Ask 100 business owners, and 95 of them will tell you that “their people” are their greatest asset.

The other 5 are wrong.

As we discussed in part 1, your product - and more importantly, “what you sell” - is not really a tangible thing. It’s a feeling or experience that your product provides that makes your client choose to buy from you one or many times. Toward that end, your people, the ones who create that experience, are the standard bearers for your brand. They are the ones whose actions make or break the customer experience. To test this theory, simply think of the best and worst experiences you have had with a company. The vast majority of the time, those positive or negative experiences were due to the actions of the people in that company rather than the product itself.

 Consider the best and worst examples. When I say “postal employee,” does that conjure positive images? Likely not. In fact, that thought probably immediately makes you think of some negative experience with the USPS. This is a cautionary tale: The USPS does a pretty amazing service for remarkably low cost, and honestly, most of their employees are knowledgeable and helpful - but almost no one thinks that. The image of the “disgruntled postal employee” has soiled their brand for decades, and it makes people forget how amazing it is that they can physically move a letter from Ohio to California for $0.50. It doesn’t matter, because people think they are awful.

On the flip side, many of you have Chick-fil-A restaurants near you. I have no idea how they do it, but I swear that every employee there is legitimately happy to be serving up chicken sandwiches to soccer moms and highway travelers. It’s a greasy fast food place like so many others, but every employee seems like they just heard a joke - and that positivity goes a long way. Part of the Chick-fil-A experience is that you end up feeling good about eating fast food. 

For a more personal example: I’m a musician. There is a Guitar Center near my office. Even non-players may recognize the name: It's a long-standing, national retail music store. They generally have hundreds of guitars, amps and assorted equipment set out for you to play, because that goes a long way when you are picking out new gear. However, actually buying gear there sucks. They have whole areas for guitars, drums, pro audio, guitar repairs, and even guitar lessons - but I have never been to a Guitar Center that seemed fully staffed. (As an aside, they took on outside capital in a buyout a while back, and as so often happens, when venture capital comes in, the customer experience fails.) I stood in line for 15 minutes last week to buy $20 worth of cables, and shopping there can be frustrating. Bear in mind, this isn’t really a knock on the employees themselves - they are simply put in a system that makes them the fall guy for a buying experience that is comically bad.

On the flip side, there is a catalog retailer called Sweetwater Music that most of you have probably never heard of. When it comes to picking a new guitar, being able to grab one off the wall and play it for a half hour is undeniably the best way to go. So how does an online-only company compete? With their people. Sweetwater has a staff of over 1,200, and when you buy something from them, they assign a specific person to your account. Your rep then DILIGENTLY follows up with you to see how you’re doing and ask for more sales. Imagine ordering from a catalog like L.L. Bean and having a specific employee assigned to check in with you from there on.

Maybe that sounds a bit overbearing. Let me tell you it’s not. Anyone who has picked up an equipment-based hobby, or anyone who runs an equipment-based business like landscaping, knows how valuable it is to have someone to advise you about the next logical equipment purchase based on your current situation. If I want to talk about my guitar rig, I can call Norb at Sweetwater - a guy who has ALL the gear at his disposal - and he will help me find the right solution for my needs and budget.

These things don’t just happen. These companies make conscious plans and repeated decisions to reinforce to their team how they want their brand portrayed. Chick-fil-A cannot just hire anyone, put them behind a register and hope it works. Sweetwater has a HUGE infrastructure in place to maintain personal contact with thousands and thousands of musicians - and all along the way, they have reinforced to all parties what they expect the client experience to be.

In your business, who knows why the client hired you? Most likely, the sales staff knows. How hard would it be to pass this information on to the production staff? 

“OK, everyone. The Smiths told us that they were too busy when their kids were young, and they have been dreaming of having this pool so that they can spend time with their grandkids.”

“This client told me that he’s been battling with a neighbor over who has the best lawn for 7 years. Let’s help him win this.”

“Guys, Mrs. Jones told me that her husband and sons always handled the yard work, but the kids all moved and her husband died last fall. We need to stop her from worrying about her yard.”

If you want your people to support your brand, you have to make them think beyond the features of what they do and start thinking of the benefits. They aren’t building a patio; they are creating family time. They aren’t cutting grass; they are letting Mrs. Jones stop worrying about keeping the place looking respectable on her own.

This doesn’t just happen, but it’s not hard to move in the right direction. Start talking more, both with your clients and your staff. Your people are your greatest asset, so encourage them to create the experience that you want to be known for.