Thinking Big with Howard Mann
Business Turnaround Specialist, CEO Coach, Strategic Advisor, and Author
Always learning, asking questions, relentlessly seeking fresh insights and ideas—it’s a universal quest that unites our Kinesis team. In fact, we take every available chance to sit down with business leaders and learn from what they have to say. We gladly extend these master-lessons to you; another way we can Share The Good (and the smarts).
For the first in our series of our “Accelerator Interviews,” we introduce you to Howard Mann, founder of Brickyard Partners and author of the acclaimed book: Your Business Brickyard – Getting back to basics to make your business more fun to run. Mann’s charter is to help underperforming businesses work through their most threatening challenges and to realize their true potential. Before starting Brickyard Partners, Mann was the President/Owner of a premier freight and logistics company with over 140 Million in revenue and six U.S. offices.
Grab a cup of coffee and join us as we discuss some powerful business enlightenment!
Shawn: So Howard, you talk a lot about businesses and the promises they make. Tell me how this relates to marketing?
Howard: In many ways your business is a promise; whether it’s a promise to deliver a product of a certain value at a certain price or a service in a particular way. But most businesses I encounter, large and small, think they just need to make a product or offer a service and then marketing will create a cool tagline that offers a promise to lure customers. The problem is that most taglines are like candy: you can make one up each week that you think could work for your business (and that should be a big warning sign). When that happens, your tagline quickly becomes a punchline. So, I am suggesting that business owners take a step back and think about a promise their business can make and that they are passionate about keeping. Then, let the marketing and messaging flow from that.
Shawn: So what makes for a promise you can deliver on?
Howard: A promise is not a mission statement watered down by committee or something that states how you are going to be the biggest company in the world and deliver extraordinary service. Have you ever heard of a company promising to offer “lousy” or just ”average” service? Me neither.
Think about the companies you love and admire. Think about the promises they make. I will bet they all do an amazing job of keeping their promises. Yes, they may slip here and there, but they are determined to engineer their company to keep that promise as close to 100% of the time as possible. Think of the companies you hate (cough); think about most airlines (cough); they all make a lot of promises, but keep very few.
So, the work has to begin with figuring out the promise that you are willing to do anything to keep. Once a business hits on that promise, it becomes the very best filter for helping a CEO/Business Owner know what activities they must do and what they should not do. An action either fit that promise or it does not. It’s very black and white. And, finally, a promise is the path to innovation. The question becomes, “what else can we do to deliver on our promise?”
Shawn: Lots of clients in the B2B space pride themselves on great customer service, but I wonder if their clients agree. For you, what defines an organization driven by exceptional service?
Howard: As I mentioned earlier, nobody ever says they will offer lousy or average service, but most do. So the first question is: why is that true? Given everything we know about the benefits that great service generates to a business (loyalty, word of mouth, etc…), why are most service experiences so bad?
I believe most businesses confuse simply offering service (or deploying a customer service manual) with providing great customer service. Having a customer service number and employees that answer phones/emails is not great customer service.
If you are going to make a promise to deliver great customer service, then you will have to hire people who give a damn about the customer. Period. People who take delight in solving problems and have the patience to deal with issues that cannot be solved with one click. It takes a certain type of person to deliver great service. Some can be trained, but I think they have to be wired to care or they will just go through the motions. Finishing off a call with, “have I answered all of your questions and provided you with exceptional service?” is not customer service. Zappos has become the poster child for getting this right and if you read anything about CEO Tony Hsieh, you will hear that they hire for personality first, last, and always. The fact that they sell shoes is secondary to building a great service experience for the customer. Same is true for The Ritz Carlton, Tiffany’s, and The Four Seasons.
Having said ALL of that, if great customer service is not a promise you are passionate about or something that will make a difference to your business then stop trying to fake it.
Let your business be itself.
Shawn: Can you give an example?
Howard: Well, first, figure out how to deliver what you care about in a way that is true for you and your people. “We are so focused on making your tax returns 100% accurate that we are not great about schmoozing on the phone,” is a far more honest approach than trying to convince me that an accounting firm is focused on giving great customer service. Do I want to have long fun talks with my accountant? Probably not. Instead, I would rather they work on technical expertise rather than spending time in a class learning how to smile while talking on the phone.
Shawn: I’ve learned that business owners love the idea of the “silver bullet” – whether in marketing, sales, or operations. Does it exist?
Howard: Short answer: No. Ironically, the silver bullet is… wait for it… there is no silver bullet. By the time a business calls me, they have been through five marketing agencies, three PR firms, four websites and 19 taglines. Nothing has worked. Each agency they hired was asked to deliver a silver bullet that would skyrocket business growth. But, if you will pardon the expression, it is all just whipped cream on shit. If your business does not have a unique story to tell and your product/service is not exceptional, no marketing agency, PR firm, or web designer will be able to change that.
So I see the job of a great modern agency as telling the raw truth to their clients. They need to tell each prospect that the first thing they MUST do is to dig in deep and figure out what makes their company great. What is the untold story of the business that is different from what all of their competitors are saying? IF businesses are smart enough to demand these agencies do that work up front, then the results of the whipped cream part will have the impact they really want. Yes, it will take longer. Yes, you will need to hear things about your business that will upset or frustrate you. But consider your frustration when each new effort to find a silver bullet misses the target. Think about how much time (and money) you wasted trying. To toss out one more metaphor, it’s like putting great icing on a cake that tastes horrible.
Join us next week for part two of our interview with Howard Mann. We will explore Mann’s philosophies on what it takes to be a great entrepreneur, why owning a business is a great thing, and how running a business can be like trying to read a label from the inside of a bottle.