“The fact is the human race is not only slow about borrowing valuable ideas – it sometimes persists in not borrowing them at all.” ~ Mark Twain
Our 3rd grade teachers continuously told us copying was wrong – but in the business world, failing to copy is also wrong. It’s wrong for you and it’s wrong for your business. Businesses thrive when they innovate and innovation is, more often than not, brought about by borrowing an idea.
Take a business as stoic and static as self storage. After all, when you open the door to a storage space, what’s inside pretty much the same as it would have been forty years ago … or is it? Think about it for a minute, forty years ago when self storage was a fledgling industry, things were pretty basic. For the most part, your options were, some stores had roll-up doors and some had swing doors. Beyond that, there were not really any other options.
Soon, someone had the idea to put up fencing around the property to help keep things more secure. This idea spread and soon most competitors fenced their properties. Later, someone decided having a golf cart on their property would save time and would be more comfortable for customers than walking all over the property and soon this idea spread. Eventually other ideas such as key-pad entry gates, surveillance cameras and climate controlled spaces became the norm rather than the exception. These were all innovative ideas hatched by one person, but copied by many others.
But we should never limit innovation to our own industry. Most of those innovative ideas probably originated in an entirely different industry. For example, many years ago when I was still a store manager, I learned to truly love days when it rained. When a customer pulled up in front of my store during a hard rain, I would spring into action, meeting them at their car with 2 umbrellas, one for me and one for them. I can’t begin to tell you how many storage spaces I rented to those people. They were so impressed with the level of customer service; they made the decision to rent from me before we ever even got into the office. I would love to be able to tell you that was my brainchild at giving world-class customer service. The truth however is, I copied that idea from a tire store. Yes, a tire store.
Many years ago I pulled into a tire store to get a flat repaired in a pouring rain. They met me at my car with an umbrella. This act impressed me so much as a customer, not only did I get my tire repaired, but then guess where I went the next time I needed to actually buy tires? And then guess how many others I referred to that particular tire dealer? Before I moved away, that tire store probably made several thousand dollars in sales because of their act of world-class customer service they gave to me. I wasn’t about to let that lesson slip away.
There are great business and customer service lessons all around us. We know when we see something great – we just need to make whatever it is our own. You don’t have to be the first or the biggest, you only have to be the best. One of the keys to being the best is to keep your eyes, ears and mind open all the time for new ideas. Ideas are free, so cast a wide net and gather them up wherever you can find them. Once you’ve caught a great idea, think about how you can incorporate the idea and do it faster, cheaper or better. What great idea will you witness today that you can make your own?
- The World is a “Customer Service” Stage (montyrainey.wordpress.com)
- Making a difference: In the business of customer service (nwfdailynews.com)
- To explore copying as an innovation strategy, designers look to China (smartplanet.com)