Customer Experience: What It Is and How to Create It

We all have certain stores and brands that we keep going back to time after time. They consistently provide us with great products and services. When our friends and family ask for suggestions, they are a name we quickly and confidently provide. We love these companies, but what brings us back for more?

Yes, they provide quality and a product. Yes, they have great customer service. But it’s more than just those things. They create and maintain an excellent customer experience. What exactly does that mean, though? How do you create it? Is it just something that happens with time? Can it be improved? Let’s discuss.

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I bet you’re thinking, customer experience, that’s just a fancy way of saying customer service. WRONG. Though it does include customer service, customer experience is a mix of many things. Think about when you walk into your favorite store, there’s something about the atmosphere and the ease of finding or ordering what you need. Also, you can’t forget about the product or service. You get quality at each turn and you keep coming back.

So, how do they make it happen? Customer experience does not just happen (though if you have a good business plan it may seem like it does); it is created. It’s in the branding and package design, it’s in the materials that go into making the product, and that product’s design. It’s the look and feel of the brick and mortar location. It’s your online presence. It’s in the message the brand exudes. It’s the people and the training they receive. It’s planning. Whether you have an established company or are working to establish a new organization, here are some ways to create and/or improve your customer experience:

Keep It Cohesive

Make sure everyone and everything are on the same page. You take time crafting your mission and message, so put them to work. These should go further than just something employees read in their handbooks; be more than just a catchy tagline. They should mean something to the company and the customer. Everyone in the organization should buy into these messages, and they should carry through all facets of the brand. Also, don’t forget to make sure all branding and imaging carry through the brand as well. You want to be recognizable; make sure your theme is integrated through all platforms.

Make Things Easy

Who doesn’t like easy? Millennials and Generation Z have short attention spans. If it takes too many steps, they are moving on. We are also seeing in the retail world a move from shopping at brick and mortar stores to online shopping. If you don’t have an online presence, you are in trouble. So many locations extend their reach and experience for the customers to multiple channels; online, apps, social media, and physical locations. Each providing ease of access to products and deals. Companies that cannot convert the experience to multiple platforms are faltering. For example, The Limited has just closed all of its physical retail locations–just one of the many recent retail casualties. Though they provided good in-store experiences, The Limited was slow to transition to multi-faceted selling platforms. Only in the past several years did the brand start to offer computerized in-store online ordering, something many other brands had established long before which calculated into their demise.

People Power

Now, I know I said this wasn’t about customer service, but it is part of it. You can make sure that your online platform is easy to navigate, bug-free, and rarely down, but if your customer service is horrible, then forget it. Invest in your people, in their initial training, in their well-being, and their advancement. Happy employees carry their enthusiasm to those they interact with. I am currently planning a wedding and working to interview different “Big Day” vendors. It’s exhausting, but one thing I will say is that all of these vendors get what it means to create a customer experience. I recently said “yes to my dress,” and the experience and service there was amazing. They made sure my pregnant bridesmaids always had water and snacks; the woman who helped me find my dress even gave me her personal cell phone number so I can keep her updated on my wedding planning progress. They added the personal touch and made me feel special. If you can instill the importance of making a connection with your clients to everybody in your organization, you will have them coming back for more time and time again. Make them see the value in your people as well as in your product.

Customer experience is an expansive concept that includes, customer service, good products, easy online navigation, and more. Competition is everywhere. Make a plan that will help you stand out and connect with your client base. Plan for customer experience; don’t think it will happen magically.

ABG Capital to Attend Fall 2016 Growth Summit

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Source: gazelles.com

Staying current on the latest strategies for recruitment, execution, development, and operations is key. It’s a tool that ABG Capital uses to sharpen their current skill sets. It’s hard to argue that attending the Gazelles Growth Summit isn’t worth the time and travel. Especially when you’re recognized and awarded time and time again for growth, culture, and employee satisfaction. This year alone ABG Capital and its portfolio companies have reeled in eleven awards from Inc. 5000, Pittsburgh Business Times’ 100 Fastest Growing Companies, and Inc.’s 50 Best Places to work…just to name a few!

As some of you may or may not know, ABG Capital attends the Gazelles Summit, presented by Fortune, twice a year. The spring Summit focuses on leadership and the fall Summit focuses on growth. There, top news-makers and thought-leaders along with hundreds of executive teams from participating companies are gathered for two intense days of learning, networking, and idea generation.These recognitions have been earned as a result of not neglecting their own education and development as a whole.

