Customer Experience

How Harley-Davidson and The Beard Club Use “Identity” to Build Customer Experience

(Note: This is one of a series of posts to come around the various ways that marketers are crafting incredible customer experiences.  In so doing, they are dramatically improving their customer retention and acquisition efforts, and concurrently building their brand.)

One of the most powerful ways to build customer experience is by tapping into raw human needs and emotions.

A person’s sense of sense, their actual, perceived and desired identity, is one of the more raw and powerful needs to connect with.  Many businesses have done an excellent job of using their brands to help customer’s think differently about themselves. When done well, customers are proud to be associated with the brand and willing to show off that association in public. They begin to think of the brand as more than just a product. It becomes part of who they are and, even more powerfully, a reflection of who they want to be.

Of course, a business can use the power of identity in a negative way, manipulating customers through psychological games, but the examples shared in this section come from companies who are using this power in positive ways.

Harley-Davidson: More than a Motorcycle

Harley-Davidson has become one of the best-known brands in the world, in any category. People with absolutely no interest in motorcycles have heard of them and already have a clear sense of the brand’s distinct identity.

While most people associate motorcycles with younger demographics, the average Harley owner is forty, not old but certainly not a 20-something thing.  This is due in part to the bikes’ cost; they aren’t cheap.  But if you’ve ever met a Harley owner, however, you know they tend to be extremely proud to be a Harley owner. They love to show it off, and “owning a Harley” is a key part of many owners’ identities.  They’re didn’t merely purchase a motorcycle; they became a part of a vibrant subculture.

The bikes themselves are loud, brash, and bold. You know when a Harley is moving down the street, and their owners rather enjoy that the bikes aren’t subtle.  They didn’t join a membership where the card gets tossed in the trash nor is kept quiet.  While it may not always be through their spoken words, but Harley owners scream being Harley owners.

One of the company’s biggest achievements has been transforming their product into more than a product. People know what Harley stands for: freedom, community, and a certain rebellious attitude.

Their website says it more directly, “If you want to fit in, take the bus.”

From a purely technical standpoint, there are probably better motorcycles on the market. However, Harley customers aren’t in it for the technical quality of the product. They are embracing the Harley attitude.

And for its target customers, Harley is giving them exactly what they want in terms of identity. For people in their forties and fifties, many of whom are empty-nesters, and some of whom are struggling through or approaching a midlife crisis, Harley restores for them a sense of youthful rebellion. Riders are able to detach from their jobs and the concerns of their daily lives to take to the open road with a sense of freedom.

While it’s hard to point to a single moment where the brand that had often been associated with the Hell’s Angels and featured in films like “Easy Rider” started attracting a growing following amongst older and more affluent customers (the average age used to be 32 and now it’s in the 40s, with average annual income increasing from $30K to $70K+), what is clear is that once the company noticed the CEOs, bankers and celebrities were taking to their bikes, they leaned in.  (As an interesting side note, back in the early 1900s, Harley target farmers, then in the mid part of the century positioned itself as the bike for police officers.  To say the brand has evolved and changed its targeting over time is a minor understatement.)

As an example of how the company has leaned in towards shifts in its customer profile, customers choose Harley-Davidson motorcycles because of how they feel and how they want to be as an owner.  One way to amplify that feeling is by joining with others.  Riding a Harley with others is a big part of being a Harley owner, and the brand encourages such connections with what they call H.O.G. (The Harley Owners Group).

H.O.G. was started in 1983, and today there are over a million club members. It’s the biggest factory-sponsored riding club in the world, and while many people think it’s managed by customers, each club is actually sponsored by a local dealership. In the past, dealers could only sponsor one H.O.G. each, but now they are allowed to sponsor two.

This is a great example of a brand recognizing what their customers would want, well beyond the basic “product,” and then creating opportunities to help their customers feel even more strongly about themselves and the brand.

From a financial side, this of course drives retention in the form of merchandise sales (I think we’ve all seen how decked out Harley riders can be) and certainly additional bike sales.  That image and brand story that is then told – whether by hearing an owner talk about it or just seeing them riding down the road with others – no doubt leads to future customer acquisition.  In fact, the company used to spend very little dollars in advertising.  But that didn’t mean spending nothing on marketing.  Their spend would show up in efforts like H.O.G. and other ways to support their customers.  How’s that for a different take on marketing? And all the while the brand continues to form, evolve, and grow.

