Asking (and answering) the Ultimate Question

In the Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld tells the story of Intuit, describing a problem that FiveFour regularly helps businesses solve. Co-founder Scott Cook had built a successful company on the mission “To make the customer feel so good about the product they’ll go and tell five friends to buy it.”

When the company was in the start-up phase, the employees learned how to fulfill that mission by observing Cook’s passion for taking care of the customer. “They could all hear him working the service phones himself, talking to customers. They could see him taking part in Intuit’s famous “follow-me-home” program, where employees asked customers if they could watch them set up the software in order to note any problems.”

But growth in the number of employees and locations made learning by following the leader impossible and “Cook was hearing more complaints [from customers] than in the past. Some market-share numbers were slipping. For lack of a good system of measurement and for the lack of the accountability that accurate measurement creates – the company seemed to be losing sight of exactly what had made it great: its relationships with its customers.”

To solve the problem, Cook started measuring customer loyalty through our favorite measurement tool: the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which asks the Ultimate Question: “How likely is it that you would recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?” Respondents score their likelihood on a scale from 1-10, with those answering 9-10 classified as promoters, 7 or 8 passives and 6 or less detractors. Your NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from your percentage of supporters. A positive number means you have more supporters than detractors.

While measurement is an important first step, measurement alone won’t solve the problem that Cook faced at Intuit. The challenge that leaders of growing companies face is how to scale the culture and customer experience that led to the growth to begin with.

That’s what FiveFour calls the battle for better business. We help companies capture that original vision for their culture and how the customer is cared for. But the next step is maybe the most important and what really differentiates FiveFour: we create a customized, ongoing system of learning and development that, over time, transforms the business through increased employee engagement and continuous learning.

Do you resonate with that description of Intuit? Are you noticing more customer complaints and employee disengagement? Take our assessment of your customer experience and we’ll give you some tips you can use to improve your employee and customer experience.

Want to get started measuring your NPS and eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score)? Just email me and I will give you access to our free, online course showing you how to implement both.

Intuit was profitable and growing at the time they addressed these flaws in their employee and customer experience. But they saw that those flaws were starting to impact their growth. What happened after they addressed them? They now have an NPS of 45 and a market cap of $82 billion, which isn’t bad.

Paying attention pays off by creating raving fans

(This is one of our weekly FiveFour emails. Sign up to receive these here).

I heard a story recently that’s a real-life demonstration of the principles we follow at FiveFour.

It’s a coffee story, which got me interested right away.

Mmmmmm, coffee.

Susie Patrick owns the Breadsmith stores in Sioux Falls.

Mmmmmm, bread.

And while Susie runs a fine operation in her own right, this isn’t a story about her, though she is a prime character.

Susie stops at the Scooters Coffee at 33rd Street and Minnesota Ave. every morning for a latte. Recently, she ordered two, hers and one for an employee.

Wouldn’t you know it, the espresso machine was down. The staff at Scooters offered a cold drink but hot espresso wasn’t going to happen for another 20 minutes or so.

Susie, though appreciative, declined any substitute.

Inside the small shop, Travis Rhoades was working diligently to get the espresso flowing. Travis isn’t just a repairman, he’s also the franchise owner of the nine — soon to be ten — Scooters locations in the Sioux Falls area.

The Scooters staff noted the customer didn’t order anything else.

Travis asked if they knew the customer’s name. They did not.

“It’s the Breadsmith Lady,” one employee said. “She gets a latte every day.”

That was a signal to Travis. As the owner, he’s been able to grow his business due to a commitment to his customers. He trains staff to observe customer behaviors in order to pick up on small cues.

“It’s how to engage in a meaningful conversation in 30 seconds,” he says.

Even in the drive-up.

Window stickers, hats, sports bags in the seat – they are all openings for conversation that can lead to actionable information.

It might be a quick “Go Vikings” written on the side of the coffee cup.

It might be remembering their kids play on a traveling soccer team and they are always trying to get out of town.

It might be that lady who works at Breadsmith. Or, as it turns out, owns them.

Travis noticed the opportunity, not just to shore up a customer relationship, but to model that behavior for the team.

So, once the espresso machine was back up and working, he whipped up a couple lattes and drove down 33rd Street to the Breadsmith store with a special delivery.

He still didn’t know her name until we connected the dots and told him.

“I just know her as the Breadsmith Lady,” he says.

Susie was thrilled to get the delivery and to learn she’s got a nickname.

“It’s a testament to his crew that he recognized me and my drink,” Susie says. “It’s customer service you don’t normally see anymore. I hope that people refer to our service at Breadsmith the way I was treated.”

You can find different customer experience touchpoints in this story. But the one that struck immediately is Surprise.

Yes, it was surprise for Susie to get lattes delivered. But that’s not the lesson.

What’s important to focus on is the culture, the intentional strategies that Scooters reinforces. They pay attention to customers as individuals, so that they can personalize the experience.

Travis says he’s always looking for opportunities to reward and demonstrate the customer-centric behavior. They are intentional about who they hire. And he preaches common sense over policies and procedure.

“It’s not the Breadsmith Lady’s fault that our machine is down.”

