Does your business have a soul?

Emily Hackeling

Emily Hackeling,

Content Marketing at Front

9 April 20210 min read

Do you center your business around your customers? Or do you make your customers fit into your company processes?

Whether you’re shipping goods from New York to Dubai, serving drip coffees to commuters, or selling software to fuel customer communication, every business shares a common end goal: making money.

If you ask Founder Bill Lee, in order to make money, there’s one thing all businesses must have. Strong product-market fit? A differentiated solution? The best service? Nope, nope, and nope.

Every successful business must have a soul.

Bill Lee has spent over a decade working with global teams on customer experience as the founder of the Center for Customer Engagement and the author of Harvard Business Review Press’ The Hidden Wealth of Customers. Companies from Microsoft to Red Hat to IBM and beyond have used his consulting and research services with a clear goal in mind: becoming a “customer-powered enterprise.” According to Lee’s methodology, it’s not enough to focus on business growth alone: businesses and customers must grow together.

Lee shared with us why having a soul is critical part of his consultancy business and a key driver of success for the countless companies he’s worked with.

What’s the soul of a business?

Are we blasting Aretha Franklin or Marvin Gaye? Not quite. “The soul of a business starts with having a cause, a purpose,” Lee said. It goes beyond metrics or anything quantifiable and is something that’s motivating to your employees, even more so than money or perks. “It’s something that the founder or leaders are passionate about, that’s working to improve people’s lives in some significant way,” Lee said.

Once you know your purpose, it unlocks the door for the rest. Having a soul means having a clear purpose that your team believes in, and when this happens everything your team does—all your company processes—are centered around helping customers succeed.

How to tell if a business has a soul

Lee says as a customer, it’s easy to tell when a business has a soul. He highlighted Zoom, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest as stand-out examples of these types of businesses, with a few common traits you’ll notice:

  1. Their communication with you is personal

  2. Your interactions with the business are centered around you, the customer

You can ask yourself these questions to get a sense of whether a business you’re communicating with has a soul like Lee mentioned:

  • Are they reading from a script? Or are they talking to you like a human, or even a friend?

  • Do they remember you? Do they understand your individual use case or give you a general answer or help article?

  • Do they use language around “getting you into their system”, getting your account or ticket number instead of your name, or making you fit into their processes?

And when you flip these questions around for yourself as a business owner or customer experience leader, you can get a sense of whether your business is delivering an experience that’s centered around the customer, or around your company.

Why choose soul over scale?

Some companies choose to grow rapidly over keeping their soul alive. What does this look like? Lee said the number one indicator is when a business forces customers to communicate via rigid processes that aren’t suited to the customer.

  • Impersonal ticketing systems

  • Long waits for a reply or duplicate replies from different teammates

  • “Please send an email to this other address.”

  • “Please call our other number instead.”

  • Asking you a question that another rep already asked you

Choosing soul is a longterm play, according to Lee. If you don’t, you’ll see longterm problems. You‘ll have incredible inefficiencies built into your business. You’ll have communication that’s impersonal and creates a lack of trust between you and the customer. In every experience, there’s that friction that you can’t quite shake.

Soul impacts employees, too

The soul of your business tightly links your customers and your employees. When your team is invested in your purpose, they’re happier, too. “We spend more time on work than anything else. But you don’t have to work for a nonprofit to find meaning. If you have a genuine cause that’s really going to make life better for people, and your leaders are passionate about it, then you’re making society better,” Lee explained. “As human beings, we’re energized by this.” And your customers will feel it.

With a soul, customers help you grow

When you opt for soul over scale, Lee said customers will do a lot of your work for you. There’s not much that can beat the power of a trusting community. “You’ll have huge potential. No only word of mouth, but with marketing, sales, post-sales. Your customers, when you prioritize them first, will unlock huge potential for you down the line,” Lee noted. “You’ll grow together.”

How to get your company invested in soul

Picture this: You’re leading customer experience for a business. You have changes to make, and you want to get your CEO on board. Lee said he’s seen a slam-dunk way to do this:

Instead of approaching your CEO with all the initiatives you want to implement for CX and why, go to your CEO and find out what’s keeping them up at night. Find out which priorities are top of mind. Then, think about how your customers can help solve those issues. Share those plans. Your customers are the soul of your business—and for almost any problem you might face while growing your business, your customers are the solution.

Written by Emily Hackeling

Originally Published: 9 April 2021

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