Tuesday, October 1, 2013

That Tissue Issue: 5 Lessons for Businesses

Toilet paper was one of the most topical issues across Jamaica last week, dominating the news, talk shows and discussion programmes across Jamaica, for all the wrong reasons.  The sanitation and safety of this intimate product came into sharp focus after a gynecologist raised concerns that a particular brand of toilet paper was causing infections among her patients. The firestorm of controversy, widespread concern and public outcry that resulted from the handling of issue by the authorities and stakeholders involved should be a wake-up call for many businesses that inferior quality products and/ or a poorly handled product recall can kill your brand and destroy your business.
Here are some key lessons small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) should take away from the toilet paper saga to avoid similar messes in the future:
1.    Having well established industry standards benefits your business
If the industry in which you operate has no standards, guidelines or regulation it is cause for concern not celebration. Lax industries are vulnerable to rogue companies, organizations and individuals who may exploit the lack of regulation for maximum profit, having little regard for good business practices and maintaining proper standards.  SMEs should be proactive in alerting the authorities to the need for regulation and work closely with them to create acceptable standards that will safeguard the public, build confidence in the industry and its players, and ensure its sustainability.
2.    You must ensure your product is safe
Product safety is paramount. Whether you are the manufacturer or distributor of a product you must ensure that the final product is safe, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.   Manufacturers should implement international safety standards, practices and procedures.  HACCP and ISO are among the most notable international certifications. HACCP is a preventative approach to managing food safety. It means hazard analysis critical control point - a system of procedures to control the process and sensitive points in the manufacturing process to ensure the safety of the finished product. Although it began as a food safety approach its use has expanded to non-food items including cosmetic, pharmaceutical and industrial products. ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification provides an assurance that the product, service or system in question meets specific requirements.
Distributors, although not the makers of the product, have a responsibility to ensure their safety. Oftentimes distributors are focused mainly on the logistics of getting the products from the supplier to the trade and the margins they need to make from the product to be profitable. Equal attention must be paid to the standards followed by the manufacturer of the products they sell.

3.    Regularly test your products for quality
Manufacturers and distributors should invest in random testing of their products rather than relying solely on testing from the regulators.  This would place companies in a better position to identify and manage quality or safety breaches before they explode into a public health issue and public relations nightmare. It is important to use accredited laboratories whose results can withstand scrutiny.
4.    You need a product recall strategy
No manufacturing plant can claim perfection. Despite a company’s best efforts accidents, omissions, and errors can occur that can compromise safety. It is for this reason that every producer and distributor of goods should create and implement a product recall strategy to manage situations where the safety of their products has been compromised. It is usually a requirement of ISO. A product recall is a request by an entity for the public to return a batch or series of products due to safety concerns. A good product recall strategy will reduce the likelihood of injury to the consumer, protect the company’s reputation, and limit its exposure to legal action arising from negligence. The strategy should involve the preparation of a manual that details the activities involved in assessing the extent of the safety breach, estimating the amount of ‘bad’ product in circulation, withdrawing the product from retail, regulatory and public advisories, damage control /crisis communications, among others.  It is better for a company to issue a voluntary recall of their products than for the regulatory authorities to do so.
5.    You should be proactive and practice risk management
Effective risk management is proactive method for companies to identify and manage potential hazards before they become loss events. Risk management is widely used by banks, financial institutions and insurance companies, however most businesses including manufacturers can benefit from this discipline. Risk management is a systematic approach to identifying, evaluating, managing and reviewing risks and uncertainties that could negatively impact the operations of your business. A significant advantage of risk management is that it forces companies to closely examine the internal and external environment and create a plan for risks that could impair business operations or obstruct growth.

 Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in entrepreneurship & workforce innovation. Email: yaneek.page@gmail.com, Twitter: @yaneekpage , Website: www.theinnovatorsbootcamp.com

Friday, September 20, 2013

Medical Emergency! Jamaica Needs Patient Care Advocacy Now

"Only one rule in medical ethics need concern you - that action on your part which best conserves the interests of your patient."  ~Martin H. Fischer

 Recently I ran into a former university colleague who is now married to a medical doctor. I congratulated him on his impressive professional accomplishments in the financial sector. He in turn congratulated me on the achievements and success of our company in educating and empowering persons to access the justice system. In the same breath he remarked that I was creating enemies in the medical field, especially among some doctors. I paused for a while, disappointed but not surprised. Then I gave him a calm but firm response "Ethical medical practitioners who are faithful to their oath would embrace patient education & empowerment, not scorn it."

Patient advocacy is concerned with supporting and promoting the rights of the patient in the health care arena, improving access to and equity in the delivery of health care, and to generally enhance health policy initiatives that promote quality, safety and availability.