It would have been easy to write it off as just another face in another car in a stream of cars every morning.

That’s not what they did.

Because what goes better together than coffee and bread in the morning?

What I read in May

My reading slowed a bit in May as I hired a business coach to help me with some changes in the business. It’s something I hope to write more about at a future time, but it required a lot of my time and attention, so reading decreased a bit. But learning did not. I was learning by reading a lot of their resources, working through video-based training and interacting with my coach on weekly calls.

Still, there was time for reading. Here are the highlights of what I finished in May, 2020:

Who – The A Method for Hiring

Most business leaders and entrepreneurs have run across the famous concept popularized by Jim Collins in his seminal book, Good to Great: “First who, then what.” The idea is that those who build great organizations focus first on getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats before they figure out where they’re driving the bus. But most don’t know how to do this. They follow what Geoff Smart calls some method “of voodoo hiring” like scanning a resume, conducting a short interview, calling a couple of references and going with a gut instinct. Smart instead gives a system for hiring that involves a scorecard rather than job description and a series of interviews designed to determine if the candidate is a fit for the mission, has the competencies to do the job and can achieve the agreed upon objectives. The ultimate goal is to hire A Players – to get the who decisions right. I’ve started implementing some of these concepts in my business and, if you don’t have a hiring system, you should, too.

VC – An American History

One of my businesses is owned by a private equity company, which is not exactly the same as venture capital, but in the same vein. So I was interested in this history of venture capital in America. It started long before California became a state and has been tied to the entrepreneurial story of America since its founding. Wherever there has been the promise of out-sized returns at great risk, financial intermediaries (venture capitalists) have arisen to mitigate that risk. It started with whaling industry and was made famous by the Silicon Valley firms that invested in the tech giants Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Uber, etc. etc. In between those two points in history is a fascinating story where the industry was kept alive first by wealthy families, military investment and universities. I was especially interested in his take on where the industry goes in the future. Nicholas mentions the innovative approach of Andreessen Horowitz to offer its portfolio companies a slate of services (HR, marketing, etc.) in addition to investment. Nicholas sees that as a sign of the industry returning to a long-term focus of building companies for public markets rather than short-term returns. Time will tell if that approach wins out, but what’s not debatable is that venture capital will continue to be part of America’s story.

Free Prize Inside!

The only way to win in business is to become remarkable. That was the message of Purple Cow. But how do you make a purple cow? That’s what this short book is about. In fact, that’s what the subtitle says. According to Seth Godin, he had to write this follow-up because business was all wrong in how they were going about their search for a purple cow. They were seeking the big. Big innovations. Big marketing campaigns. But a Purple Cow is much more likely to be a small, soft innovation that customers love – a Free Prize inside their offering. Writes Godin, “Most free prizes have two essential elements in common. First, they are the thing about your service, your product or your organization that’s worth remarking on. Something worth seeking out and buying…Second, most free prizes are not about what the person needs. Instead, they satisfy our wants. They are fashionable or fun or surprising or delightful or sad. They rarely deliver more of what we were buying in the first place.”

One of the most obvious free prizes is customer experience. It’s not more of the product or service. It’s something unexpected during the delivery of the product or service. Something that’s worth remarking on. And late in the book, Godin gives a fitting example. He tells the story of his interaction with Jose who worked in a taco shop in the Denver airport. What was remarkable about this interaction? Jose chatted with Godin for an extra minute while he ordered, got him a special condiment from the back. Later, he asked Godin how his meal was. In other words, Godin had a great experience with Jose. And as he points out, the cost of that experience was zero, but the value to Godin was “enormous.” Your customer experience can be a free prize for your guests. It can cost you nothing while delivering enormous value.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Great teamwork is the exception and that exception almost always means that a team has overcome five specific things that cause all teams to misfire. Patrick Lencioni has identified those five dysfunctions in this fantastic little book. I’m a huge fan of Lencioni. The first two-thirds of almost all of his books are a fictional account that makes his point followed by a non-fictional explanation of that point. I’d read the non-fictional third of this book many times, but never the fable that comes before it. I think both are his best work. Here’s a quick listing of the five dysfunctions (as I plan to write more about this book later):

  1. Absence of Trust: The fear of vulnerability prevents the building of trust within the team.
  2. Fear of Conflict: The desire to preserve artificial harmony stifles the occurrence of productive conflict.
  3. Lack of Commitment: The lack of clarity or buy-in prevents making decisions the team will stick to.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: The need to avoid discomfort prevents team members from holding one another accountable.
  5. Inattention to Results: The pursuit of individual goals and personal status erodes the focus on collective success.

I recently listened to Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which Lencioni calls the field guide for implementing this book. I can’t recommend both highly enough to anyone managing a team.

More

I read The Vision-Driven Leader by Michael Hyatt, which would be a great book for someone looking to establish an organizational vision for the first time. Also read Visioneering by Andy Stanley, which I blogged about here.

What should I read next? Leave a comment below if you have a recommendation.

Paying Attention to the Obvious

Because I consume a lot of content, I frequently read things that overlap with other things I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, blogs I’m following, etc. I try to pay extra attention to those things when they happen, believing that those serendipitous moments often happen for a reason.

