In today’s interconnected world -- where one negative customer experience can spread like wildfire -- an incredible positive experience, by contrast, can be a brand's defining moment.
Exactly that kind of defining moment came for us when a member of our front-line staff went above and beyond, allowing an elderly woman to sit on his back while the two were stuck in an elevator together. The woman had told our employee, Cesar Larios -- who was on the job for our moving company at the time -- that she was physically unable to stand for a long period of time. So, until help could arrive, Larios got down on all fours and turned himself into a human bench.
The lady took a seat.
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The resulting photo went viral on social media, illustrating that a satisfying customer experience depends on every employee's willingness to take a CEO-level ownership of customer service.
There's a lesson there: In 2016, according to a Gartner survey, 89 percent of companies expect to compete using customer service models -- up from 36 percent in 2010. And that finding demonstrates that customer service affects much more than marketing.
Front-line staff members who serve as the face of your organization for clients are literally on the front lines of the battle to win customer satisfaction and loyalty. And great customer service depends on your empowering every employee to do exactly that.
3 steps to empowering employees to think like CEOs
After more than a decade of successfully scaling our junk-removal franchise to more than 500 franchisees, my partner and I have learned that the best way to attract top talent is to treat our employees like business owners.
Rather than view them as subordinates, we give them the freedom and authority to run their part of the business as they wish -- within reason, of course. Our drivers, for example, control marketing, sales and profits with no boss or office hierarchy and even receive business cards with any title they choose. (“Director of Smiles” is a favorite of mine.)
The path to empowering employees to think like CEOs involves three steps, each rooted in building a company culture that attracts the right people.
1. Don’t 'interview' -- hold auditions.
We hire for attitude and train for skill, and are fanatical about each team member fitting our company culture. Our hiring process is long, and we select less than 1 percent of applicants for any position, from call-center agent to mover.
Like Cold Stone Creamery, we audition potential team members in groups, rather than hold traditional job interviews. This way, the best candidates always stand out from the crowd. Anyone can learn how to pack a truck, so we look for 10 things that require zero luck or talent: promptness, work ethic, body language, energy, attitude, passion, coachability, willingness to go the extra mile and ability to show up, prepared.
Personality profiles of your top performers can similarly help you gauge where applicants might fit within your organization. To create them, ask character-based questions such as, “What is a time when you went above and beyond? What are some examples of how you showed leadership?”
2. Create a strong, simple purpose.
When your purpose is simple to grasp, yet aspirational in nature, it attracts the right people. Our company’s purpose is to “ Move the World,” and every person we hire is passionate about making the world a better place, even if that occurs only through small acts of kindness. All team members spend time learning about our core values before they ever get in front of a client -- this is the foundation of everything we do.
The key is to secure a firm commitment from everyone in the organization to be purpose-driven. A Gallup study showed that mission-driven companies that allow employees to focus on their own strengths every day are better able to attract and retain employees from every generation, from baby boomers to millennials.
Communicate your core values and purpose constantly and consistently, leading by example and sharing stories of how these are embodied throughout the organization. For example, encourage employees to write blog posts about how the actions they take fulfill the company’s purpose.
3. Use gamification to motivate millennials.
The gamification market is predicted reach $1 billion by 2020. We apply the same principles that make video games so wildly popular: concepts like levels, points and high scores. With today's 18- to 34-year-olds coming from the population segment that grew up playing them, we’ve been able to motivate our younger team members beyond our wildest dreams.
Engine Yard is another company employing gamification. As a PaaS service provider, Engine Yard's success hinges on quick resolutions to customer service issues. After posting its representatives’ response times for all employees to see, the company said its response rates jumped by 40 percent.
The more you open the book on your financials and performance metrics, the more your team members will act like owners, so create games and contests around key performance indicators (KPIs) with scoreboards and rankings. Rewards can be monetary in nature -- just be sure to recognize your top performers in some way for driving these metrics.
Creating an entrepreneurial launch pad
While we've focused on these strategies from the get-go, any company can incorporate these principles at any time. Take Arby’s, for example.
The restaurant chain recently implemented an empowerment strategy to inspire its franchisees and staff to develop new menu items, as well as a guest experience program where team members can honor guest requests and address issues without asking a manager first. By taking this new approach, the 52-year-old brand helped set itself up to generate $4 billion in sales by 2018.
From the onset, our own company’s hiring and leadership practices have helped us empower hundreds of employees to think and act like CEOs. This cultural mindset has created for some of our hardest-working employees a launch pad from which they could establish their own franchises and pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams.
Their ventures, in turn, help us continue to grow. And we could not be prouder. If you want to see similar success, remember: You are only as strong as the weakest link in your chain. Remember that next time you're in a stuck elevator.