Undercover Boss highlights the need for passionate people

It's no secret that I really like the new CBS show, Undercover Boss. I'm mildly disappointed that it's been a few weeks since they featured any cringe-worthy moments, but there are still plenty of great lessons to be learned.

The latest episode featured Joel Manby, President and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment. His experience highlighted the importance of having passionate employees who truly care about the business, the people they work with, and they people they serve.

Watch the episode first if you don't want me to spoil the plot.

Hiring Passionate People

A lot of companies seem to have their recruiting priorities backwards. The first thing they look for is relevant experience. "Have you worked in similar, soul-crushing jobs before? Great! You can be mediocre here too."

Some companies dig deeper and look for relevant skills. "Yes, I see you have a long history of customer service jobs. However, at our company we like our customer service reps to be friendly. Have any of your customer service positions required you to be friendly and courteous when dealing with customers?" At first this sounds ridiculous, but we all know there are plenty of service jobs out that where just a little courtesy could vault you to 'employee of the month' status. 

Very few companies hire for passion. The five employees Joel Manby followed at Herschend Family Entertainment all seemed to love what they did. Yes, some of them faced their fair share of challenges, but they loved serving people and they loved the business. Here's my suggested priority order for recruiting:

  1. Passion. Find peole who will love your company and love their jobs.
  2. Skill. Find people who have the skills to do their jobs well.
  3. Experience. Experience is only good if you use it wisely. You could have 20 years of experience doing something, but that might just mean you've been doing it poorly for 20 years.

We use a very simply model to help visualize what you truly need in any employee. Check it out here.

Passionate Customers

My recent posts about Starbucks gave me an opportunity to research what other people were saying. Not surprisingly, a lot of people are very passionate about what Starbucks is up to. A few bloggers have even started some very interesting conversations, such as Becky Carroll (Customers Rock!) and Jay Ehret (The Marketing Spot). Carroll and Ehret are collaborating on what they call "The Starbucks Project" to help "Howard get it right." (Howard Schultz is the CEO of Starbucks.)

This got me thinking - how nice would it be if we all had customers who were so passionate about our products and services they went to great lengths to give us feedback and help us get it right.

  • I love Jimmy Dean sausage, but this guy takes it to the next level. Listen to his complaint call (careful, his language is a bit 'colorful').
  • Fanpop.com is a fan club website with pages for many companies (including In-n-Out!).
  • Fans, regular customers, and employees can all interact at Get Satisfaction. Check out the examples on the Timbuk2 page.
  • Burger King even tried to create this sort of 'consumer enthusiasm' with their Whopper Freakout campaign.

What can we do about it?

Creating a passionate, self-motivated base of fanatical customers is both an art and a science. This could be a big discussion, but here are my top 3 strategies.

Strategy #1: Be consistent. I love In-N-Out and they rekindle that romance every time I visit, no matter which store I go to. Their service is always enthusasiatic and friendly and the product is always good. Very few companies can achieve this level of consistency.

Strategy #2: Resolve problems like a hero. This is the classic 'hero' opportunity. A customer experiences a problem and someone becomes a hero by swooping in to save the day. Kearny Mesa Acura in San Diego does a great job here. I've occasionally experienced a problem in the service department, but they've always made it right and then some.

Strategy #3: Overdeliver. The best strategy is to give customers more than they expect. The Prado Restaurant in San Diego is outstanding in this aspect. I can distinctly remember many times I've been there because they almost always incorporate an unexpected surprise. The ambience and food are both outstanding, but the service even surpasses both.