The world of business can often times can be a tricky place to maneuver. Whether you are climbing the corporate ladder or starting your own business both come with a laundry list of challenges and hurdles you’ll meet along the way.
Let’s imagine you’re thinking of starting your own business in the near future. With all the help out there in the world to get you up and running it’s easier now than ever to start a business. Starting a business and actually being successful at it are two different things. No one ever said,
“I’m starting this business to be average.” In my experience most people start a business to follow a dream or a passion which helps them accomplish their goals and not someone else’s, with the hope that financial freedom comes down the road. While this may be the story of the American dream, there’s an alarming statistic to entrepreneurship which can let the wind out of anyone’s sails…
80% of businesses fail within the first five years!
With potential defeat looming on the horizon of that magnitude it’s incredible that anyone goes into business for themselves in the first place.
However there are those who seem to be able to find success no matter what they do. They’ve got the gift, the Midas Touch. It doesn’t matter if they’re chasing that next big promotion, running a large enterprise or starting a business, everyone around them knows they’ll be successful.
So how do these mythical wonders of professional amazement do it?
They create an experience that is memorable for both clients and internal employees.
This my friends is the secret to wild success in the world of business!
When you create an ‘experience’ which is larger than you and the product/ service you offer people around you almost forget what it is you do. The reality is the people who are successful know this firsthand. It’s not about what your service or product is necessarily, it’s about how people feel about it. This is true for both consumers (the people who purchase or use the product/ service) as well as the internal employees within the company.
Let’s examine how an ‘experience’ impacts both groups: consumers and employees.
For the most part consumers now a days are smart cookies. They spend more time than ever before researching companies and collecting information on products and services. They seek information through consumer reports, social media, the news, industry events, graffiti in bathroom stalls, etc. All of these avenues provide information and perspective to consumers on whether or not the decision to purchase said service or product is right for them.
There’s one avenue though that’s not included in the list above which has a far bigger impact than all of them combined:
The power of word of mouth.
Companies like Amazon, Lexus, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, Disney and Apple (much to my chagrin as I’m a PC user till the death), to name a few, have all managed to figure out a way to give the consumer an experience which dives deeper than just the product or service offered. Simon Sinek refers to this as their WHY.
As a result, consumers promote these companies online via blogs and other feedback mediums, to their friends and family or shout it from the mountain tops. The consumers turn into the best-selling mechanisms these companies have, providing far more value than any internal sales person ever could.
Lexus is a great example of this. Not only does Lexus make incredibly well built, safe vehicles with standards at the top of the industry, they also provide a level of service that is almost unmatched in my experience. Their dealerships go above and beyond to ensure the experience you have with them is nothing short of spectacular by offering free car washes, standard service checks for free, shuttle and loaner car services, technology experts onsite and the list goes on. Frankly, I’ve been so impressed with Lexus over the years that I’m happy to pay more for their vehicles because I know the value I’m getting from both the car and the company is worth it. They leave me wanting more. (don’t tell my wife this because I like to keep up a front of being financial frugal)
The flip side is if you compare the experience you get with Lexus versus the experience you get with Jeep Dodge Chrysler. I happen to be a Jeep owner and while I love my SUV I always find myself disappointed when I have to deal with the company or their dealerships. Simple things like offering loaner car services while your vehicle is being worked on, which is standard for Lexus and many other companies, is a service that is overlooked and not offered with Jeep. Their nickel and dime approach that often leaves me with a less than favorable taste in my mouth with Jeep may just cause me not to be a repeat customer in the future regardless of how much I love my SUV.
The last big difference is that when I walk into a Jeep dealership I feel like the life has been sucked out of the employees. They seem overworked and undervalued. At Lexus it feels like the employees just got done bathing in gold coins as they are happy as clams, cheerful and smiling. From my experience with both these companies my take away has been that Lexus has developed an 'experience' which goes beyond the act of selling cars while Jeep is still trying to figure out how to compete in an increasingly changing and fast pace industry.
Let’s move on and examine how an ‘experience’ impacts the other group.
For starters, job tenure for all generations in the workplace is in decline. (Baby Boomers @ 7 years, Gen-X @ 5 years and Millennials @ 2 years) What this means is that more and more people are leaving their jobs on a consistent basis, often times because they have found greener pastures elsewhere. However, there are many companies which buck this trend as their job tenure far exceeds the industry average, for example Eastman Kodak, United Airlines, General Motors and Disney. Each of these companies has average job tenure for their employees of more than 10 years. This information tells us something – either the people who work for these companies are chained to their desk (unlikely but interesting to think about) or the employees have bought into an experience which keeps them coming back for more.