There is no question that Jamaicans would benefit immensely from strident patient advocates, particularly those who take a proactive approach to identifying & bringing to public attention weaknesses and lapses in the health system which may compromise health care delivery. Weaknesses such as insufficient medicine, inadequate doctors on call, limited machinery, outdated testing equipment, unacceptable waiting periods for treatment and care, among others. In fact, many of our loved ones could be saved, live longer lives and avoid undue pain and suffering if every patient knew their rights and if they had powerful advocates to intervene on their behalf before its too late.

While we don't fit the definition of  patient advocates, Future Services International has been providing financial and litigant support for victims of medical negligence since we first opened in 2008. We've seen some of the worst cases you could ever imagine. Unfortunately, many of the victims paid the ultimate price, and now it is their grieving loved ones who are left pursuing negligence and wrongful death cases. For years there were many persons who we just could not help, because they were unable to find doctors willing to write a report implicating a colleague. For years, lawyers have lamented the pervasive culture of silence among doctors when allegations of medical negligence surface. Without expert medical opinion that the accused practitioner breached the standard of care, a case for medical negligence is practically dead. There are some exceptions, for example obvious cases such as incorrect lab tests, or foreign items left in patients after surgery such as syringes, scissors or gauze, which show up in post surgery x-rays.   

Desperate to find a cure for these injustices we engaged a leading Canadian health care risk management company to help us identify doctors who can provide expert opinions for Jamaican victims. So far the partnership has been very successful. We are especially grateful for the kindness of the experts in reducing their fees by 50% or more in order to assist Jamaicans who can't afford the standard fees. Victims of medical negligence have been able to receive independent expert medical reports which they can use as evidence in their cases against accused doctors. This is a promising start to what we hope will be the end of widespread incidents of medical negligence, which will be reduced once we hold persons accountable for breaching the acceptable standard of health care.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Innovative Ideas for A Struggling New Business

Business Wise with Yaneek Page

QUESTION: I'm a hairstylist who lived in the US for many years and returned to Jamaica in 2012 to open my own salon. Unfortunately, things have not been good. I don't have enough customers to break even and I'm frustrated. My location in Kingston is good, but parking is limited. I have printed business cards, flyers, and did BB broadcasts. The response - not good. How can I get more customers?
- C., Kingston
BUSINESSWISE: Don't be disheartened. You are in a field that has good potential in terms of scalability, sustainability, and profitability, but to move forward you need to develop a strategic plan and start executing.
The plan will outline your vision and medium-term goals, and exactly how you will achieve those goals.
It forces you to answer questions such as: Where do I want to be? Where am I now? What do I need to do to realistically bridge the gap? What is my unique selling proposition (USP)? How can I navigate the economic environment and other external challenges?
Before you delve into the strategic planning process, you must ensure you are operating lawfully. You first need a licence from the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation.
To apply, you will need a health certificate, proof of training/certification, certified photos and to pay fees of J$3,000 per year.
The requirements are slightly different if you are operating a salon. You can find detailed information at www.ksacorp.gov.jm.
Another statutory obligation is registering your business/salon name at the Companies Office of Jamaica. This opens the way for lawful advertising and allows you to protect your business name which is critical to your strategic plan.
You can register as a sole trader, which is a fairly simple process that can be completed in a few days. Learn how atwww.orcjamaica.com/services/bus_registration.asp.
Now back to strategic planning. You will need to carve out a niche in order to create a competitive edge because the hairdressing business has low barriers to entry and there are many players offering the same services.
You could, for example, offer a green salon, and treat your customers to all natural, non-toxic, chemical-free hair-care services. Or you could be known as the place to go for styling, managing, and restoring damaged hair - a problem which is prevalent in Jamaica because of widespread abuse of chemical treatments and overuse of weaves.
Another possibility is to focus exclusively on pricing, for example, charging a flat fee of J$1,500 for any service. Offering extended opening hours - early mornings, late evenings, and even public holidays like Independence Day, Heroes Day, and New Year's Day could be another option.
These are just ideas to get you thinking. The key themes are innovation, differentiation, and a strong value proposition. Their importance cannot be overemphasised.
Pay close attention to pleasing your customers and creating an enjoyable experience from start to finish.
You mentioned that your location is central but the parking is limited. Depending on your target market, that could kill your business. If you are targeting professional women who drive, adequate and secure parking is essential as they want convenience and comfort, not stress, when they visit your salon.
Aesthetics, cleanliness and service outcomes, that is, whether customers love their hairstyles, are important in expanding your customer base.
Every detail counts, including proper restroom facilities, cool salon temperature, great design/layout, fast and friendly service, etc.
Remember, in business you only get one chance to make a first impression, so everyday matters.
You will note that I've placed great emphasis on your service. That's because it makes no sense for you to spend money promoting bad service. In fact, no amount of advertising and public relations can mask inferior products or services in this age of social media and growing consumer power.
Once you have properly addressed the above, the crux of your strategic plan will be advertising and promotions.
Unfortunately, I can't say what strategies will be most effective because I don't know your niche, USP, budget or target market. Flyers are my least favourite advertising method because they can be expensive, may not reach the right people, are environmentally unfriendly and relatively ineffective.
I do, however, recommend that you incorporate social media in your marketing efforts, especially Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which are growing in popularity in Jamaica.
Get professional help for maximum benefit. Try to create a good online portfolio of your work, with quality pictures which can be shared with existing and potential customers.
Also, consider doing video logs on hair-care methods or techniques, new hairstyles, hair-care product reviews, and more.
One love!
Yaneek Page is a trainer in entrepreneurship and workforce innovation. Email yaneek.page@gmail.com. Twitter: @yaneekpage; website: www.theinnovatorsbootcamp.com.

