Is Your Customer Your Hero?

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Do you admire your customers? Years ago, I was visiting a friend who owned a small business. Our conversation was interrupted by a customer. After the customer left, my friend muttered under his breath: “Cheapskate.”

Many of my friend’s customers were looking for a bargain – in fact, his business marketed itself as friendly to bargain-hunters – and yet, at bottom, my friend didn’t like working with his customers.

I recently had a chance to visit Finland, where I produced* a video showing how one of our company’s customers is bringing clean energy to the north of Finland. I’m a fan of renewable energy, but my heroes are the people who are building and operating wind parks.

Our customer treated me like family during the long day of work on the video. One of the technicians told me proudly about his wife, who also works in the wind industry. They took me on an elevator ride up to the top of one of their wind turbines (the turbine is so tall that it took around 5 minutes to get to the top!)

I don’t know if there is any quantitative evidence connecting success with admiring your customers. Certainly I didn’t have to pretend to be enthusiastic – it came across as sincere because it is. The most successful business owners I know treat their customers like kings and queens because that’s how they view them.

Are you honored to be helping your customers achieve their goals? Is your customer your hero?

*By “produced” I mean: I hired the production company that did most of the great work, and generally got in their way while they were filming.

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Flag

His shirt was white and so crisp-looking I imagined I could hear the hiss of the steam iron; his suit, equally perfect, a somber charcoal color. He stood tall on an expanse of dewy grass, in an early spring chill, cranking three flags down to half mast – to honor the victims of the attacks in Brussels.

Everything about this man spoke of respect – from the way he dressed to greet his customers and colleagues to his assumption of the morning’s first duty – something he could easily have delegated to one of his staffers. His appearance and actions made an indelible impression upon me. And this impression associated itself in my mind with his company’s brand – Northern Bank.

As the company’s three flags flew at half mast, and I continued my walk to work, I saw another company across the street that hadn’t bothered to lower its flag even as the death toll climbs past thirty.

Everything your employees do both inside and outside your company, reflects on your company’s brand. Curious, I Googled Northern Bank and one of the first articles I saw mentioned it had been rated one of the Boston Globe Top Workplaces. This didn’t surprise me at all – it takes a good company culture to reinforce a company’s brand.

What kind of flag does your company fly?

“She’s So Immature”…No Duh

“She’s so immature.” This is a favorite insult among younger people (it’s usually said with a somewhat immature-sounding snarl).

Certainly there are many occasions that call for this comment… Names changed to protect the young.

  • Tom, age 22, decides to take up pipe smoking because it seems like a good affectation.
  • Jean, 23, spends most of her day at the office with her phone on her lap so she can send and receive texts from her friends, who are doing the same thing at their own offices.
  • Caleb, 25, spends the first part of the day wandering around the workplace asking everyone how their weekend was. He sits down at his desk in earnest at 10:00 with his breakfast next to his mouse.

As much as many of us crave youth, we despise immaturity, usually denying our own immaturity in the process.

“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child, to reason as a child; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a child.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). The Biblical Paul reminds us that life has a natural cycle.

In other words, young people are supposed to be immature. The Bible recommends that young people listen to their elders, but there are also many admonitions to elders not to exceed their authority.

How does this play out in the workplace? People just starting out their careers come to offices desperately needing guidance on everything from how (and when) to answer an email, to the location of the kitchen (and how much time they should spend in the kitchen).

Sometimes there are workplace rules, like an employee manual which struggles to keep up with trends and tools (has excessive Facebook messaging been forbidden in your workplace yet?)

Often, however, younger workers are left to their own devices as older workers, toiling behind closed doors, struggle to keep their own toehold. Or an insecure manager might micro-manage an employee’s work, leaving him to think of his boss as the enemy.

Formal mentorship programs try to bridge the gap. These may be doomed to fail if:

  • a company does not already have a culture where experience is admired
  • the experienced people are overworked and overtaxed, so they don’t feel they have time to offer their skills
  • the younger people are also overworked, so they don’t feel they have the time to participate
  • there is an absence of trust, so that people feel the difficulties they share with their mentors may later be used against them
  • there simply are not enough older people in the workplace – they got trucked out to make room for the pool table

Does your corporate culture encourage a continuing, respectful dialog between older and younger workers? If not, what steps do you think should be taken to promote this? Please share your ideas in the comments here!