Make it Personal.
By Rob Rush
Saturday, 25th August 2007
How I learned to loosen the reins, take my own medicine and ensure that my employees and customers develop an emotional bond with my company.

It seems everyone these days is talking about the experience economy and seeking ways to become more customer-centric. Innovation is the coin of the realm, as evidenced by the multitude of books, conferences, and newly-minted gurus on the subject. We're all searching for breakthrough ideas that will wow customers and lead to profitable growth.

If you've ever read the Loyalty Leader before, you know I'm LRA's CEO and that our focus is on helping companies design and deliver better customer experiences. I'd like to think I know a little bit about the subject.

As our company has grown steadily over the past decade, I've found I can no longer touch every client or remain involved in each project. As somewhat of a control freak, that prospect is a bit scary to me. I had a sense, however, that our continued growth would rest on my ability to surround myself with future leaders and employees who could be as emotionally engaged with my business as I am, and do right by our clients. But how? I decided to take some of our own medicine by adopting the advice we dispense to our clients…and picking up some pointers from some great organizations worth emulating.

I've made a habit of studying the companies and brands that seem to really connect with their customers…and those that don't. Whether it's a Southwest Airlines, Costco, or In-N-Out Burger, each of these customer champions blends their "secret sauce" with a large dose of highly engaged employees that are truly happy with their work and proud of their company. And that matters. Engaged employees are more friendly, resourceful, knowledgeable, and responsive.

Put simply, they do what it takes to get the job done, serve the customer and…care. In studying these "champions" - all operating in commodity-type industries where a competitive advantage might seem fleeting - I realized that at the core of their business models, raving fans, and stunning financials, is invariably an amazing, industrious workforce.

Where does this engagement come from? Well, I know it's difficult to get right, as there are very few exemplary companies that spring to mind when you think about customer service champions in corporate America. My study points to four common themes done very well: creating a clear and worthy vision for the business; hiring the "right" talent that can deliver on that vision; communicating continuously how the company is performing…and why; and, finally, creating a culture of accountability and recognition. Doesn't sound very innovative, but sometimes success (and innovation) are as simple as doing the basics extraordinarily well, no matter what.

These four common themes were apparent to me as I studied other companies, more elusive as I figured out how to grow LRA. A clear prerequisite for growth, however, required seeking help steering the ship. Last year I established a Leadership Team at LRA comprised of ten senior executives. Initially, I was nervous about sharing my fears and the company's financial performance with the group…but thought of those "champions" that valued communication and transparency above all.

With a heightened level of insight into our company's past and present performance, our leadership team was emboldened to shape its future. We worked hard to articulate a mission and vision that our employees could truly embrace, in part by ensuring that those very employees had a hand in shaping the words.

As we neared the 100 employee mark, we hired a dedicated Human Resources executive to help us identify and recruit candidates with the optimal blend of will and skill, with an emphasis on the former over the latter. Simply put, we overvalue attitude and passion, undervalue a specific, tangible job skill. With a better understanding of the type of individual that will flourish at my company, the likelihood of us trying to cram a square peg in a round hole is lower. Again, lesson learned from the "champions."

In the employee engagement research LRA conducts for clients, time and again internal communication emerges as a weakness and a dissatisfier, and we are not shy about pushing our clients to address such issues. Again – time to heed the lessons of my "champions" and take a dose of our own counsel. To that end, we've created a lively, informative monthly internal newsletter, hold informal Friday Lunch-and-Learn sessions, and constantly disseminate company news, both good and bad. I've learned that you just cannot over-communicate.

Finally, establishing clear business objectives for managers and employees minimizes misunderstandings and disappointments, period! Being accountable is a core value for us. And the more people take responsibility for and deliver on their objectives, the more we all have to cheer about. Who doesn't want to be recognized as a winner?

By taking the advice and counsel we offer our clients and heeding the lessons learned from the "champions" that I admire most, I was able to "make it personal," loosen my grip on the reins, help LRA grow…and glance into the future to see its true potential.

While this growth will surely benefit my balance sheet, it will have the greatest impact on our clients, the experience they pass on to their customers, and the resulting benefit to their bottom line. Hey – it is all personal…but you have to be able to take it to the bank!

Rob loves feedback! Contact Rob Rush via email at rob.rush@lraworldwide.com.

Rob co-founded LRA Worldwide, Inc. and is the Company's President and CEO. Rob has led LRA to its current position as the leading business services consultancy and researcher in the rapidly-growing field of Customer Experience Management. Rob has been a driving force in transferring LRA's Customer Experience Management expertise honed in the hospitality and leisure sectors to other industries where customer experience is a central element of an effective corporate branding and growth strategy. He brings valuable insight into the management of business services organizations and entrepreneurial companies

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