One Friday evening I went to dinner with a dentist from Australia who consulted with England’s rugby union team (helping them on their way to the 2003 World Cup), a major UK holidays firm and countless dentists worldwide.
I wanted to interview him for my award-winning book, “Double Your Business”.
As an independent dentist working with support staff, Dr Paddi Lund was able to gross well over $1M per annum while working about a third of the hours of a typical dentist.
In Paddi’s book, “Building The Happiness Centred Business”, he talks about taking a chainsaw to the reception desk at his dental practice, clearing it out and replacing it instead with a waiting room that resembles a coffee shop.
At the same time, he introduced private waiting rooms for those people who wanted to sit quietly alone without looking at other people waiting for treatment.
As a patient, you would know the nurse who looked after you – she would be your single point of contact for booking appointments, greeting you on arrival and generally looking after your welfare while at Paddi’s practice.
The result was a very strong relationship between his clients and his dental practice.
He introduced many, many small touches that differentiated his business from any other dentist around.
They are difficult to spot unless you are carefully looking for them, yet together they make the whole experience into a fabulously powerful unique selling point that feels so much better than an ordinary dentist.
He called these things his Critical None-Essentials, or CNEs. They are not essential to doing the job, but they’re critical to the customer experience he wants to provide.
One of the special ideas was a big button that his patients can press to make him stop drilling.
He gets them to try it out on their first visit, so they have the confidence that they are in control, not him.
He also installed a TV in the ceiling (way back in the 1980s before anybody else thought of it).
All of this was to support a total focus on making everybody happy – himself, his staff and his clients.
As a result of making everything so friendly, his prices went up. And up again. While this scared off some patients, it provided exactly what his ideal patients loved – a bit of pampering and extra care.
It was the topic of these Critical None-Essentials that got Sir Clive Woodward’s attention.
He wondered if he could harness the same idea to help the England rugby team to perform to a higher level.
According to his book, “Winning”, the 2003 World Cup winners had 127 extra ideas to help them get a little edge on their competition.
Little things like painting the dressing room with the England flags and giving each player an English oak name plaque in the changing room at Twickenham.
None of these 127 ideas alone made the complete difference, but altogether they helped to create a winning mind-set for the players and give them a practical, mental, emotional or skill boost that took them to the top.
The result was a winning run of 42 out of 47 matches from 2000 to 2003’s World Cup final.
This isn’t about rugby, just in case you’re thinking it is.
It’s about getting an edge over your competition.
Which is what winning in business is all about.
At the restaurant with Paddi that Friday evening, he noted that our orders were taken by a waitress who was attentive and friendly.
She took the time to build a relationship with us and we laughed and joked a little, creating a bit of a bond. It was fun.
Of course, she asked how we would like our steak cooked and what side-dishes we would like. As you’d expect.
But when it was delivered by a completely different waiter, the magic was lost.
He had no rapport with us.
He didn’t even know who had ordered which dish.
It was so disappointing, and Paddi immediately brought my attention to this gap in the service.
I didn’t notice it right away, because we’re all so used to mediocre service as the norm.
Poor service, you see, is the average that a lot of businesses deliver.
Yet just a tiny bit of effort can make it so much better.
The same thing happened for coffee. I ordered normal, while Paddi wanted decaffeinated.
She took the order and another guy we’d never seen before delivered it by stumbling through the question of “Who ordered the decaff?”.
It was terribly clumsy.
It was like the business was just going through the motions.
We didn’t feel special at all.
Each time we were served, we both felt just slightly let down, but not so much that we might have thought to mention it.
For a meal that cost around £60 per head, it was not good enough to make you want to go back.
The French restaurant where Paddi and I dined was a nice place, great food and a decent setting. I won’t go back again with other friends.
I am a mainly satisfied customer. But satisfied customers aren’t very loyal – you need delighted customers for that.
If you are in business, you need to be great at customer service.
It should be a real focus for your thoughts, because it’s where the battle for customer loyalty is won or lost.
It is not enough to simply do the same things as your competition, because that will give you no edge at all.
Clive Woodward looked outside rugby to a mad dentist with a chainsaw.
If you want your business to stand head and shoulders above your competitors, a simple place to start is to think outside the box for ways to delight your customers.
A few weeks ago I wrote an email about a client called John Carmichael, who runs Edinburgh central heating firm Superwarm Services.
His business has doubled this year in part because we have applied some lessons learnt from selling consultancy services to selling new boilers. It’s a completely different approach.
His customers love it, and so does he.
I have worked with hundreds of businesses and sometimes we can apply novel ideas from another industry into yours. Ideas that none of your competitors have used.
They become the critical non-essentials – the difference that makes the difference.
If you want to win in business, make your service extraordinary.
It has doubled Superwarm’s sales.
It was worth $1M a year to Paddi Lund.
It helped England to win a Rugby World Cup.
What could it be worth to you?
This post was linked in a tweet by Sir Clive Woodward on 31st December 2012, resulting in over 1,000 visitors to the site in the following 48 hours.
Social media can be unpredictable, but when you get something right, it can be a great source of relevant, free traffic.