. But by doing so, are we able to offer all of them at a high level of quality?

    I think we do this out of fear. “Well, my competitor is offering such and such, so if I don’t, my clients will leave me.” But in the long run, we suffer, and then our clients suffer.

    • @KenMueller and when a big client comes in and wants a website re-dev, and you don’t do that, you want to say yes and figure it out because well, it’s a BIG CLIENT. Get it done and figure it out. Always live to regret it.

      • @Lisa Gerber Definitely. That’s why I’m very specific on my website about what I offer and what I don’t offer. I think the Jack of All trades won’t work well in my field. I’d much rather be really good at what I do, and direct clients to others who are really good in other fields. I think this is why so many traditional agencies suck at the social media thing. It’s an add-on for them.

  • It’s a good thing there is no competition in the commercial insurance industry, we can just roll out whatever we want and have people show up at the door.

    Back in the day (and that was a few days ago), I sold everything from A-Z; we tried to be all things to everybody. We would take every single cat and dog that walked through the door. The numbers looked good but the revenue per employee bit the big wienie.

    We decided to concentrate on only the lines we do really well and try really hard not to deviate from that. Once we get out of that arena, we don’t look so good. It was the best thing we ever did.

    The 80/20 rule is certainly in effect w/ me as 20% of my customer base drives 80% of my revenue. Subsequently, I try to ‘hand-off’ the bottom 10% each year so it doesn’t distract me from my to 20% and allows room for new growth.

    Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The more you can work to your strengths the better (and more profitable) you will be.

    • @bdorman264 Haha! and well said. The classic argument is fear of leaving money on the table when you do that. But the idea of leaving room for more growth is pretty darn compelling.

  • ifdyperez

    Agree. You shouldn’t get into the biz if you’re going to half-ass it. It’s better to wait till you have more resources/expertise/etc. to do a good job.

    • @ifdyperez OH DARNIT DARNIT. I meant to write about about half-assing it vs whole-assing it. I have a friend who uses it in her company values. They only whole-ass everything. That would have made a far better headline. Whole assing it vs Half Assing it


      • ifdyperez

        @Lisa Gerber I think that’s fodder for another post! And will be fun to create headlines for… “Baby Got Back: Are You Whole-Assing or Half-Assing?” lol

        • @ifdyperez and then an eBook!! aw ,man, I can’t believe I forgot about that little revelation. I must have had it on a dogwalk or something. and you know what happens when you don’t write stuff down…. sigh.

        • ifdyperez

          @Lisa Gerber Totally. :

    • @ifdyperez Yes or like you said @Lisa Gerber just don’t offer the particular service until you can do so and do so well. Putting too much on your plate means everything suffers, even the things you actually are passionate about. If you can bite the bullet and say for example as a business owner…get a personal assistant when it gets to the point where you need one (cough cough @ginidietrich ). Sure it’s extra money etc but this way you’re enabling yourself to concentrate on other things that deserve your attention in order for your business to succeed. If done/planned out right, this should then help the business as a whole and hopefully increase your revenue and productivity.

      • @rachaelseda@ifdyperez@Lisa Gerber@ginidietrich Such a great point, Rachael – in fact, my husband just did that. He is so busy, it’s just not sustainable. He’s spending time on the wrong things – things that won’t grow his business. So hired an assistant. Costs more, but now he can concentrate not only on what he loves, but on the important growth aspects.

      • ginidietrich

        @rachaelseda Why are you cough, coughing at me? I have a work wife. My big goal this year is focus. I know where my strengths lie.

        • @ginidietrich Haha my cough cough was more like…aka what lil Gin decided to do! I know you have a work wife ;). Hmm…but focus on what is the question?! hehe

        • @ginidietrich And don’t worry I don’t have too many cough germs!

  • RichHohne

    Nice post, Lisa. I was also in the ski industry and the impetus is to be like Disney…anticipate every need and fulfill it. Yet, even Disney doesn’t fulfill everything. They just have a larger scope than most. Each experiment they do fulfill, is done to their brand expectations. So if the expectations is to be a provider of “things to do”, let the trails suffer. If your expectation is to be the best, find another alternative. Less can be more for the long tail.

