How to Become an Organization that is FOR the Customer

Business Coaching

Most social media posts of a business are 99.9% about the business.

“Look at our products.”
“Buy one get one free!”

The focus is clearly on the business, by the business, for the business.

This has been the case for so long that it’s sometimes hard to see the danger. But the danger’s there, and only growing.

Here’s why: If a business were a person, many businesses would be considered narcissists. And narcissism is bad for business.

The definition of a narcissist is “a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves.” And to pile on, Google drives home the point further by saying “Narcissists are those who think the world revolves around them.”

I bet narcissism never came up in business school, did it?

It’s why you may be tempted to dismiss this notion and stop reading. Before you do, let me point out two important distinctions:

1. I’m not saying the people in your business are narcissists.
2. I’m suggesting we’ve been taught to shine the spotlight on the business and not the customer.

I’m often called upon to consult with organization and non-profits. Imagine how this goes over when I talk about this with leaders. “Wait, what? You’re saying my organization is narcissistic?”

Thriving businesses and non-profit organizations of the future will understand the danger of this. And when I say future, I’m not suggesting 15 years from now.

In this new world, online reviews win out over paid advertising. Brands advertising about how great they are lack credibility. As Scott Cook, a billionaire director of both Proctor and Gamble and eBay correctly points out, “A brand is no longer what it tells customers it is. A brand is what customers tell customers it is.”

The future is here. The organizations that understand this and shift the focus from the business to the customer will win the heart of the customer. And the heart of the customer is the great battleground. When you do this effectively, customers start talking positively. They notice you are FOR them. In turn, they become FOR you. It’s as if they have a personal, vested interest in supporting the business. They become your sales force…. for free. This is the fertile ground where positive, word-of-mouth advertising begins to grow.

For this to happen, you must give them a reason to say yes about the following question.

A Question your Customer is Asking About You

One of my business heroes is Horst Schulze. Mr. Schulze is Chairman and CEO at Capella Hotels and Resorts and Solis Hotels and Resorts. He co-founded The Ritz Carlton. During his time there, the Ritz Carlton won the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge award for exemplary customer service, not once, but twice.

This kind of compelling and exemplary service is built upon a question.

This single question drives the systems, focus and yes, heart of the business.

“The #1 question customers are asking about a business is, ‘Do they care about me?’” Mr. Schulze says.

It’s so easy to dismiss this question. It seems touchy-feely. It seems hard to measure. And no one would admit out loud that they don’t care about the customer.

If you look closer though, you’ll find systems that have a natural bent toward spotlighting and protecting the business.

A great example of this is the banking industry. While online banking has made a significant shift in how banks interact with their customers, there is still the occasional need to actually go inside a branch. Typically, you will find a cue line and then when it’s your turn the branch employee will say, “Next.”

“How many of you,” Mr. Schulze will ask his audiences, “are named ‘Next’?”

One of the greatest sounds we like to hear is when someone says our name. “Hey buddy” often sounds like, “You don’t know my name.” “Hey Jeff” creates a much better feeling and emotion when I hear it. I bet the same is true with you.

It’s why the Ritz Carlton built a system around getting to know your name and spreading it to the rest of their team during your stay. When they say your name, it shows they care.

Several years in a row, my daughter and I would attend a Father Daughter Dance. One year, I decided we would stay at the Ritz Carlton in Buckhead, a few minutes north of downtown Atlanta.

Jesse was 8 years old at the time. When we arrived, the Ritz Carlton team helped us get our bags out of the car. The first thing they did though was to introduce themselves and ask our names. (Note: This is a system.)

They asked us to go ahead to the registration desk where they would meet us with our bags. As we were walking in, I glanced back to see the bellman whispering into his shirtsleeve, like he was in the Secret Service. (Note: This is another system.)

Quick question–what was he doing? Why was he whispering into his sleeve?

It all goes back to a question customers ask, “Does this business really care about me?” And nothing quite communicates care than when a customer hears a business say their name.

As Jesse and I walked into the beautiful Ritz Carlton Buckhead and approached the registration desk, we were greeted with, “Good evening Mr. Henderson and Jesse. We are so glad you’re here.”

I wish you could have seen Jesse’s eyes. The memory of that moment brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes as I write this. When we were walking to our room, Jesse whispered to me, “Dad, how did they know our names?”

I smiled and said, “Honey, your Dad is big time in Buckhead.”

That was 11 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. Heck, in some ways, it feels like yesterday. I tell that story often. I never tell the stories of the times I was called “Next.”

This doesn’t happen by accident. It happens with a fundamental decision to create systems that are FOR the customer.

Let’s rewind the tape and reveal what happened. As Jesse and I drove up, the bellman knew his most important job wasn’t just helping us with our bags. His most important job was discovering our names. Once he had our names, he went Secret Service on us by radioing inside to the front desk. “Mr. Henderson and his daughter, Jesse.”

The person at the desk heard it, confirmed it over the radio with the bellman, and was ready with a smile and our names. And here we are, 11 years later and I’m still telling that story.

Did Jesse and I think the Ritz Carlton cared about us? Well, of course. They know our names. And as Norm from Cheers will tell you, we all want to go “where everybody knows your name.”

What’s most impressive to me about this is that it required planning. It required thinking through a system that could be replicated throughout the entire Ritz Carlton chain. Somewhere at some time, a team of people sat down and said, “How can we capture the names of our guests and repeat it back to them within 30 seconds of their arrival?”

This is what it means to be FOR your customer. To not only say we care, but to make specific, systematic shifts toward showing it. When this happens, customers respond. They tell others about it and you begin to reap the pixie dust of advertising called word-of-mouth. But you have to give customers something to say. Taking their bags is expected. Learning and saying their names is a wow. When this happens, we show customers we care.

And people respond to organizations that truly care for them.

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Jeff Henderson

He was recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of twenty speakers you shouldn’t miss. Jeff worked in marketing with the Atlanta Braves, Callaway Gardens, Lanier Islands and Chick-fil-A, Inc where he led the company’s regional and sports marketing strategies. He recently released his first book, Know What You’re FOR: A Growth Strategy for Work, An Even Better Strategy for Life.