This past spring the Growth Summit focused on Verne Harnish’s book Scaling Up- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. A book designed to scale a “hyper-growth” business. The book and the seminar have a very specific focus; it’s written with so-called “gazelles” in mind; ambitious, small, entrepreneurial firms that make the transition to hyper-growth companies. Those are companies where a month, or a quarter is more like a year for a regular business. When you’re growing that fast you need some guiding principles, or rules to run by. Verne Harnish created the “Rockefeller Habits” based on the leadership and management principles used by John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil. (Often regarded as the richest person in history).

It’s safe to say that whatever stage of business you’re at, this book is packed with practical things you can implement in this moment to make a noticeable difference to the performance of your company.

As we’ve discussed in a previous post, the book focuses on 3 habitual pillars:

  • Priority: Does the company have their Top 5 objective priorities for the year and quarter, and a clear Top 1 priority? Does everyone in the company have his or her own priorities aligned with these? Priorities matter because you’ll make faster progress by focusing everyone’s energies on one area.
  • Data: Does the company have sufficient feedback on a daily and weekly basis to ensure the company is running and the market is demanding? This will also help you predict the near-future.
  • Rhythm: Does the company have an effective pattern of well-organized daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability?

The book goes into depth on how to make sure you’re doing these three things right, as well as touching on company culture and how to recruit effectively.

What about this fall’s Growth Summit? It will focus on the idea and implementation of acquired contacts, deal flow, and knowledge as being the fundamental key sources of business development. Gazelles International will bring together experts in leadership, strategy, marketing, sales, operations, and finance to create a best-in-class interactive educational experience.

This gives business owners the opportunity to become the leader they’ve always imagined they could be–while surpassing all competition. This Summit will teach the ideas and tools of connecting with people that will propel any enterprise to the next level.

Some of the ideas and principles at this fall’s Growth Summit:

  • Building new connections & nurturing leads
  • Discovering best practices & discussing case studies
  • Develop skills surrounding client acquisition & facilitation
  • Participation in spirited round tables & challenge convention
  • Presentations from renowned news makers & thought leaders
  • Expertise gained by implementing the Four Decisions

It has never been more important for leaders of growth companies to make the right decisions about people, strategy, execution, and cash. ABG Capital will continue their education in the days to come at the fall Growth Summit in order to continue cultivating their growth in all facets.

Keep checking in for our follow up post as we uncover what we have learned and improved on, all stemming from the lessons learned at the Growth Summit!

3 Ways to Create a Culture of Empowerment

EMPOWER; (verb) to give power or authority to; authorize, especially by legal or official means.

This dictionary definition of empower probably makes you say… “I would love to be empowered at work, give me the power!” What would you change? Who would you hire? business-1564366_960_720Which problems would you solve first?

How can we take the definition of empower and use it to change the culture of the office? Let’s take a look at the business definition of empowerment.

EMPOWERMENT; (business definition) A management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve service and performance.

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”- Theodore Roosevelt

Now all of that is easier said than done. Let’s take a look at three ways a company can build a culture of empowerment.

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Find your passion
If employees can identify with a company’s passion or purpose, they can find passion in their work. Passionate and purposeful employees can help take an organization from “old school” to innovative due to extensive engagement in the business.

Invest in your employees 
Investing in your employees is as easy as giving them the proper tools, knowledge and training to do their job well. This will help everyone avoid the frustrations of not knowing the answer a customer’s question or concern. Proper training also leads to great innovation and process improvement through higher levels of thinking

Create a process for change
Empowering employees leads to changes in workplace culture. Why make these changes difficult? Clearly define to company employees the process for pitching an innovation or process improvement. The knowledge that change is possible and clearly defined will inspire employees to think about their role in the company.

Does your company foster a culture of empowerment? Do you have any suggestions for how your company could promote empowerment better?

Steps to Better Marketing Team Building

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships” is a quote famously given by the legend, Michael Jordan. A lot of people get confused when it comes to the topic of talent. Most think it’s all they need to succeed. In some cases, such as professional basketball, it’s a huge part. Some people are born with natural abilities that make up their talent; there’s definitely a big difference between an individual who is 6’8” and someone who is 5’4” when trying out for a basketball team. Who do you think is more likely to be the first round pick? I’ll admit, there is some flaw to that analogy. Work ethic, hustle, and mental capacity make up the difference whether it’s in the NBA or in your marketing department.

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When building or refining your marketing team, it’s really all about filling in the gaps between talent, brains, and hustle. Which brings us to our first step in building the ultimate marketing team.

Step 1. Identify the gaps.

