Improving your company culture should be a goal of every business owner. As an owner, you set the culture, that is, the way your company relates to your customers. That doesn’t mean micromanaging your employees, but just the opposite. Mark Labourdette, owner of a San Francisco home remodeling firm, believes that business owners must have the courage and conviction to empower their employees to think for themselves, solve problems and share the solutions with other team members. I heard Labourdette speak at a trade show where he advocated a company culture in which employees behave like owners. “Sadly, few owners have any idea of how to go about making this happen,” said Laburdette. “The first reaction I get from owners I speak with is, ‘Oh yeah, we have that. I have great employees.’ Yet further discussion often reveals symptoms of a culture that comes up short of empowerment.”
I have seen them and you have seen them: owners who talk about being involved in everything, micromanaging and controlling. Labourdette has even heard owners, or managers installed by owners, telling everyone what to do via their job descriptions, or trying to control everything with systems and procedures. “Don’t get me wrong,” Labourdette said, “systems and procedures are important, but they do not create a culture that has your employees inspired to act like owners.” Job descriptions don’t empower because they are limited to task orientation. They can’t include every circumstance and they are rarely read. They are, in fact, counter to getting the employee to think for him or herself because you are, in effect, thinking for them by telling them what to do through the job description.
Changing the employee culture
Look at your company culture as the behaviors and actions of your employees when you are not there. The truth is most companies in America can be summed up as command-and-control cultures. When the boss is not around, employees act and think as they are commanded and controlled. The typical employee does not feel empowered or energized to behave with the same passion and drive as the owner. Why should they? Most owners have not given the employee the opportunity or room to be a leader. Most have not created a culture in which everyone feels empowered to contribute and grow or even been asked to take on these roles. So how do you change this? To gain control, you must give up control. You must be willing to to install systems and procedures of accountability that are not driven by you. And you need to get buy-in from your employees. For that, you need to ask them to trust you before they can trust themselves.
Creating a customer-care culture through TRUST
At the same time you strive to create a culture of empowerment for your employees, you need to create a culture of trust that will please customers and help close sales. Charles Green’s Trust-Based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2005) teaches us that you can’t fake trust. Successful sellers actually care about their customers. Their secret is they value the relationship over the transaction. As Green points out, and our own experience shows, most sales and marketing people either ignore the trust factor altogether or simply believe the act of building trust is telling their prospective customer all about their expertise, experience, reputation, etc. While this does build credibility, it does not build trust. And with all things seeming equal, the buyer will always choose trust.
Make referral generation part of your culture
Referrals don’t happen by accident. They need to be made part of your business culture systematically. You need a systematic approach to put happy customers to work for you. First, though, you have to ask yourself this simple question: “Am I worth it?” There are many tools and techniques you can use to generate referrals:
• Referral tracking forms
• Telephone scripts
• Referral request letters
• Thank you cards or gifts
• Promotional items
• A referral contest
• Or a combination of any of these
But, before committing resources to generating referrals, you need to ask yourself: “Do I have a business that is worthy of receiving referrals?” If the answer is no, then you need to fix your business. You can learn strategies, receive expert suggestions, be shown all kinds of marketing tools that other companies are using to get clients to refer them, but if your business isn’t worthy of receiving referrals, no amount of marketing expertise is going to help. If you want to have people refer you, you’ve got to really wow them. If they are not impressed enough with your service to where they’d want to use you again, then they certainly aren’t going to want to refer you to other people.
Dan Sullivan, founder of The Strategic Coach, Inc. (Toronto, Canada) has identified four habits he calls the Refer-ability Habits. He says that in order for you to have a business that generates referrals and for you to be the type of person a client would want to refer, you need to follow these four simple but oft-neglected habits:
1. Show up on time.
2. Finish what you start.
3. Do what you say you’re going to do.
4. Say please and thank you.
No matter how good your product or service is, no matter how great your team members are, no matter how honest you are, no matter how highly skilled and trained you are, if you break just one of these refer-ability habits, you have dropped the ball. The bottom line is this: if you don’t show people respect and dependability, they’re not going to refer you.
The referral process
You’ve got to plant a seed in the customer’s mind. This can be done through something as simple as a referral tracking form that gives them an opportunity to list friends or family who may be in need of your company’s services or products. This could also be sent as an e-mail message that can be easily forwarded to others (nothing is easier than hitting the send-to-all button on the address book to forward your information). Follow up with all newly referred prospects promptly. Anytime you are given the name and contact information of someone who may be interested in your service or product, it’s your responsibility to turn that referral into a sale.
Offer a referral reward
You need to thank and reward those who refer you. If you are receiving referrals and you’re not doing anything at this point to get referrals, they’re just telling people about you because they’re happy with your company. Imagine what would happen if you not only started going out of your way to thank them for sending you business, but you also started rewarding them with gifts or perks. Reward systems work very well with your employees too, so don’t forget to thank them when they come back with a completed customer referral tracking form. One gift to consider is rewarding clients with cash. Cash works. It does not have to be a large amount. As an alternative to cash, you could also give a bonus, such as a free additional service, small free gift or gift certificates to a local restaurant or movie theater. People have busy lives, so if you don’t actively thank them and let them know you appreciate their referrals (and reward them), they’re not going to be thinking about your company for long after the sale is completed. Give customers an added reason to remember you.
Examine your company culture, how it impacts employees, customers and sales. It might benefit from some changes in how you operate and interact with both employees and clients.
About the author
S David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin
Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in
water improvement and environmental marketing
that integrates old and new media. He can be
reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at dmartin@