Corner Office: All You Need is Love – Aug 2012

Corner Office: All You Need is Love – Aug 2012

Successful brands require TLC to serve customers

All you need is love
All you need is love,
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need.

—The Beatles

Are you singing along yet? Do you have visions of The Beatles rocking away? Keep that vision in your head, except think about your relationship with your customers. Do you get the same feeling?

I recently have been recuperating from knee replacement surgery. Confronted with idle time between physical therapy sessions and convinced that daytime TV is organized punishment to force one to get better, I tackled a stack of books that I’ve been intending to read someday.

One of those books was Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison by Joe Calloway. While I have to admit that the title didn’t exactly blow my skirt up, once I started to read it I couldn’t put it down. Calloway explains how a company’s brand isn’t something tangible that you own, but is the intangible experience that belongs to your customers and that you must go get.

In other words, you can spend a lot of time and money on building a brand with fancy logos, slogans, strategic plans, and slick advertising, but none of it matters until your company and its products or services emotionally connect with your customers. Providing good and distinguishable service cannot be accomplished by listing it as a task, strategy, or goal at your annual budgeting meetings. Rather, you have to love the concept of service and of serving your customers—fulfilling a desire to make them feel special. It has to be integral to your culture.

That’s why Calloway’s concepts for becoming a Category One company ring so true. It’s not necessary to spend a gazillion dollars on a new ad campaign or hire an army of computer geeks to run a fancy social media blitz—you need to simply love serving your customers and treat them as you’d like to be treated. We should all strive for that feeling with our customers; when you do that, customers become repeat loyal customers who talk about your company to their friends (at no cost to you, by the way).

To differentiate your company, Calloway says, the first question to answer is “Who are you?” to make sure you understand your corporate culture. If your answer is unclear or fuzzy, that means you have a lack of vision, focus, and commitment—and your customers will think so too. Calloway and I share the belief that empty slogans and fancy corporate-speak won’t cut it. He asks how the outcome would have changed for Martin Luther King Jr. if he had said “I have a strategic plan” instead of “I have a dream.” Get the difference?

At the same time, companies need to pay close attention to each customer, focusing on people as individuals instead of abstract target demographics. Can you answer a hypothetical customer’s question “Why should I do business with you?” If you can’t, spend some time evaluating how well you really know your customers. The best way to differentiate yourself from the competition, says Calloway, is to connect with your customers and demonstrate that you love serving them better than your competitors do.

An example of superb commitment to customer service is illustrated in another book I read, Harry’s Bar: The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark by Arrigo Cipriani. I visited Harry’s Bar, so I can vouch for the important details. “A hundred things go into making a success in my business,” says Cipriani. For instance, Cipriani designed the tables to be small because the restaurant is tiny, and to have three legs so they won’t tip or wobble on his uneven floors. He considers it a question of honor to make sure that someone dining on shrimp does not get a whiff of codfish cooking on the stove. At Harry’s Bar, bartenders memorize customers’ favorite martinis and their preference for steak (rare, medium, etc.) so regulars don’t even have to order.

Harry’s Bar doesn’t look like anything special—it’s just a little café like hundreds of other little cafés in Europe. The difference is its reputation—its brand—spread by decades of word of mouth by hundreds of satisfied and loyal customers—including royalty and the rich and famous.

The point is that the owners and employees at Harry’s Bar care about their customers. “I felt there had to be another way of serving people,” Cipriani writes, “a way of inspiring the customers’ trust without intimidating them, of loving one’s guests and not just impressing them.” He taught his employees and family members to “do everything with love.”

Cipriani’s devotion to service is captured in this poem, which is prominently displayed in his restaurant:

 

There is soul, and there are things.
Imagine a world made up only of objects,
A world of idle tools,
A restaurant of nothing but tables and chairs,
A large empty theater, or deserted plaza in summer.
They cry out for the service of man,
The service to give them life.
We call on man to display his splendid capabilities.
And
We observe with undivided attention,
Because
The little nuances in the quality of his service<
Give a flawless measure of his mind,
They tell us frankly what his soul is worth,
Because
To serve is first to love.

 

You don’t have to be a world-famous restaurant to be known for caring about customers. This is just one example of creating a brand by making the experience that your customers have with your company memorable. And that, says Calloway, is the key to success, because when you reach Category One status, the price of your product or service is practically immaterial.

Now sing along with me:

 

All you need is love
All you need is love,
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need.

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