Paying attention pays off by creating raving fans

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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?

Passing the $10 million plateau

Ready, Fire, Aim started as a retreat serial entrepreneur Michael Masterson led for other entrepreneurs. He wanted to impart the lessons he had learned from a 30-year career starting and running several multi-million-dollar businesses. Later developed and expanded as a book, the subtitle states his objective; teaching the reader to take a business from “Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat.”

The two biggest ideas in the book are the importance of action (thus, the book title) and that going from zero to $100 million encompasses four distinct stages in the life of a company. Having read the Five Second Rule, 10X, and many other books, I knew the first point well. It’s the second that I will focus on.

According to Masterson, each of the four stages of a business has different problems, challenges, and opportunities and requires different skills from the entrepreneur running the company. The stages are:

  1. Infancy ($0-1 million in revenue)
  2. Childhood ($1-10 million)
  3. Adolescence ($10 million to $50 million)
  4. Adulthood ($50 million to $100 million and beyond)

The stage that was the most interesting to me (because it faces many of the challenges my company, FiveFour, solves for business leaders at this level) is adolescence. Once a company grows to or near $10 million, the growth almost always comes with a new set of challenges.

At this size, there is at least one or two levels of management between the founder/CEO and the front-line workers who engage with the company’s customers. Those employees do not have the benefit that existed in the first two phases of business growth – proximity to the founder/CEO. Companies that reach $10 million in revenue usually do so because the founder/CEO built a culture around taking care of the customer. With multiple levels of management, they no longer talk directly to every employee and are unable to directly impart their culture and expectations of how the customer should be cared for.

The way this usually shows up in a company is through disgruntled customers. Masterson writes: “The most important disconnect has to do with the priority you had established to make sure every customer would be handled with the utmost of care and consideration.” The business is in need of a transformation. A transformation from focusing almost exclusively on customer acquisition to one that now focuses equally on customer retention. Masterson calls it customer service, but were he writing today rather than the mid-2000’s, he would likely recognize that the customer experience is even more important.

The leader accomplishes this transformation by a focus on operations and training, communicating the vision, joint ventures and hiring stars and superstars. He’s dead-on with that list, but a few of his methods are decidedly lacking. For example, to communicate the vision he advocates writing a monthly memo. To solve this communication gap that he has so accurately identified takes much more than a written letter once a month.

And it’s behind that small defect that my larger problem with the book arises. Those memos worked for him and a client of his. That’s 98% of what you get in this book: his personal experience as an entrepreneur. Masterson has no time for theory. The only time I can remember him quoting an organizational theorist was to disagree with him.

That’s not a debilitating problem and it doesn’t erase the good that comes from the book. After all, Masterson wrote it to impart what he learned from his entrepreneurial journey. But it is a limitation that the reader should be aware of. This book is just one source – a good one, but just one – and will need to be supplemented with other resources especially the further we get from the day it was written.

What you do won’t do it

My friend Shareef Mahdavi just released a new book, Beyond Bedside Manner: Insights on Perfecting the Patient Experience. To be precise, the book has 57 insights and any one of them could transform a medical clinic all by itself. If you work in healthcare, you must read this.

One of my favorite insights is Defining Excellence, where Shareef is making the excellent point that what you do as a doctor can’t be a point of differentiation. That’s expected. Here’s the excerpt:

Your outcomes are expected in the same manner that your expertise is assumed (like that of the airplane pilot). While this can be difficult to reckon with for surgeons who have dedicated their career to excellent outcomes, technological innovation in medicine has begun to level the playing field when it comes to outcomes. Software-driven diagnostics as well as surgical tools are designed to reduce surgical variability, meaning there’s usually another doctor out there in your community who can promise similar results to yours.

If you’ve been able to distinguish your practice based on surgical results, that’s great. But as excellent outcomes are expected to begin with, this competitive advantage will only dissipate with time. Unfortunately, outcomes are gradually becoming a hygiene factor, a marketing term describing an element that is noticed only if it’s missing or something goes wrong.

I see this same sentiment in almost every industry we deal with. They will say (or at least think): “Sure, customer experience is important for coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, etc. But people come to me for the thing I do. Customer experience is nice, but what people want from me is a particular outcome.” No, the outcome is expected. The way your differentiate yourself is through the customer experience.

The medical community has been among the slowest to acknowledge this and the ones most in need of it. One of the best examples of this was the Propublica study of Yelp medical reviews a few years ago. Here’s the main takeaway:

Indeed, doctors and health professionals everywhere could learn a valuable lesson from the archives of Yelp: Your officious personality or brusque office staff can sink your reputation even if your professional skills are just fine.

In other words, your medical outcomes aren’t enough to generate a good online review, if the experience isn’t up to the patient’s expectation. This is what our training with Experience Economy authors Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore talks about:

A remarkable experience doesn’t come from what you do, but how you do what you do. Because what you do won’t do it any longer.

That’s just one of 57 insights that you’ll get from Shareef’s book. The other 56 are equally good and worth reading.

Pandemic as Portal

In the FT yesterday, novelist Arundhati Roy wrote:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

Roy was primarily talking about her native India, hoping that the mishandling of the pandemic by the country’s political leaders would become a portal to a better world. I know little of Indian politics, but my experience in American politics has left me less than hopeful that the end result of COVID-19 will be meaningful government change.

What is undeniable though is that consumers will change and force businesses to change with them. Something of this scale and duration will leave its mark, changing attitudes and behaviors long after it’s worst is behind us.

The challenge for businesses will be determining which consumer changes due to COVID-19 are temporary and which are permanent. Restaurants, who have quickly ramped up takeout and delivery, may find that consumers prefer this new way of doing things. Likewise for auto dealers who started picking up their customer’s vehicles and dropping them off after service.

What about telemedicine and other increases in video communication? Will consumers after the pandemic prefer talking to a nurse on Zoom rather than visiting a busy clinic surrounded by other sick people? How about the meeting with my financial advisor? Will I prefer Facetime to a drive across town, especially in the winter?

Consumers have changed in many obvious ways during the global pandemic. Which changes are likely to stay and which will go away once commerce starts flowing again?

Remember that today’s customer experience innovations become tomorrow’s baseline expectations. Start preparing for those expectations today.