Apex Computing Services, an IT Support company based in Manchester, UK
'Apex' asked Innovation Company to see how it could help their business with innovation consultancy and business growth. Apex had grown very well through stewardship of the two directors for around 15 years. The company had grown to ~20 employees. The two directors were concerned that because they had started the business almost from school, they had no prior experience of running a business and thought they may be doing some things incorrectly.
The truth, in fact, was that they ran their company so much better than so-called 'business professionals' that I know. However, there were of course areas in which we could help.
After initial meetings and thought-provoking discussions between both parties, it was discovered that existing clients should be focussed on more, as the company had grown to over 200 clients. Many of those clients were still wanting/expecting a close relationship with the two directors because of the great personal service that they had given as the company had grown.
Of course, as owners, maintaining a close, personal relationship with so many clients is not possible. Even attempting to do this could hamper the future success (and growth) of any business as it leaves little time to grow the business, to innovate, and to enjoy the successes of growing a business.
So, how could Apex offer similar levels of personal service as they did during their growth?
Having seen similar situations before - where companies had grown and the owners needed to spend less time with clients to help the business to develop - we set about studying the team that had been built to service clients. Were these people giving the same levels of service?
We began by observing the team of ~10 IT support staff that answered incoming client queries and remotely fixed/travelled to repair any issues. The manager of the department was a diligent technical support person that had recently been promoted from within. He had excellent technical knowledge but very little management experience.
We noticed early on that support levels were inconsistent as some support staff were better in certain types of scenarios than others. As with technical staff the world over, some staff were answering the 'actual' technical part of queries correctly, without understanding the deeper reasons for a call, or the commercial impact that looking at queries in a different way could give.
For a business owner, knowing that customers are being dealt with in the same (great) way each and every time, whether they are present or not, is the holy grail. And for this to start to happen, we applied the following:
Mentored the Support Manager
It was clear that the support manager was great with technical issues, but had not yet found his feet in learning how to manage his team effectively - and indeed taking charge, rather than having the team take charge of him. This is something, of course, that all new managers must go through. Control needed to be taken by the manager so that consistency of how team members supported customers became second nature. To ensure this, we implemented the following things:
Because of the environment, we implemented a system where the manager would write on a whiteboard the 'silliest' question of the day that someone had asked. Within a week, questions dropped by 50%, with this dropping by over 80% after a few weeks. Simple. This sounds whimsical, but the time gained by having to spend much less time answering such questions allowed the manager to much improve his managerial skills, and also impose his control of the team and how it operated. It also ensured that the staff improve themselves and gain more confidence by resolving things themselves.
Whenever a company grows, those that started the company are posed with the problem of wanting to control every aspect, speak with every customer, but also be responsible for growing the business further. Being able to leave others in charge of things they once did is something they find exciting and excruciating at the same time.
By implementing the changes listed above, the new manager of the department was able to take more control of the team, and leave the owners to spend more time on vital responsibilities.
In our role as an innovation consultancy, we live for the results that our changes bring. Some changes are initial, and very visible to the client. However, some changes are immediately visual to us, yet will take a while to manifest in the eyes of a client.
In the case of Apex, there are both immediate, visual, changes, such as the rapid improvement of the management skills of the team manager, and changes that we can see, that will be seen by the company in due course.
In a very short space of time, the manager now has gained much more control of the team, asserting his authority, whilst keeping the team a great place to work. In 'self-organising' by using the Fibonacci sequence, and removing unnecessary questions, he has more time to spend planning for the future, rather than firefighting. Requiring the team to commit to micro-tasks in-between working with clients, he gains further control, and improves several elements of the team and business at the same time.
In terms of changes that may not be so apparent to the client right now, we see that as the manager has taken more control, the directors of the business have been able to spend more time on other aspects of the business. Other not-too-apparent-changes include the level of customer service is forever changed in the business, and will continue to improve as the implemented policies and procedures become the 'norm'.
We'd love to discuss how we can unlock the innovation in your business and work together. Call us on 0161 7060483.
We're an innovationism UK consulting agency guiding SMEs to become innovators.
We help in tactical marketing, business growth strategy, and general innovative tactics.