Continuous improvement

For years we’ve been taught “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This now needs to be changed to “If it ain’t broke, break it because it will soon be obsolete.” I recently read one person’s estimation that 80 percent of all products and services offered today will be obsolete or significantly changed within the next five years.

We’ve seen this in technology for years. The day you take a new computer out of the box it’s obsolete. Tomorrow a new one will be released that has faster speeds, more memory, or other differences that are an improvement over the one you bought yesterday. You stand in line to buy the latest smartphone only to see a better one released a few months later. Despite your frustration, you find yourself back in line waiting to purchase the new and improved phone.

We can expect this to be the norm for many of the products and services we buy. Someone is always working on a better mousetrap or a better way to serve their customers. You cannot afford to play catch-up. You need to be ahead of the curve. A significant part of your attention must be given to improving the products and/or services you offer or you will soon find your business left in the dust.

The secret to doing this effectively is to focus on making continuous improvement. Don’t wait until you have the next big thing. If you find a way to make a minor improvement on a product or service you offer, make the change.

Many of the auctioneers in our area do not accept credit cards. This may sound like a foolish policy since nearly all businesses today accept credit and debit cards, but many of these auctioneers have been in business for years and have done quite well accepting payment in cash or check. They see no reason to change. Because some of these have been my mentors I followed their example and did not accept credit cards. That all changed earlier this year when I signed up with Square to process credit and debit cards.

This isn’t a big change. Most of our customers still pay with cash or check. But, we’ve had a few begin to pay with their credit cards. I recently sold one item to an individual in Tennessee who called me with a bid on an item he saw listed online. The next day I called to let him know he had won the item and asked if he wanted to pay by check or credit card. If he paid with a check I would not mail the item to him until the check had cleared the bank. If he paid by credit card I could ship him the item the next day. He gladly chose to pay by credit card. An hour later I had his item in the post office, and he received it the next day.

I got my money sooner. He got his item quicker. It was a win-win for both of us. A little simple change allowed me to better serve a client. I am continually looking for more changes I can make in my auction business. I cannot limit myself to what others are doing; I have to find what is going to work best for me. That also serves to separate myself from my competitors. I want to be the auctioneer of choice in this area, and I can’t be that if I’m merely doing what everyone else is doing. Neither can you.

What changes could you make in your organization that would result in a positive return on investment? These changes could be in the products you sell, the services you provide your customers, some policies that dictate the culture of your organization, a new marketing strategy, a new way to distribute your offerings, and the list goes on. The second question is how much time will you invest this week in exploring possible changes you could implement?

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