The Beard Club: Are You Man Enough?

The Beard Club began life as Dollar Bear Club, introducing themselves to the world through a video featuring the company founders, Chris Stoikos and Alex Brown, along with the rest of their team. Through that first video, as well as subsequent ones, they have tapped into something deep in the psychology of their target audience.

They aren’t the only company providing products for men with beards, but in each video, they have created a strong sense of what it means to be a man with a beard. They show images and tell stories of bearded men doing cool things, elevating the image of manhood in a positive way. On their website, they even ask the question, “Still don’t think you’re man enough?”

It’s interesting to note that their videos speak both to men who have beards and work to instill a desire to grow one for those who don’t.  For bearded men, they’ve created what Seth Godin loves to describe as a “Tribe.”  The Beard Club wants bearded men to know they are being spoken to, to know that there is someone who understands them.  And The Beard Club wants bearded me to think about themselves differently, as particularly proud not just to have a beard on their face but to remind them that having a beard means being special and different.  (Whether this is “true” is irrelevant, it’s the message the brand is telling.)

Their message is also aimed at those who don’t have a beard, to say, “This is what you could have.  This is who you could be.  This is the life you could live if only you had a beard!”

Of course, any customer knows that having a beard isn’t a magic ticket to a wonderful life. The message is clearly tongue-in-cheek, but it still creates an identity that many men crave. Not only does it create a sense of aspiration, but it offers accessibility: “All this can be yours!” It could even be considered a call to arms: “If you don’t have a beard, grow one!”

What I find helpful in looking at The Beard Club vs. Harley-Davidson is that while the latter used its marketing dollars outside of pure advertising, the videos in which The Beard Club uses this strong sense of identity are primarily customer acquisition vehicles.  Sure, they help reinforce the brand message to existing customers.  But many of these videos are primarily used to bring on new customers.  And for those who lean more towards the performance marketing approach, crafting an experience using identity is no longer something vague but can be integrated with the same data-driven approach, but just done from a creative side to intentionally create an experience, even before someone has become a customer.

Who You Are, Who You Aren’t

It’s important to recognize that Harley-Davidson and The Beard Club have a well-defined target customer. They don’t try to be all things to all people. If the leaders of Harley-Davidson decided tomorrow to target a completely different demographic, they would need deliver their experience in a different way. That’s the key. The product would be essentially the same, but the experience around it would change in order to target a different type of customer.

That is perhaps an obvious but crucial aspect of tapping into identity.  And that is in being crystal clear of who your target (and existing) customer is, what they value, what you can offer them that is a clear point of differentiation, and that you can deliver on that message.

Some businesses try to create a sense of identity, but they fail to go deep enough. They don’t speak loudly enough about the identity of their brand because they don’t want to alienate other potential customers.  In the early stages, as a few different demographics are being tested, this approach might make sense.  But over time, not going deeper can mean a weaker connection with customers.  Yes, it means making a tradeoff and likely turning away a demographic, but brands that seemingly go all-in by speaking loudly to a specific target customer do better than by trying to speak to everyone.

And that is in part because that specific customer wants to be treated a certain way.  Unless there can be very clear segmentation within groups, trying to speak both to married women over 40 and single men in their 20s is very very difficult.  The language, imagery, tone, messaging, etc. should be different for those two groups.  So as much trying to straddle a couple worlds may feel like neither is alienated, it also means that neither get the sense that the brand truly understands them.

As you consider your own business, do you have a clear sense of who you are and who you aren’t? Are you clear on who your customer is, at least for 70% of the business?  That’s the group you should be directly all of your messaging to.  That is the group to see how you can connect with their sense of identity.  Whether in the form of reinforcing what they already feel or creating a sense of aspiration based on who they are or want to be.  And whether that shows up in strategic marketing efforts, in Facebook video ads, in the product or service you deliver, or anywhere in your business, being able to tap into someone’s sense of self can be one of the more powerful ways to build that customer’s experience.   One of the big wins we can have as marketers is for customers to tell stories about our brands.  And yet when that story is an outgrowth of their identity, it carries a much greater sense of impact and authenticity.


