A week ago, I called 10 different contractors trying to find someone to do a bit of work. Zero answered. I left five voicemails and didn’t receive a single call back.
Recently, my wife and I walked into a restaurant in downtown Denver to get some food. We stood by the host stand for five minutes while waiters walked by and bartenders served drinks. Not a single person said anything so we walked out.
Yesterday, I was on the phone with a utility company trying to set up a new service. They said someone would need to come out to finalize the installation. “Sounds good – how can I set that up?” I asked. They responded that someone would eventually reach out to me. No estimated time frame. No estimated installation date. No contact information I could use to get in touch with the installation team.
In each case, I’m trying to give someone money, but my experience as a customer makes it far less likely that I’m going to do so. I’m definitely not going to recommend them to a friend.
These experiences reinforce a simple idea – the bar for customer experience in business is low.
Have a frontline obsession
In The Founder’s Mentality, the authors describe the mindset relayed in the title. Three attributes make up this founder’s mentality including a frontline obsession, think and act like an insurgent, and driving an owner’s mindset across the organization.
The “frontline obsession” piece really stuck out to me. I translated it as “Be obsessed with the customer experience.” Before we talk about what this frontline obsession looks like within a company, let’s briefly touch on why this is important.
In the restaurant example mentioned above, we didn’t forego dinner. We just walked next door and sat down at a neighboring restaurant.
It’s easier than ever to start a business, particularly online. This means you have more competition than ever. If you’re building a business, you have to determine your specific competitive advantage.
In one of his blog posts, Seth Godin differentiates between what he calls the race to the bottom or the race to the top. The former is characterized by slashing prices, skipping out on quality, and cutting corners. You might temporarily beat out your competitors by pricing yourself lower or delivering a mediocre product just a bit faster, but as he points out, that won’t win out for long: “Someone will always find a way to be cheaper or more brutal than you.”
The flip side is the race to the top. It’s filled with pride, integrity, and, to quote Seth again, “generosity when it might be easier to be selfish.” It’s saying, “You might pay more here, but we’re going to make it a point to over-deliver value.” It’s the harder road, but it leads to a more sustainable business. It also feels better.
So where does this frontline obsession come in? In my mind, it’s one of the easiest ways to start the race to the top and differentiate yourself from everyone else.
You might not be the best graphic designer in the world. But, you can certainly respond to emails in a timely fashion, treat your clients with respect, deliver designs on time, and keep in touch to make sure the client is satisfied with your work.
You might not have the best food in Denver. But, you can make sure every new customer is greeted at the door, encourage your waitstaff to spend a few minutes building rapport, create a calm, pleasant ambiance in the restaurant, and over-deliver on the experience.
Building an amazing customer experience is an easier first step. It’s easier than becoming the best designer in the world or overhauling your menu and hiring a cast of top-tier chefs. (Kicker: If you want to be the best, you have to do those things also, but you can start with the frontline experience.)
What does a frontline obsession look like?
On their blog, the authors expanded with three specific ways this frontline obsession manifests within a company.
Turn strategy decisions into specific behaviors that can be implemented on the frontline to earn customer loyalty.
Make sure the incentives of those on the frontline are aligned with the customer experience. Don’t tell your waitstaff to engage with customers while also assigning them to cover 10 different tables a night.
Invest resources and imbue authority in those working directly with customers on a daily basis. They’re the real heroes.
I recently listened to the Tim Ferriss’ podcast episode featuring Frank Blake, former chairman and CEO of Home Depot. Blake describes advice he received from Bernie Marcus, one of the original founders of the company:
…you have a prominent job, but you don’t have a significant job. You have a prominent job because you go out and talk to analysts and all the rest of it, but the only significant jobs are the jobs of the people who are helping customers.
“Prominent but insignificant” isn’t likely a phrase many CEOs would use to describe their role. Marcus was trying to imbue the importance of the frontline, the part of the business that works with customers on a daily basis.
If we can agree that the customer experience is pivotal to your success as a business, invest resources in the people that are making it all happen.
Continuously experiment to “devise new solutions, better service, and better products” that meet and exceed the needs of your customers.
You have to renew your customers daily.
Simply put, every day presents a new opportunity to reinforce to a customer why they chose your product or service.
You have to continuously work to make sure you’re over-delivering value. That’s the key to the race to the top. The minute you stop, you’re losing ground.
Building an amazing customer experience of course isn’t easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s certainly worth it unless you have a monopoly on your customer base. In that case, customers have to choose you until a competitor arrives (which will happen).
H/T to Jason Khalipa for introducing me to the Founder’s Mentality. Featured photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash.