About six months ago the Denver Broncos were facing the New England Patriots in the playoffs. Now, the 2011-12 season was ripe with emotion and varying degrees of expectation, much of which can be attributed to the rise of Tim Tebow’s leadership on and off the field. There were a lot of people going back and forth talking about “fit” and whether or not Tebow’s playing style would fit the demands of the NFL. Could his rise to a leader on a national stage be cut down by his own natural abilities, not fitting the tempo, the demands, or the way the game “should” be played? I will be the first to admit, I am not an expert in football or how it should be played and I could not breakdown a play beyond: yes they scored or no they didn’t advance down the field. However, for me, the magic of Tebow was when he could play the game they way he believed it should be played. When Tebow was given the power and authority to actually make decisions on the field in the heat of moment – dictating outcomes and winning games.
I watched this final game of the season on an iPhone screen as little dots moved down the field and snippets of plays were shared on social media. See, I had another purpose that night. I was at Ted’s Montana Grill among friends to celebrate @TrentGillaspie’s birthday. Like much of the rest of the table I was distracted, head down and shouting out advances on the field as if they were drink orders. This provided a pleasant distraction from my hunger for some good food. I must also mention it was my first time at Ted’s, but I heeded the recommendation of others at the table to have the buffalo steak (Sorry Ralphie – Go Buffs!). I was distracted by the game so I didn’t notice that everyone at the table had received their food before me and had already started eating. A waiter came over and tapped me on the shoulder:
“Sir, your steak was not prepared to standard. I am having them remake it. It will be just a moment.”
“No problem, thank you.”
As I waited, I sent the following tweet:
A few minutes later my steak arrived, and as expected – amazing. I enjoyed the rest of the night with the group, despite the Broncos loss, and I of course left a great tip for great service.
The next morning I woke up to the following tweet:
I’ll tell you what – I was already a fan, but this made me a promoter. For me this was the greatest example of what I like to call “congruent authority.” I define congruent authority to mean:
the ability of any individual in an organization of aligned values to make a decision in line with those values in order to affect change.
Oftentimes, as companies grow they start shifting from the way they believe business should be done to the way business is usually done. You know what I am talking about – the kind where everyone in the business has a stake in the outcomes, has to understand every level of business, and has the ability to affect outcomes to a hierarchical decision tree where people at the bottom of the tree are executing orders not necessarily serving customer or end user needs. In a way I don’t blame them – it is easy to make that shift. As you are charting into new waters you reach out for help from people who have been there – but they will tell you how to avoid the current – not swim with it. If you always avoid the current – you won’t build the muscles you would have if you leaned in, swam with it, and rode out the wave – resisting temptation to break away, even for a second.
Lately, I find that I am really hard on the brands and companies I am purchasing from and identifying with. Now, some of it may come from the idea that “the customer is always right.” I am not sure that is all of it though. I have raised my expectations. I expect more service, expect a great product, expect something to work they way I think it should work and if it doesn’t then I expect that the company fixes the problem. Why? Well, I have more choice in the matter than they do. I have so many choices in a marketplace of ideas and products that I can find exactly what I need, when I need it, to work how I need it to work. I’m not always shopping around for the lowest bidder; I am shopping around for my expectations. I would rather do business with a company that believes what I believe – and builds a product or service not based on what a given market says about what they can get away with, or what is possible, but what the marketplace truly desires.
This is best articulated in this clip below from a Steve Jobs Q&A at WWDC in 1997 – pay attention to how he answers the question and the congruency with which his vision is articulated at the 1:50 mark to your experience with Apple today:
I pay a premium for Apple products and service – absolutely. I also have come to not only have my expectations of service and products be met, but also exceeded by their delivery – over and over again – no matter whom I am engaging with. Furthermore, I can tell you what Apple believes and why I choose their product beyond faster processers and good service.
There are companies out there, like Apple: Zappos and Nordstrom to name a few, that have operated under the guise of congruent authority. These are the ones you see people use over and over as beacons that all companies should strive to be like. It is so convenient to name these companies, that we overlook what truly makes them great. From the very beginning the vision was devoted to putting the customer first, and every single employee understands and believes that mission – so much so that they are vested with the power and authority to actually make that happen. When you have that kind of congruency and belief in the people you work with, your customers will not only flock to you, but will be able to articulate what you believe to others.
Back at Ted’s, the waiter or chef, whomever made the decision not to send my order – could have very well sent out the steak under par. But to their credit, they didn’t even know it was my first time there but my experience with them since has taught me that it doesn’t matter if it was my first visit, or my last – the standards are the same.
So what am I trying to say with all this?
- Put your customers at the center of every single decision you make.
- Hire a team that believes what you believe.
- Empower that team with the authority to make independent decisions on your behalf that will affect the customer experience in a way that aligns with your vision.
- When it comes to customers, seek standards of satisfaction – not scripts and structures that dictate outcomes.
Do business the way you believe it should be done from a consumer perspective and start with the customers you have. If you do, you will always have loyal customers who will continue to buy your products and use your services. Not only will they buy your stuff – they will tell your story.
Time for a steak, can anyone recommend a place? Never mind, I have one that I always go to, they never have an off night.
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