Crafting Amazing Customer Experiences: The Strategy That Helps Marketers Both Build the Brand AND Scale the Business

Think about what happens when a customer has an amazing experience with your business. They are happier, more satisfied and more engaged. Which typically means they will buy again from you. So they stick around longer and are worth more to you as a customer. When they are happy, they’re more prone to tell positive stories about your business. Those stories help to craft the brand. Similarly, people talking good things about your business in an authentic way drives word of mouth. Which is the cheapest form of customer acquisition, not to mention helping your paid media efforts to be more effective. And since referred customers have been shown to be some of the highest value, these are particularly profitable customers.

That’s a lot of goodness…

Every marketer wants to grow their business. It’s human nature to do more, push ourselves, and our businesses. At the same time, the big win isn’t always just growth. The payoff happens when the business you’ve built becomes a brand that customers know, love and are excited to engage with.

On the spectrum, performance marketers generally believe that growth comes from pushing paid media hard, and that in selling and delivering on the product, you build the brand. On the other hand, traditional brand marketers approached things as “build the brand and the sales will follow.”

At the same time, we now operate in a world that is no longer either/or. As much as many things in society are portrayed as binary, marketing is not that way. Growing your business with more of a performance marketer’s hat is not at all at odds with building a brand. In fact, there are ways to achieve both concurrently.

One analogy I’ve found helpful is that performance marketing (aka direct response) is to brand as income is to wealth. You need income to get to wealth, just as you need a performance marketing approach to generate sales on the path to building a brand (I’d posit that even if you are funded, there has to be a sustainable business model in place at some point – see Blue Apron if you need a counter-example).

Over my career with my clients, the goals of scale and growth are typically the biggest reasons we engage. With a history in paid media (8 years at Beachbody and with my clients since), exploiting channels like Facebook, TV, and otherwise has been a cornerstone of my work. That always transcends to conversion and maximizing the value of each customer. Let’s be clear, there is a massive amount of scale and value that can be generated with this focus.

At the same time, every marketer faces the point where a channel has seemingly maxed out and so a search for a new channel to scale occurs.

This can be exhausting – the constant paid media, conversion, LTV, CPA model. Again, I’ve always considered myself a paid media guy, driven heavily with an analytics mindset. This stuff can be a big deal and can be used to push a business pretty far.

At the same time, word-of-mouth, and to a certain extent referrals, rarely gets that much attention. It can feel like it’s not trackable or measurable, when in fact there are ways to do so. And yet, it’s the cheapest form of customer acquisition and typically sees the highest value customers.

So where does word-of-mouth come from?

In essence, it comes from the stories customer tell. The good and bad ones. Those show up when someone asks them about a product they are using, on review sites, and beyond.

Where does these stories come from? Most often, from people’s experiences with your business.

And in a world where the customers are the ones who actually define the brand, as much as we try to affect it, those stories – which are an outgrowth of their experiences – are the way the brand comes to life.

It’s this progression and evolution, at least from my side, which has led to the realization of the power of customer experience. Not just CX in the online user experience definition, but much more broadly.

That crafting amazing customer experiences can serve both the growth goals of a business while elevating the brand.  And while I don’t believe in silver bullets, it is convenient when a strategy can serve multiple goals concurrently.

Why don’t more business focus on customer experience?

When you’re growing a business, sales are key. Without them, the rest is moot. And with so many different platforms and tools, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to optimize and scale paid channels. But even within doing so, it’s possible to create an experience – I’d argue that Dollar Beard Club (now The Beard Club) has very effectively used videos to craft the experience AND to acquire customers. For them, there really isn’t a distinction between the two.

Also, setting a goal around word of mouth is not common. And while it’s not perfect, looking at direct and organic traffic as well as referral customers can be an indicator of word of mouth, especially when paid media may not be as strong. There are a host of other metrics that can inform the strength of word of mouth – volume of social engagement (shares, hashtags, etc.), as well as indicators like Net Promoter Score (“NPS) and CSAT ratings. All of these typically follow when repeat customer rate is strong and refunds are lower.

None of those are entirely perfect, but there are certainly signals to look at to better inform the volume, and certainly the likelihood of word of mouth.

Finally, it’s also true that retention and building long-term value can simply be a prioritization and sequencing challenge in an organization. Especially those that are just getting some traction on sales. It can mean attention and resources (time, dollars, people, technology, etc.) that feels like it’s pulling from sales. But based on the above, that additional attention should assist sales, not be viewed as a draw from it.

What, then, do great experiences look like?

Think about the businesses you rave about. That your friends and family post about for no good reason other than they are excited to do so. Which businesses get talked about at conferences and in case studies.

