Opinions of contributing entrepreneurs are their own.
I’ve built four international No. 1 brands in my life, during which time I’ve learned some valuable lessons myself – and I now feel like I’m at a certain age where I want to share that experience and teach others.
I was lucky enough to learn from those who were great at what they did, including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They helped shape who I am and how I work and, in the best form of flattery, I modeled myself after them until I could make it better.
Related: This is why customer experience is the driving force for Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs
Is the digitization of customers destroying your business?
There is often talk in the IT space of digitizing customers and turning customers into numbers and data to effectively market them – but my experience tells me that the exact opposite is true.
I know that in today’s world it is still about face-to-face interaction with the customer. We may only use the figures and data to inform and support customer relationships, not to take away the human aspect of doing business. Now more than ever, attracting and retaining customers is about building trust, the initial relationship, execution and how we serve our customers’ needs in a way that they understand and that makes us and our businesses successful.
Finding the value in technology
Technology undoubtedly provides access to data about the value of the goods or service, the customer, the user interface and the user experience. Still, we need to take a personal approach to meeting and supporting our customers. The code is just the bridge to get to that face-to-face interaction and unlock the trade value. You still need to know your customer and gain their trust. That is very much a personal relationship that a computer or data can never replace.
Technology companies and their engineers should be the first to realize that their frontline workers are the ones engaging them as their representatives and delivering the customer experience. It is, in fact, the resources deployed by the technology and the company’s most valuable asset.
Without a doubt, it is essential to learn how to attract and retain employees who know how to use the resources but cannot be overtaken by them. They should be treated and valued that way. The sad truth is that many technical engineers and technical executives consider themselves superior beings, but that’s hardly the case. The reality is that they are as disconnected from their company as they are from the employees who represent their company; without connection to the business operations and staff on the customer facing frontline, they will only have their ideas about what is needed.
This is something I learned and because I benefited from great education I know that a company will never reach its full potential. Technical engineers and executives must learn by doing the job to fully understand the requirements of the business customers and be able to meet their real needs.
Related: How to use technology to innovate the customer service experience
Lead by example
Sam Walton, who built Walmart, worked with his customers in his stores every day. He did every job to understand his business and identify the smallest inefficiencies. Only then could he really understand which changes would benefit staff and customers. For as long as I can remember reading Forbes, four of his children have been in the Top 20 Richest People; they too learned how important it is to fully understand the companies they operate in from the start.
I met Bill Gates in 1997 while attending an investment banking meeting in Beverly Hills, and I was in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time. The only flight there had one bus seat left. Being a muscular 265 lbs back then, wearing an expensive Italian suit, and having a very different ego and demeanor than I have now, I was pretty grumpy about it.
As I walked to the back of the plane, I was somewhat surprised to hear a familiar voice talking to someone behind a newspaper. That someone was none other than Bill Gates.
I asked him what he was doing here. He replied, “That’s how I get to know people.” It suddenly clicked; sound advice from one of the richest men in the world who made Microsoft what it is today. That meeting had a profound effect on me, and I sat down on the coach to think about how true what he said was and, more importantly, why it was so important to his success. He knew the value of knowing what people want by actually hearing about them and their lives, not through a perception born of his own ideas.
When I arrived at my meeting at The Beverly Hills Hilton to fund a high-end hotel, golf course and housing project designed by Beverly Park designer Brian Adler in Beverly Hills, guess who was sitting next to me? Bill Gates. Well, Bill lives there in Palm Springs these days. The kicker is that Pioneering energy catalysta fund he backs now owns the majority of Hilton.
Another factor influencing who I am today comes from a time when I briefly consulted Steve Jobs and came to discover a few things. Steve Jobs is probably the most credited person of his time for bringing many new ideas and inventions to market, but this was not done by luck. It came from his time to get to know his customers. My understanding is that he spent three hours a day doing customer service for Apple to get to know Apple’s customers. He knew he had to understand the issues with Apple and find out what people who might buy Apple products wanted. Then he built what the customers asked for.
My own success and the stories of others are how I became what I am today, and how I know that technology will never replace humans in understanding a business.
Related: Steve Jobs and the Seven Rules of Success
You only know what you allow yourself to learn
Finally, my mantra of “Know your customers and your business” is one that is probably shared by every successful australiabusinessblog.com. You can’t leave it all to machines; you have to learn for yourself what your customers and potential customers want.
Only those who fail to understand the importance of every human being involved in a business, whether potential or existing customers, junior or executive staff, by taking the time to understand their role and listen to their experiences will never be the best they can be. Never get too good to spend time in a coach. You can take it from me or from these other well-known characters who share this common trait, but this is a lesson that will serve you – and your company – well.