Q: My green e-commerce company is half-way through its second year and so far business has been encouraging, as ethically sourced goods continue to increase in popularity. Last Christmas we received far more orders than we had projected and – though we managed to fulfil them – our team of two were significantly overstretched and there were a few anomalies, which were costly to resolve. With this year’s festive period fast approaching I want to ensure that we are better prepared for this and other busy periods. How can I balance quantity with quality?
Jake Allen answers:
I can see from your question that you are keen to prepare in advance of your busy periods and this, I would say, is crucial. You must distinguish between fire fighting and future planning. Take time out to work out what your problems are and how to resolve them. If you have a bustling business it is important to take some time away from your business premises to think these things through without the interruptions of daily matters. We have always met once a month with a mentor away from the business and this provides a forum for my business partner and I to bring up issues the company is facing. Your mentor should have experience in business and can therefore put your problems into perspective and offer you the tools to solve them. You may already know most of the answers yourself; you just need someone to draw them out of you. There are services out there to provide mentors if you can’t appoint someone yourself (such as www.mentorsme.co.uk).
Personally I would maintain there is not a trade-off between quantity and quality. You need to determine what your customer’s expectations are and what you are promising them – and then meet or surpass those expectations. I have a mantra ‘promise only what you can deliver and then deliver more than you promise’. If you are consistently letting down customers then you need to see if you have an inherent problem. For example, if you are having trouble with lead times you could look at your systems to see if any time saving can be achieved, but likewise you could extend the lead times you promise to your customers. It is much better to be generous with the lead times and deliver early than keep to tight lead times that will sometimes not be met.
You must also realise that you will have occasional slip ups and unforeseen circumstances that will lead to one or two customers being disappointed. Evaluate these situations – after you have satisfied the customer of course – and make sure the problem was a one-off. It is very important to accept these types of problems will always occur and not become frustrated by them. Whatever you do, remember that often only the upset customers are likely to appear on your radar, take time to think of all the customers who happily bought your product and never came to your attention at all.
Jake Allen is the co-founder of
King & Allen
, a bespoke tailoring company that provides affordable suits nationwide. He was named as one of Growing Business’ Young Guns in 2010/11.