Let’s do a little audit with your current marketing team. Divide your employees into categories. The creative, the strategist, the analysts, and so on. Now identify the gaps. What are gaps exactly? Gaps are when your marketing team is missing or doesn’t have the right skill set to keep the cogs turning.

This inevitably means you need to grow your team and you’ve reached that “oh crap” phase.

The good news is that you’ve caught your dilemma and you’re taking the initiative to fix it. So good for you! You’ve now realized that there are blocks in your team that are preventing you from achieving your goals. Your talent gaps have led to performance gaps. The bad news is that performance gaps act as ceilings on your results.

What you shouldn’t do is go and hire 10 new people to fill these gaps. Schedule evaluations with your current team members to identify what’s working for them, what their passions are, and what you actually need. You’ll be surprised when you find that hidden pool of talent within your current team hasn’t surfaced until this point. Sometimes all it takes is being personal with your employees and showing them that your interest is to cultivate their passion.

Step 2. Be realistic.

If you had unlimited resources, you would create the perfect team in no time. The cost of the team would be unimportant. What you need to focus on is where you stand now, what resources you currently have available, and where it all exists in reality. Create a plan that outlines how you’re going to fill the remaining gaps. Minimize waste in your department to free up your budget and begin to position your team to scale.

Step 3. Worry about the gap, not the project.

Turnover isn’t a word that sits well with any business of any size. Sometimes it creates problems, but it’s exactly what you need to weed out the main gaps within your department. You can look at it one of two ways; you’ll have the waste of always looking for new talent, delays due to always trying to find that perfect talent, bringing people up to speed…OR you can look at it as a worthwhile investment in furthering your team’s strengths. Don’t hire contractors and agencies for what they can accomplish. Hire them for what they do best. There are agencies that can give you the world, but there are only few who can work with their passion. There are people who were made to do a few things really well; those people were designed to fill your gaps.

Now it’s time to begin again. Remember, a well-oiled marketing team is always going to be a work in progress and will be far from perfect.

Not everyone who starts with you will make it to the finish. Realizing that priorities and needs change in team members as well as the company, helps rationalize what could be a tough decision ahead.

Team building is a necessary part of business. Forming the right team is an art that few businesses have yet to master. Are you the next Picasso?

4 Keys to Success from the Gazelles Growth Summit

It’s that time of year again–time for the annual Gazelles Growth Summit! ABG Capital’s top dogs are fortunate enough to travel once again to this learning event in Atlanta to continue their growth and education in the world of leadership.

ABG Capital, along with hundreds of other business owners, will learn from CEOs of some of the world’s top companies to understand their habits, experiences and insights to craft an industry dominating strategy!

gazelles 1This year’s summit is focused on Verne Harnish’s book Scaling Up- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits 2.0. There will be a buffet of knowledgeable guest speakers presenting, including Jim Whitehurst, David Butler and Aubrey Daniels just to name a few. Also, team workshops that focus on the “Rockefeller Habits 2.0” in a day-long spirit of “how-to” interaction, collaboration and networking will be featured.gazelles 2

Today we’re going to dig right into the meat and potatoes of Scaling Up and showcase how ABG Capital practices the four main strategies found in the book on the day-to-day.

To summarize the book (which is almost sacrilegious to do), Harnish focuses on four keys to scaling your business. Keys that allow some companies to “make-it” and the rest to fall.

The keys are:

  1. Attract and keep the right people
  2. Create a truly differentiated strategy
  3. Drive flawless execution
  4. Have plenty of cash to weather the storms

The People

The book states that the job of the leaders is to make sure the right people are doing the right things.

Your values and culture should be so strong that they act like an immune system, forming a system of protection against those who may not align, all for the greater good and health of your organization.

At ABG Capital we invest in our employees. We cultivate them and promote their growth and success. We shape our employees into their roles and allow them embrace their passions. When everything aligns, it’s almost magical. It’s wonderful to see our teams share our C.O.R.E. Values, make them their own and embrace their responsibilities. Our organization exists almost as an accounting statement. Each produced effort has a column with numbers of the extraordinary people responsible. It only becomes problematic when those names in the column don’t align with the work and values presented.

Some companies may think turnover is a scary outcome within their business. It’s actually a good outcome. Only when you invest in your employees are they at the peak of strength. Why? You’re weeding out the B and C players that eventually become toxic to your A players–the players in which you invest.

The Strategy

Core values are the rules and boundaries that define our company’s culture and personality. They’re also the rules and boundaries that define our strategy. We developed a set of C.O.R.E. Values that have helped define our niche, simplify our execution and turn our revenue into profit. Our strategy is differentiated due to the fact that each of our portfolio companies has a Profit Per X. Meaning that our companies individually have one product, service, technology etc. that sets them apart from the rest.

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We each also have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), a long term goal that changes the nature of business. For example VoIP Innovations, one of ABG Capital’s portfolio companies, differentiates their X Factor, which is their BackOffice software that is unlike anything in the industry today. VoIP Innovations also has a BHAG of offering complete Choice, Automation and Control of their telecom services. Scaling Up teaches us that we need to sandbox our brand promises. Who are our customers? What are we really selling them? What are our three brand promises? And the most important; how do we measure?

The Execution

At ABG Capital we like to focus on three key components to steer our ship in the right direction: priority, data and rhythm. We pride ourselves in focusing on these three words in all that we do. What does that mean exactly? Well let’s break it down. Priority–when you come in to the office bright and early, just poured yourself a coffee and sat down at your desk, you should have a piece of work carried over from the previous work day that needs to be finished before your meeting. This task becomes your priority. Each business day should present a new priority; that one project, simple or complex that needs to be completed before moving on to anything else.

Collecting data requires us to have data. Key performance indicators (KPIs) must be identified, and effort needs to be expended to capture this information. ABG Capital’s KPIs vary between companies and KPIs enable us to measure how we are performing by revealing both areas in which we excel and those in which improvement is needed.

Rhythm is the heartbeat of your organization. Have a daily huddle. This 5-15 minute meeting should be implemented to discuss tactical issues and provide updates. Brief, daily meetings will help establish a rhythm, as can weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings. Meetings are useful for obtaining feedback, getting “real” information, reviewing KPIs and identifying problems that prevent things from running smoothly.

Meetings can even provide those all-too-rare opportunities to pat people on the back and “recharge their batteries.”

The Cash

In Scaling Up,  Harnish says to never blame the industry for your company’s financial situation. “Well, this is just the way it is in our industry,“ isn’t a phrase you’ll hear uttered from top executives. Could you imagine Warren Buffett or Mark Zuckerberg giving a shrug followed by these words? In fact, Harnish says there are only two time-frames that matter: 90 days, 10 years and nothing in between.

Your 90-day plan is data driven, and you’re focused on overcoming the choke point. This is your time to review a daily report of available cash and to note why it has changed in the last 24 hours. Recognizing these changes and following the efficiency and progress of your “rhythm” will promote huge growth in the next decade. So no more excuses–only improvements!

The Most Important People You Need In The Workplace

“You’re only as good as your team.” A quote given by the nine time NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins. A quote that may sound pretty straightforward and to the point on the surface is actually a lot more complex than you could imagine. Ask yourself, “How well am I performing?” Whether that question may be aimed towards your personal life in regards to your happiness, health, and family; or in your professional life in relation to your financial success or the overall strength of your company–it all comes down to whom is behind you. So, who are the most important people you need in the workplace?

People you need in the workplace

Who are the people in your life that are raising you up to become and maintain the happy, in shape, mother, father, or partner that you are? It’s important to not only understand the good standing you’re in; but who to thank for turning the often overlooked gears that made you this way.

Maybe you’re not the best you can be. Maybe your company is struggling with sales, keeping client relations strong, or forgetting its overall core values. Are you to blame? Partially, yes. It’s crucial to also realize that who you are made up of as a team often determines the success of the current moment you’re in now. So let’s dive right in and break down the most important qualities that you need in your workplace. We can uncover whether or not these qualities and skills are present, or need to be brought to your team immediately.

Commitment

Believe it or not, your team’s commitment to the overall goal of your company is crucial. An employee committed to achieving his goals and objectives is something magical in and of itself. These team players should be especially valued when times are tough, and when they continue to strive for solutions and refrain from blaming others. A person who is committed to your bigger picture is, in this case, probably the most important person in your office no matter what other skills and strengths they may have.

The Extra Mile

In order to gain your confidence, employees must be willing to go above and beyond what is typically required of them on the job. Employees who take on projects that fall outside their normal responsibilities can expand their skill set and explore new avenues for professional growth. While someone may not always have the time to volunteer for an extra assignment, passing on every opportunity will prevent any particular person in your team from being viewed as a go-to person in the department, as well as a critical cog in your business’ well-oiled success machine.

Communication/Interpersonal

In today’s workplace, communication is the skill of utmost importance. Your employees must have communication skills that allow them to proactively and effectively contribute their thoughts toward the overall proliferation of greatness within your company. An effective communicator leaves no room for error and can exhibit thoughts in a direct manner to make up the solid framework of your team.

