How to Succeed in Business without Striking Oil

Oil exec J. Paul Getty once said the secret to success is to rise early, work late, and strike oil. I guess that worked out pretty well for him since the Guinness Book of Records named him the Michael Schultz on this episode of The Combustion Chronicles, I’ve decided another secret to success is to rise early, work late, and walk a mile in your customers’ shoes. And this one doesn’t require any lucky strikes.

One of Michael’s really cool ventures is Fairgrounds Craft Coffee & Tea, a chain of cafes that offer a variety of craft coffee roasters under one roof, along with specialty teas and fresh chef-made food. It’s one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” concepts that just makes sense as soon as you hear about it.

Michael has been in the hospitality business for decades, but he didn’t just rely on that experience in launching Fairgrounds. Instead, he thought about what happened every time he and his team would take breaks during work meetings:

Two people would go to a La Colombe and one would go to Verve and one would go to Blue Bottle and one would go to Starbucks, and everybody would kind of go their own way. And God forbid somebody wanted to eat, they’d go a whole other way. And then we’d go to dinner and there’d be 100 different beers on tap. And I said, “Why is there no consumer choice in coffee?”

Simple idea, huh? But only if you look at business through the eyes of a customer, not through the eyes of an executive or shareholder.

Imagine if Michael had said, “I’m the boss. I like Blue Bottle. We’re all going to Blue Bottle.” Or if he’d said, “This meeting is way too important for us to take a break. We’ll have coffee brought in.” Either way, Fairgrounds probably wouldn’t exist. And his coworkers probably wouldn’t be very happy. Which brings me to another point. To be successful, you also have to walk a mile in your employees’ shoes.

That’s literally what happens on the CBS TV reality show Undercover Boss, which is now in its 11th season. In each episode, a senior exec works undercover at their own company to learn about the employee experience. (Spoiler alert: they usually get their eyes opened about everything from poor working conditions to broken business processes.)

After her experience on the show, Linda Chadwick, who is CEO of Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard, said this: “It really gave me a different perspective of the business and what our franchisees do every day.” One specific thing she figured out was that their dial-up credit card machines were so slow they were losing customers. “As an operator, people were standing in line and I’m thinking, what are we doing?” she said. “The credit card processor is doing the ‘dee doo dee’ like we’re back in 1990.”

I don’t know if Chadwick has upgraded her company’s credit card machines, but I’m sure she and the other people in the C-suite have been thinking about what they can learn from her time undercover.

But here’s the deal: You don’t have to go on Undercover Boss or enlist secret shoppers to find out what your employees and customers think. You just have to ask them and then listen to what they tell you.

Takeaway: Customers and employees are the lifeblood of your business. Figure out how to make them happy, and you’ll be on the road to success.

As an experience evangelist, Shawn Nason (founder and CEO of MOFI) partners with human-obsessed and maverick-minded people and organizations to rethink their Experience Ecosystems™. Click here to learn more.

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