How do these companies do it?
They know firsthand that the most important part of their business is not their product/ service, it’s not their vision or mission statement, it’s not even their customers. (even though they many pretend it is) The most important part of a company is the PEOPLE who are responsible for running it at all levels of the organization – entry level to senior management.
While the term ‘experience’ can mean a lot of different things what it really boils down to is an appreciation for the employees that goes beyond ice cream Friday’s once a month during the summer.
These companies give their employees autonomy to do their jobs, allow for open communication, feedback, challenge their people to be great without running them into the ground like workhorses AND create an environment where people can learn and feel appreciated for the work being performed. Companies like Disney, who made both of our lists, have focused on providing the best experience possible and as a result they have people dying to get in, rather than hoping they die so they can leave.
When people feel good about where they work and what that company is all about you don’t have to tell them to do great things, they do it on their own, willingly.
If you are in a leadership position within a company or are starting a new venture remember these words – you may find success by doing the basics and that may work for a time. However if you want to really knock the socks off of people and build something that is sustainable for your lifetime and the next spend your time focusing on the experience you offer to your consumers and employees.
Our ability to marry our passions with an experience that leaves people wanting more is the true determination for obtaining wild success in business.
Let’s face it, customers (or clients) are what keep us in business. Without the customer there would be no business, no management, no worker bee, no complimentary coffee that tastes like gym socks in the office kitchen and certainly no revenue.
Customers at the end of the day are the end all be all. Without a willing customer to buy your product or service you will simply cease to exist. The customer and the business are not mutually exclusive, they rely on one another to exist, yet the reality is that often times the one who holds the most influence in the relationship is the customer.
Influence, or power for that matter, has a strange way of changing how people act at times, creating monsters out of women and men.
When customers become tough to deal with many times what we see on the outside isn’t the full picture, to get to the bottom of it we need to dive deeper into the issue to truly understand that persons irritation or frustrations.
Which reminds me of an old story from another lifetime back when I was in high school. I was a server at a small pizza restaurant in the town I grew up in. I loved the job because I got to eat pizza all day long and interact with some really cool people, our customers. Let’s call it like it is, everyone’s happy when they’re getting pizza, so needless to say I really loved this job.
One day a customer came in to pick up a pizza to-go. I had served this customer many times before and what happened that day was the same as every other time we would interacted with this gentleman. He came in and immediately started frothing at the mouth about how his last purchase with our restaurant was awful as he yelled about how it was never on time and ‘the pizza sauce sucked’. "There are never enough pepperoni's on the pizza", he would say. In typical fashion he would then ask to speak with the manager and demand a discount, which most of the time we gave him. It was like groundhogs day, same thing every time with little deviation. I always laughed to myself because he just kept coming back for more like some evil self-inflicted punishment.
I remember thinking to myself, "If our service and food was really that bad, why did he keep coming back?"
One day our manager finally had enough and confronted the man. I’d love to say it was me but I was a pimply faced 16 year old and certainly not gutsy enough to speak back to a customer and risk losing my pizza privileges, or job for that matter. The restaurant manager interrupted the man’s banter, took him a side and asked, “Sir, why do you continue to give us your business if you dislike our food so much. You seem awfully upset and often treat my employees rather poor. Is everything okay?”
As I ease dropped in on the conversation I was shocked at the response from the customer.
“I’m sorry Tim. (our manager’s name) I was fired from my job a couple months ago, as a result I lost my house so I’m living out of my car and pizza is the cheapest, easiest thing for me to eat. Please let your staff know how much I appreciate them as they are always nice to me, even though I’m not a very pleasant person myself.”
My mouth dropped to the floor. None of us knew why this person was always such an irritable grump, we just knew that when he came in the door he was always angry and seemed to enjoy taking it out on the servers.
Our manager decided to give him the pizza he ordered for free and invited him back the following day so that the man could watch our team go through the process of making pizzas. The manager wanted him to see that the food was good quality and we cared about our customers. He also threw in a free lunch for the guy, more than I would of done, certainly.
Best part of the story was after the customers ‘field trip’ to our restaurant ended that following day our manager offered him a job delivering pizzas so he could earn some money until he was able to get back on his feet.
I learned an incredibly valuable lesson that day which taught me to take the time to confront tough situations rather than let those situations own me in the process. As a result I’m a firm believer that you attract more bees with honey than you do with sledgehammers.
Once we understand what is driving a customer to act in a certain way we can then respond with a solution that hopefully changes the course of the relationship moving forward.
These 5 steps are a great way to get to the bottom of your customers frustrations so you can then start focusing on turning around the relationship:
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” - Wayne Dyer
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.