Side note: I have always been a firm believer in writing about things I care about and that might add a lot of value to whomever reading. But Hunter Walk’s post reminded me that I can let go of the pressure to be right, have everything figured out, or write something definitive to “build an audience.” (Though that would be nice.) Just share what you know. It might attract someone who you can learn from.
TL;DR: Stand up for what you believe in. Your worldview will attract the right people into your life – and business.
The value of a service mindset
Right out of college, I worked as a sales associate at a large department store for 2 years. I hated it. It was 2009, at the start of the recession, and it was the only job I could find at the time. Not only did I feel massively underemployed, I felt the job was beneath me. Along with accruing 20K in student debt, the job added to the pain of feeling stuck. It was the first in a string of customer service-related jobs I held after college, which included being a server at a Thai restaurant and tech support at a startup.
Looking back 5 years later, I’m grateful for those experiences. I wasn’t necessarily good at it, but it taught me how to think on my feet, get better at reading people, and respond in a way that’s empathetic to their circumstances. I got a handle of swallowing my pride and defusing tense, tricky situations.
Most importantly, these customer service jobs cemented my beliefs in how successful businesses should be run. They became my lens to see the world and solve problems. Fundamentally, customer service is about this: people matter. You can’t run a successful business without simultaneously uplifting and improving your customers – their life, and as a person.
Customer service isn’t an afterthought, nor is it just about support. It’s a belief system about how to treat people. When that belief is part of your business DNA, you approach all decisions differently. As my general manager at the Thai restaurant coined, it’s being “service-minded.”
Successful business starts with a point of view
Your worldview matters. It’s like a lighthouse that lets people know where you stand and attracts those who believe they are in the right place.
It begins with your thesis – how you see the world, and how you care for and help your customers – and extends through to your content, products, customer interactions, and finally your marketing. It’s a manifesto that ties all the threads of your business together.
I believe that the strongest bond you can have with your users and customers is when they experience what I call a “me too” moment. It’s when how you see the world speaks to who they are as a person. It touches on their core identity. Think of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. It’s a way of life for athletes (and beyond); it’s not focused solely on the brand. People who are attracted to the slogan are those who see themselves the same way.
Most companies can’t connect in this way because they don’t have a clear idea of who they serve or what they believe in. As Simon Sinek explained in Start With Why, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Do you want to attract new users and customers by manipulating them, or by inspiring them through your mission? Building your “lighthouse” – rather than making your shiny new logo or snappy tagline pull all the weight – can attract qualified customers and increase user retention.
Not only will you attract people who identify with your worldview, you can help connect these people to each other. Loneliness is a pain. But what if your company created a sense of belonging among them? Personally, when I’m amongst other people who “get” me, and I feel understood, I feel motivated to seek out and connect with them again.
People give their loyalty to others who “get” them. At the core, what users and customers want is for you to empathize and realize about things that they wish other people would realize about them.
In storytelling, Robert McKee, the author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, explained that something must be at stake to convince the audience that a great deal will be lost if the hero doesn’t obtain his or her goal. If nothing is at risk, the story won’t be engaging. In copywriting, one technique to “create” a customer is to polarize your audience. By doing so, you repel those who aren’t a good customer for your business, but at the same time, you also attract people who are more likely to be devoted to your brand.
You can’t please everyone. But at the same time, you shouldn’t be afraid to repel people who don’t care about (or disagree) with what you or your business stand for. Your worldview is your brand, and a strong brand is sharpened with a narrower focus. To design and and attract the right people to your business, plant a stake in the ground and claim what you believe. What do you stand for?
The competition is global now. When products and services can easily be copied by “me too” companies, you need to change the conversation from “Hey look at me, I have great stuff too!” to “We’re all about Z. We do things differently. If you’re into Z, we’re the only place you can get it.”
Your worldview won’t solve real problems
The caveat is that just putting your worldview out there isn’t enough. Your business must solve a real problem for customers. The product or service must not only delight, but also make the user’s life measurably better. Your operating philosophy doesn’t matter if you can’t deliver on what you promised. People can resonate with what you say, but if you don’t solve a meaningful problem for them, you’re just preaching, not doing business.
Don’t feel self-important and pretentious. Customer service is about solving problems, not pontificating your beliefs to inflate your ego. Service is about doing. Focus on getting to the truth about why people need the product or service. Companies claim to be customer- or user-centric all the time, but their products and services fail to solve the basic problem or delight them.
Customer-centricity is being obsessive about solving someone’s problems. You are obsessive about understanding who your customer is, what their pains are, and finding ways to delight them. If you are service-minded, you choose to be close to your users and look for emerging problems to solve. Providing customer service for a product that nobody wants is failure. The only way to truly understand your customer is to be generous with your time.
When you solve the problem well, customer service won’t be about mitigating bad word-of-mouth or bad PR, or even about fulfilling an obligation. It would be about investing in a long-term relationship.
Help people along on their journey of life
How will your product or service help people achieve what they want? How will it help them become more of who they want to be? Life is short; don’t waste other people’s time.
Realize that everyone is on their own journey, and you’re here at this time and place as a supporting character to help them get to where they want to go. So create tools and services that help people along on their journey.
This goes back to the belief system about how you treat people. For me, it’s a continual exploration of how to build that empathy into the product or service. There are utilitarian needs (i.e. a bicycle), and there’s the best damn bicycle someone has ever used. It makes it fun to be in business when you focus on making someone’s life a bit brighter each day.
Successful business starts with a point of view.
[Image Credit: Pete Markham]