    • @RichHohne OMG! Rich!!??!!! from Moonlight? Helloooo? it’s me. From Sandpoint. So fun to “bump” into you here!! LOL

      • RichHohne

        @Lisa Gerber@RichHohne I thought I would see if you remembered me…of course I remember you from Sandpoint days. Always great to bump into you as well. Great post and look forward to catching up more!

  • lisagerber

    @morganbarnhart Awesome! 🙂 Where you going?

  • Patrick_Rolfe

    @ginidietrich @lisagerber thanks for the great article and sharing it.

  • Lisa,

    A great point! As you point out later in the piece, it’s more complicated for businesses with capital investments and physical plant to simply cut out a low performing portion — easier for pure service providers. I think the leasing (or perhaps even subcontracting) idea is a great approach in this situation — allows the resort to focus on their profitable part and hopefully establish a great customer experience where they were not before.

    Good stuff!

    • @adamtoporek Exactly! however it is structured…subcontracting/leasing… to someone where it isn’t an underperforming line item on a spreadsheet. Its The Item. So they put everything into it.

  • There are distinct benefits to being able to out service the competition. People are willing to pay more for good service and are more likely to provide referrals for your business.

  • There is NO excuse for mediocrity. As soon as you start making the little compromises you send a very loud and clear signal to your staff. Excellence always.

    Fantastic post.

  • MSchechter

    Moral of the story: Lisa gets to go skiing too much… Aligning your customers with the realities of your business is essential. While no business will be perfect, they should at least be working at something they strive to be perfect at. It’s tempting to try and block the competition or just continue to amass scale, but that approach rarely delights anyone (except for those looking for nothing more than the lowest price, we can’t forget that those customers actually exist).

    • ginidietrich

      @MSchechter That was the same moral I came to on this blog post.

      • @ginidietrich@MSchechter IF I can’t be out skiing, at least I should be inside writing about it. And yes, when I was on staff at this resort, the VP once asked my boss if he thought I was skiing too much.

        He said, “No way.” for the record.

        But the moral of the story is: You can never ski too much.

  • This is a great story Lisa and also why the US government is screwing up with the national parks. I say that to give perspective. Focus on your core competency and give best service. But don’t outsource just to outsource. If it is just to make money or save money and the contractor is not passionate about what they do… is doubly bad. It will reflect on your business.

    The US has eliminated park rangers and hired companies to haul trash and clean the parks and they hire people at lower wages who do not care about the park just the wages. Same is for many contractors in war. I think of the Army Corp of Engineers if they were hired to fix a power plant you can be sure it will stay fixed because they take pride and surely don’t want to have to do it again. But Halliburton? Blow it up insurgents because then I can rebuild it and charge the US for it increasing my sales forecast. Always make sure your goals and your contractors goals are in unison.

    • @HowieSPM Fore shore. Defeats the purpose if you just sub-contract it out for less or to someone who isn’t a right fit – Halliburton is a perfect example of that…

  • fransteps

    @shonali Gr8 post on @spinsucks! Read it this a.m. myself!

  • JoaquinJMR

    @jennimacdonald hi i follow ya cus i saw in ur bio you ae a Graphic Designer and i would like to share ideas and design

  • lisagerber

    @vivisimo_inc Thanks – it was really just an excuse to talk about skiing. 🙂

  • lisagerber

    @john_trader1 by the way, how can you think you aren’t photogenic? You totally are!

    • John_Trader1

      @lisagerber You know how we are our own worst critics? I am the poster boy.

      • lisagerber

        @john_trader1 We are def our worst critics. Agreed.

  • lisagerber

    @jennimacdonald @shonali well there were two very nice tweets to see in my stream this morning. Thanks you guys. 🙂

  • John_Trader1

    @erinmfeldman @lisagerber We can call it — “IAMOWC” and slogan is – “No one is as hard on me as me.”

  • lisagerber

    @erinmfeldman @John_Trader1 How about WCA and shorten it down a bit. Don’t mean to be your worst critic…but that’s a big acronym.

  • John_Trader1

    @erinmfeldman Actually I think the slogan is ok, its the acronym that needed truncating according to @lisagerber aka Smarty McPants

    • lisagerber

      @john_trader1 @ErinMFeldman John is correct….aka the chief critic. (of others) LOL.

  • BrankicaU

    @kmueller62 why not sniper instead of laser ? @ginidietrich 😉

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