Do it differently. That’s the key mantra to making your business work. No matter what line of business you are in, look at your competition, and innovate on what they are already doing.
At Vincent Bond we’ve seen this approach work to such lengths that the company just won Debt Consultant of the Year 2012. I could go on and massage the corporate ego, but what you really need to know is how we did it. I put it down to two words. Call it the Wow Factor.
Our team decided in order to grow, we had to go abroad and research what the sexiest companies in the US were doing to stay ahead. We looked at zappos.com, a shoe trader that has just been sold for $2bn. How did they go from nothing to a multi-billion value enterprise? At Vincent Bond we wanted to know, so we flew to their home in Las Vegas, Nevada, to find out.
Vincent Bond is a debt management company, working in a trade that can get some hard stick for its conduct. We wanted to be different. We were drawn to Zappos because they showed a massive love for their customers. Some companies invest in advertising, some in marketing, but the theory is... if you invest in customer service, word of mouth fills the job of advertising, and you save on your promotion budget.
This company would go to crazy extremes to look after customers. It would send people shoes to try at home, and gave them as much as a year to send the shoes back in return for a refund, no questions asked. It would courier shoes to people who were in desperate need of the right shoes, like brides on their wedding day. Not only that, they’d send it gift wrapped, with their favourite take away pizza, Chinese food, bottle of wine or whatever. The point is they stood out, they created the wow factor. That got the word out there faster than an advert.
So once we’d done all this research, we realised Vincent Bond needed to take some examples back to the UK, but coming back we noticed something interesting. Here in the UK we’re not so into fawning over customers. There was no way we could just carbon copy what Zappos were doing. Different business, different country, different work ethic. We had to get employees to relate to customer service in a different way. So we held a meet-up to get a common ground from our workforce on how they thought we could build their relationships with the customers they talk to on a daily basis.
First though we had to get past some sceptcism, we had to assure them this wouldn’t just be another workshop where we’d talk about company values, blah blah blah, and nothing would get done once they had left the room. Our first job was to convince the workforce that this wouldn’t be a propaganda mission about company values. They would decide the company’s customer values that would take them, and the company forward.
The affect of this was remarkable, not only were we building communication in the work place, but we were promoting something that many companies forget and the reason why they exist – their customers.
We now practice the results of this brainstorm every day at Vincent Bond. It’s woven into the DNA of our company. Each month we'd give feedback to our staff from customers, read them letters from customers, give prizes for those we thought demonstrated the best examples of understanding customer needs. We'd understand the language of the staff and implement that in our own business talk. We also set up a fund, almost like a church benevolent fund, where staff could award £100 cheques to particularly hard-up cases. The idea of a debt officer being benevolent can scarcely be believed on the high street, but we did it. Believe me, there were some real sob stories, and it got customers talking about us. So did it work? That brings me back to why I think we were awarded the accolade of Debt Consultant of the Year 2012. It was a real moral boost for the team.
Like other companies, we won’t use it as an excuse to slack, but to take us further. It shows that introducing the wow factor most definitely wins results. But before you make it work, find out how to fit it into the culture of your company.
William Berry is a serial entrepreneur and in 2006 was named a Young Gun by Growing Business. He is the founder-director of
. William is also CEO of the new video start up
, based in California.