Here’s something your customers won’t ever tell you, but you better understand - Your employees are probably treating your customers about the same way you are treating your employees. Soak that in a minute and process the impact that might have on your organization’s ability to generate referrals.
Organizations that easily generate a high number of referrals hire for referral factors and treat their people as the prime target customer. It makes sense of course, happy employees are much more likely to represent the brand in a positive manner.
In all but the most technical positions, much of what employees do on a day to day basis can be taught. It’s much harder, however, to teach someone to be trustworthy, to give or to serve, yet, as stated above, these are key traits of organizations that generate referrals. A habit of referral for any organization that has more than two or three employees then is entrusted to the actions of the entire staff.
Mike McDerment, founder of FreshBooks, an online time tracking and invoicing service located in Toronto Canada shared these thoughts on how he addresses the customer, employee relationship, “First, we try to find people for fit, shared values and a passion for excellence. That doesn’t mean we have some preconceived idea of what they look like. It’s more that they match our brand in some way. We’re not in the billing business, we’re in the service business and we like to have fun. It really makes things easy if we surround our customers with employees that like to serve and like to have fun.”
The final element of the employee as customer habit lies in the word empowerment. While the word empowerment shows up in almost every book ever written about management, it’s a term that is easy to say but not so easy to put into action.
In the 1999 book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman published findings from research conducted by the Gallup Organization involving 80,000 managers across different industries.
The primary thesis of the work was that if a company could not satisfy an employee’s basic needs first, it could never expect the employee to give stellar performance.
The research found that a productive employee’s basic needs are: knowing what is expected at work, having the equipment and support to do the work right, and answering basic questions of self-worth and self-esteem by receiving praise for good work and development as a person.
Highly referred companies place so much focus on delighting customers that employees grow to understand that the primary thing that is expected, and even measured, is attaining referrals from every customer.
When this expectation is then reinforced with tools that allow the focus to be on the outcome as much as the process, they often learn to do whatever it takes to get a positive result.
This can be one of the hardest adjustments a small business owner can be forced to make as their business grows.
Larry Ryan founded Ryan Lawn and Tree in the Kansas City area over twenty years ago. He started out on the back seat of a tractor and steadily grew the business by taking care of his customers and employees.
Today, he is the CEO of one of the largest lawn services in the Midwest with over 150 employees and he still admits, “The hardest job I have is getting out of the way and letting my people do what they need to do.”
Although Ryan may claim that empowering employees is still hard for him he has always run his business with the philosophy that every customer will be thrilled and almost no matter how illogical the demand he would try to make it right in the eyes of the customer. He will tell you that this philosophy has caused him to scratch his head in disbelief at times, but he can also recount hundreds of instances when thrilled customers have voluntarily written him notes expressing how incredible it was that their turf manager came back on their own accord to redo a patch of grass that just didn’t work out right.
He hires for personal fit and talent, his employees are 100% certain what is expected of them, and given the tools, permission, and encouragement to take matters into their own hands to achieve the ultimate objective.
As a result his business, generated primarily through referral, has grown steadily year in and year out.
Photo credit: Peter Pearson