Leadership and Creativity

Employees often work together on projects, so some employees must take on the leadership role to ensure deadlines are met, problems are addressed and all ideas are being considered. Meaning that leadership and creativity are also two very strongly needed qualities to have in your workplace. You as the employer often seek employees who have natural leadership skills. In addition, these employees must also have creativity skills so they can find and use solutions for potential problems on tasks, projects, or assignments.

Wear Multiple Hats

Who is the person in your office that shows an eager willingness to get done…well…whatever needs done? Having a person that doesn’t pump the brakes with what’s outside his job description is a huge asset. A person who wears multiple hats in the office is the reason you know if there are any loose ends; if there are, they will be covered.

Passion

When someone believes strongly in you, it makes a difference. You feel his support and you become more confident in yourself and your endeavors. When an employee believes strongly in your company’s mission, his job is no longer a job. It’s a calling. People work harder when they feel connected to and believe in your mission as a leader and the mission of the company. So why wouldn’t you include passionate people in your team?

Who are Your All-Stars?

Hopefully by taking a closer look within your company’s various teams you will find who shines the most and who could use some work. Maybe you’re missing an important quality/person all together who could bring that edge you’re looking for! Whichever the case, you now have a better understanding of the players on your team who are making your business the champion it is today.

Getting Your Core Values Off The Wall and Into The Office

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If you were to walk into your company today, where would you find your corporate values? In the employee handbook? Hanging on a plaque in each room? Is your HR department protecting them? Regardless of where your core values may be found; they’re all empty promises if you as the business owner aren’t modeling them through daily office behaviors.

As a business owner, you’ll find yourself flip flopping in and out of other operating roles. Especially when pulling together your team to find out what your company stands for, besides the products/services it sells. In today’s post we’ll be taking a look at your core values, from the position of one question; Why? Why do we stand for these purposes and HOW do we make sure these purposes are off the wall and walking around the halls?

“Are our core values off the wall?” We all know what core values are. I discovered, in my college internship that core values aren’t as “ugly” or monotonous as my business planning classes made them out to be. Core values should be thought of with emotion. They should be a result of the cerebral planning process that is left out of the business plan. They should be looked at from within. It sounds a little silly, but really, look at your business as a whole in the mirror and tear yourself apart. What’s good about you, what isn’t? Core values are how your customers and the people you hire are connected. They’re why they buy from you instead of your competitors.

The process of developing a set of core values isn’t as intimidating as one may think. In fact, the building blocks for great core values can be broken down into three easy steps:

  1. Name the value: “Integrity is the essence of our success.”
  2. Describe the demonstrated behavior: “Our walk matches our talk. We make and keep commitments.”
  3. Measure how the leader demonstrates the value: Needs improvement–Delivery of commitments are inconsistent.

It’s unfortunate that part of the reason why businesses fail is because of their poorly executed core values. Internally and externally, if your partners in business don’t share the same purpose–and if they don’t share the same values–it will be difficult to make any progress.

The same goes towards your employees. These core values you have so proudly displayed on almost every wall need to keep your employees unified. If your employees don’t understand your values and purpose as a company; chaos could be the result.

Ask yourself why?  Why are you doing what you do in the first place? How are you doing what you are doing? Keeping that WHY at the center keeps the focus on those core values you set in place for your business.

Where are your core values being carried out?

Where are your core values being carried out?

Assembling a team of like-minded partners and employees that understand your WHY keeps those words you have plastered all over your office walls in the discussions where critical decision making takes place. As well as in the break room during lunch.

Make your core values a navigational practice for your business. Bringing in your WHY when hiring will assemble a team of like-minded employees. Hold your core values as a high priority during the interview process and watch reactions.

What about your preexisting employees? Employees can be looked at in two ways: Those who have high values and those who have low values. Those who have high values might need to be trained to have better performance. Those employees who have low values, even if they have high-performance, should be relieved from the company. They become toxic. This is where most companies go wrong–they base everything on performance and not the culture.

Without letting your employees know where you stand through your meetings and team-work events, your employees won’t know where you stand. So be straight with your values first and then measure performance.

So next time you walk into the office take a look around. Each day keep an eye on where your core values have bounced to next. You may be surprised, but you’ll certainly feel satisfied.

Like a Boss: Celebrating Boss’s Day

When Boss’s Day is mentioned to someone, there are three common reactions: Oh, cool—that’s nice. OMG, I can’t stand my boss. Did you make that up? That last one leads into the retort, “Hallmark made that up just to sell greeting cards.” Actually, Hallmark didn’t even begin selling Boss’s Day cards until 1979, but the holiday has been around long before that. Continue reading