I just learned last week about Gary Vaynerchuk from Seth Godin’s Domino Project (great post, Ishita), another great example of someone who pokes the box (you mean you haven’t read Poke the Box yet? What are you waiting for? It’s a top 100 book on Amazon, for goodness sake, and it will help you see that you don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission. OK fine, I’ll write a review soon).
Then just yesterday a colleague told me that Gary’s talk at last weeks’ SXSW-Interactive was one of the top three at the whole darn conference. Besides the entertainment value of Gary’s, uh, colorful vocabulary, (2 minutes and 4 seconds without dropping the “f-bomb”) Gary’s main message was that companies are going to win and lose based on who can “out care” their customers.
Speaking of caring (and not caring), the other night I was at Magnolia Bakery, which helped start the NY cupcake craze and which shamelessly charges nearly $3 for an (admittedly delicious) cupcake. But service is slow. The store is set up Disney-land style (pick your cupcakes here, walk down the long counter for the chance to buy more stuff, pay at the register at the end) which might work when there’s a throng of customers but makes no sense when you’d rather just drop six bucks in a jar and walk away with two cupcakes.
I was running late for a show, so I noticed when it took me (and the other six other customers in the store) nearly 10 minutes to buy cupcakes (two cupcakes per couple, so really three customers). Bad enough, but much worse because there were 8 Magnolia employees chatting, working, and doing everything but notice that their empty shop had a logjam. I even asked one of them if I could just pay and go, and she said she wasn’t assigned to the register.
“Too cool for school” might be an OK customer service approach when your shop is flooded with tourists looking for a “real NY experience,” but for the rest of us chickens it’s time to think seriously about out-caring the competition. If you don’t believe me, read the blow-by-blow Zappos story in Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, and remind yourself again and again: this is a billion dollar company with rabid fans who buy SHOES ONLINE.
While last week’s post about new humanism generated a lot of interest, some comments said that David Brooks’ arguments are old hat. The ideas may not be new, but they’re certainly not mainstream (in business, in economics, in how we teach our kids), and I think it’s high time that changes. It’s much more than a tweak to the old models….if you really take it seriously you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and start afresh.
For example, the old way of thinking about customer service says that customers want the best product for the best price, and oh, yes, they want to good customer service too (read: nice-to-have, sort of like “soft skills”…can you hear the derisive sneer?). The Zappos way of thinking says that creating an off-the-charts customer experience is the ONLY thing that matters. For Zappos, it’s the end-all be-all.
It may be that Magnolia Bakery can ignore out-caring the competition because they serve up enough sugary, buttery goodness to anesthetize their customers (or, more seriously, because waiting forever confirms the story of cupcakes you flew across the country to try), but for the rest of us, it’s time to start out-caring the competition.
That means real relationships, every time. It means you actually care, you don’t just act like you care. It means you put emotional effort into everything you do. It’s not easy to copy, which is why if you do it with abandon, you win.