As published in The Sunday Gleaner, July 28, 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013

Complaints From Customers Are Gifts to Companies

I recently visited a food establishment and while making a purchase at the cashier burned my hand on a heated keg near the cash register.  The burn was mild but I was in complete shock that any company would keep such a hazardous piece of equipment in the way of customers. Even more shocking however, was the insensitive response of the cashier -  "sorry about that, but there's a sign you know? It's right there", she said, pointing to the sign "HOT....." which was taped onto the keg, at waist level, which explains why I didn't see it in the first place.  Because she shrugged off my ensuing lecture on risk management, the duty of care owed to children in particular and the right of consumers to a safe environment, I decided to broadcast my concerns to the company on twitter.
There are two important things that every small business should master -  delivering great customer service and managing customer complaints. In fact for Jamaica especially, one of the most effective ways  for small businesses and start-ups to create a competitive advantage is to offer great customer service consistently.  This is because great customer service is not the standard to which we are accustomed, so companies that offer it provide a refreshing change that their customers will embrace, appreciate and talk about to others.  Such positive word of mouth is essential in brand building and boosting sales as evidenced in a recent Neilson study which outlined that 90% of online consumers worldwide trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust consumer opinions posted online.
There's also substantial evidence that great customer service can increase a company's bottom line in a recession. Even in a negative economy, customer experience is a high priority for consumers, with 60% of persons choosing to pay more for a better experience, that's according to the Customer Experience Impact Report 2011 produced by Harris Interactive, a respected US based research company. The same report noted that 86% of US consumers stop doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, up from 59% in 2007.
When delivered effectively, excellent customer service should  come across as seamless and genuine.  However it takes proper planning, commitment and dedicated resources to be able to deliver such service. Here are some key ingredients for great customer service that small businesses and start-ups can note:
1.    Establish the right company values which clearly put customers first
2.    Define, understand and create  a service excellence culture which requires leading by example
3.    Ensure you have the appropriate infrastructure to deliver exceptional customer experience, including the right physical layout and optimal process flow
4.    Hire the right people
5.    Continuous  training & development, and good compensation of staff
6.    Documented policies, processes & procedures
7.    Consistent monitoring, measuring and evaluation of your service

Welcoming, capturing and properly analyzing customer feedback is necessary at all steps of customer engagement. Possibly the most important feedback you'll ever receive is when you've just started a business or just launched a new product or service. It is at this time, when you've not completely worked out the kinks that you should try to capture as much feedback from your customers as possible and use it to help improve your services and operations.
Treating  complaints as gifts
Effectively managing complaints is one of the most essential components of the customer service process. I would hope that by now the company I mentioned earlier has realized that my complaint was a big gift. First I alerted them to a problem they probably did not know existed, giving them an opportunity to fix it before another customer is injured and potentially preventing financial loss to the company from legal action for negligence. Second, I gave them the opportunity to apologize, win me over and keep me as a customer.  Most unhappy customers do not complain, but rather stop doing business with the company and warn off family and friends. With the advent of social media angry customers have the ability to reach hundreds if not thousands of people with the click of a button. Small businesses should therefore avoid the trap that many companies in Jamaica have fallen into in viewing and treating complaints as negative. It's important to note that it will cost a company 5 times as much to attract a new customer as it will to keep an existing one. I was pleasantly surprised at the quick response of the company to my tweet. They appeared genuinely apologetic, and also said they would see if the keg that burned me could be moved to avoid such incidents in the future. However, a company with a more robust customer experience policy would have probably offered something tangible, such as a gift certificate or discount on future purchase.

As published in The Sunday Gleaner dated July 14, 2013. 

One love! 
Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in entrepreneurship & workforce innovation. Email: yaneek.page@gmail.com, Twitter: @yaneekpage , Website: www.theinnovatorsbootcamp.com