Create a people culture

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By Lance Minnis


In last month’s column I talked about some of the things an entrepreneur needs to get started- marketing, financing, etc- but left the most important until now. This is the people.

If you look at the rosters of successful startups, including Apple and Google, one thing they all have in common is a people culture. The folks who start the company create a culture for the employee and the customer that keeps them coming back. Let’s be clear here- while Apple and Google are now big companies, they were both started by college students who worked from their parents’ garages. The lessons learned there are just as valuable for a single owner Main Street retail store. Let’s talk about the first group, your customers.

First and foremost, if you post a set of standards that all customers see when they walk into your business or visit your website, for heaven’s sake stand by them. If you say the customer is always right, you’d better make it true.

What does that mean in real terms? If you’re a dry cleaner and a shirt gets ruined, don’t argue about it with the customer, pay for the shirt. If the customer ordered a medium rare steak, then complains about it being pink, don’t argue… make it again. The old adage about offending one customer means losing 10 is true. The corollary of this is also true- stated policies well posted are also your protection against those who would cheat you.

I am reminded of one of my favorite burger joints in Atlanta, called the Vortex. Their policy of no substitutions is printed bold in the menu, on the wall of the restaurant, on the website and repeated by the servers to first time customers.

They create a unique product that is intended to be tasted as it is made. After all the warnings, if a customer tries to make a substitution and then gets mad, they ask the customer to leave! They have a quality product which they believe in, and have well posted standards that they uphold for everyone, the customer as well as staff.

The point of all this? Your policies in regards to your customers can kill you if you’re not careful. It makes almost no difference what those policies are, but they must be upheld as absolute by you and your employees and the customer, and you should make darned sure you believe in what you say before posting them.

Of course, the second set of people involved in your business may be more important than the first, as they will implement these policies of yours.

Your employees will be the ones that your customers see, hear and interact with. Make sure whatever policies regarding the customers you enact, your employees are on the same page as you. They don’t have to believe as you do, and probably won’t, but they must know what you want, how to do it, and to have no hesitation.

Again, if a customer complains, make sure your people know that you want the customer taken care of at any cost. Nothing is more fatal than failing to back up your employee when they do what you say you want. If you support your employees they will support you. While you have clear policies for customers make sure you do for employees as well.

Nothing will lose you business faster than having employees who talk on a phone while customers wait, or who appear bored, distracted, or angry. Part of this is on the employee, but it is up to you to set your standards, make sure the employees understand them, and then to enforce them. Give them enough short breaks to remain cheerful throughout a shift.

If you provide uniforms, have extra on hand so that if a child dumps ketchup on your server at the beginning of his six-hour shift he doesn’t look a mess for the remainder. Your relationship with your customers and your employees is a contract that requires the active, willing participation of all parties, most of all you. Your success in business depends on how well you stand by that contract.


Lance Minnis is an Advisor and Financial Coach with Commonwealth Financial Advisors, LLC. He can be reached at 502-523-2727. Opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Lance Minnis, and do not constitute financial or investment advice