Recently, that forced me to pay more attention to…attention. At the same time I was reading Finding Flow, which I blogged about here, and learning about the importance of attention to achieving flow, I was also participating in a class at my church called The Journey. In preparation for a recent session, we read Jesus’ Parable of the Sower and the Lamp Under the Jar.

The Parable of the Sower is all about the different ways that people receive the Word of God and what kind of fruit it allows them to bear. And it turns out that the difference boils down to one thing, and it’s Jesus’ instruction from Luke 8:18a: “Pay attention to how you listen!”

The message was the same to each individual. The difference was in how much attention the recipient paid to it. This made me think about the importance of paying attention. It’s so easy to get on auto-pilot in our busy, distracted world and fail to pay attention to everything happening around us.

It reminds me of the famous Kenyon College graduation speech from novelist David Foster Wallace, this is water. Click here for full transcript and audio. But I really like the shorter clip from this video:

Stop and pay attention this week. See how it causes you to order your life differently.

Get Bitter, or Get Better

In his sermon this morning, my pastor had a great message for everyone who has had life upended by COVID-19. The advice he gave to our congregation is useful for any person or organization dealing with this crisis, or, as he stated, any crisis that comes along.

Think about not getting caught waiting; waiting for everything to return to normal…most likely things are going to be different in the future. There’s no going back to what was, so we need to lean into what’s coming and not miss out on the opportunity that this season – this situation – gives us. We want to look back at what we’ve lived through in this season and accept the challenge of it for what it is and see it as a part of moving forward.

So my challenge to us is this: ‘Are you going to look back at this season with rejoicing or with regret? Are you going to rejoice in the opportunities that you had to learn and to grow and to engage with your life in a new and maybe different way and set yourself up for a better future or are you going to regret having all of the time that you’ve had and all this opportunity that you’ve had different than it’s been before; are you going to regret not having taken advantage of this opportunity. Are you going to sit back and let this all happen around you and to you or are you going to grab a hold of the opportunity and grow into what you want to become when this is all done and we’re on to whatever the new normal is after the storm?’

As pastor McCready said, we get to choose how we respond to the crisis – we have a choice in how we respond when anything in our life doesn’t go the way we want. He put it like this:

“In every storm, we have a chance to respond. We have the choice. We can either get bitter or we can get better.” Pastor Bill McCready

So, what mindset will you choose in the midst of COVID-19? Are you going to use the time of isolation to get better? To read good books, build new skills, shape better habits? Prepare for a new future Or, just follow Twitter and Google News all day and get bitter, hoping that the world quickly goes back to what it was? It’s your choice.

Here’s his full message:

Focusing Attention in an Age of Distraction

I recently finished listening to Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. “Flow” is one of those concepts, the definition of which you can find in my previous post, that I have read a lot about without ever reading a book from the source. There was one aspect of flow that surprised me.

When most people describe flow, it takes on a mind-less quality; you’re in the zone and simply repeating a task where the brain disengages and muscle memory takes over. However, as Csíkszentmihályi points out, it starts by being mind-ful; it starts with the ability to focus attention.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, the people who are more often in flow don’t have a greater capacity for attention, but have learned to pay attention to what’s happening around them. As they engage with the world, he writes:

The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.

Being in state of flow starts with paying attention to the world around you and how you engage with the world. This includes our work.

Without some effort a dull job will just stay dull. The basic solution is quite simple: it involves paying close attention to each step involved in the job and then asking is this step necessary? Who needs it? If it is really necessary, can it be done better, faster, more efficiently? And, what additional steps could make my contribution more valuable? Our attitude to work usually involves spending a lot of effort trying to cut corners and do as little as possible. But that is a short-sighted strategy. If one spent the same amount of attention trying to find ways to accomplish more on the job, one would enjoy working more and probably be more successful at it, too.

I admit that I have often thought of attention as a limited resource. And there are no shortages of competition for our attention in a digital age. This perspective – of the ability to focus and multiply attention is very interesting. The lesson is clear: if you want more experiences of flow in your life, start by paying attention.

Who am I? Why am I here?

It’s that line, spoken in the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate, that made Admiral James Stockdale, famous. But it’s an obvious question. What am I planning to do here on this site? Why start a blog in 2020. I thought those were so 2002?

Nathan Schock preparing to teach Sunday School
Nathan preparing to teach Sunday School

If you know me, you know that I’m a life-long learner. In fact, that’s an understatement. I’m President & COO of FiveFour, a training company where I’m constantly learning, teaching and creating training content for the development of our many clients.

But learning is more than just my occupation. It’s part of my faith (the picture here is of me preparing to teach Sunday school) and my hobby. I also read novels at night in an (often futile) attempt to settle my brain for sleep.

For the past seven years, I’ve read at least a book a week. Two years ago, I increased that to two books per week and last year it was three. If you want to know what I’m reading, check my out on Goodreads.

Those books, along with the many articles and podcasts I consume on a regular basis, and the things I learn running two companies, will form the cornerstone of the content I post here. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place. I hope you’ll hang out for a while. And come back.