There’s the list of regulars – Nordstrom, Amazon, Ritz Carlton, Apple, Starbucks, Disney.

And there’s good reason that they often pop into mind and are talked about. They’ve put a ton of time and attention towards the experience they want their customers to have.

There are countless other examples:




The Beard Club

Buc-ee’s Convenience Store


SaddleBack Leather

Rock n’ Roll Marathon

Loot Crate

Each of these businesses has created a brand, in part by intentionally crafting a great experience for their customer.

How they do so can include a variety of tactics:

-Different forms of media, such as video and music, for example, can be powerful in helping to deliver an experience.

-The product itself may be differentiated in such a way that may establish a unique experience

-Arguably, for some businesses like Uber, AirBnb Stitch Fix, the product and experience are so intertwined that there isn’t a clear delineation of one versus the other. This is reflective of many shared economy businesses and new business models around existing services (taxis for Uber, hotels for AirBnb, retail for Stitch Fix)

-Clearly, customer service affects the experience. As do how you handle the various components of the transactional process (acquisition, returns, cancels, etc.)

By far the most powerful way to craft experience is by tapping into people’s sense of identity and community. These are raw human needs, so can be the most powerful. And certainly not mutual exclusive with any of the above.

Let’s look at just a few of the above:

Harley Davidson customers clearly have a sense of identity attached to what it means to be a Harley rider. And whether it’s at Sturgis in South Dakota or at one of their local Hog events in countless cities across the US, there is a strong sense of community with the Harley world.

Peloton and SoulCycle are each fascinating by themselves and taken together. Both are focused on indoor cycling. And even though SoulCycle customers go to a brick-and-mortar location while Peloton riders are at home, both nail customer experience.

(As a side note, this is one category I feel particularly qualified to discuss. I spent 8 years at Beachbody, was a licensed SPINNING instructor with Johnny G back in the day, have ridden across the county on a bike and have tried most cycling programs.)

For its part, SoulCycle, has become a lifestyle brand. SoulCycle is about identity, community, and apparel. Despite being a health and fitness company to start, you’ve never seen a before-and-after picture of their customers (at least not by the company). Whereas FlyWheel and SoulCycle were true competitors in NYC, FlyWheel focused on winning and being #1 while SoulCycle has been about being a team and inspiring yourself and others around you. And no doubt music is huge for SoulCycle.

Peloton similarly does a ridiculously good job with music. Anyone who has worked out at home knows how good or bad music can affect that experience. Just how much they are paying for music licenses is not clear, but they are using music well. It’s important to note that the Peloton bike and screen are top-notch. And with superb instructors and even the way they shoot the class, you feel a part of the in-person classes shot at their NYC studio. As much as Flywheel was about competition, Peloton has a leaderboard, a la Strava, but it’s a choice you have the option of hiding. But for those craving competition, it’s there.

Buc-ee’s may be a brand folks outside of Texas may not know. But the fact that a convenience store is on the list is telling. Buc-ee’s may be the nicest convenience store on the planet. That’s why they’re here. It doesn’t take much to describe why most people go to a convenience store and all the parts they can’t stand. Often it’s to get gas, use the bathroom and to get some simple foods. Rarely are any of these better than horrifying. Instead, a typical Buc-ee’s has 50-100 gas pumps, is immaculately clean (the floor is spotless when you walk in and there are Purell dispensers next to each urinal in the men’s room), and the food is just amazing. When was the last time you said the food at a convenience store was something you looked forward to? And did I mention that these are 100,000 square-foot locations with shelves and shelves of jams, jerky, candy, not to mention a section on Buc-ee’s accessories. Essentially, Buc-ee’s did what I refer to as “Do the opposite.” Take everything that was horrible about a place, and do it in a polar opposite way.

-This list can go on for pages, but the final one I’ll mention now is Loot Crate, a box company for gamers and geeks in general (their language, not mine). What they’ve done particularly well is to tap into Seth Godin’s notion of “tribe.” By naming their customers Looters, on their site and in their emails, they immediately impart a sense of both identify and community on their customers. It’s not imposed, but it’s welcomed. At the same time, something I love is they are very clear about who they are trying to speak to. Their order confirmation email includes an image of a nerdy-looking woman (Note – as a math major from MIT, this is another area I feel highly-qualified to discuss). Loot Crate doesn’t shy away from who they are speaking to. In fact, they lean in. And while that image may not work for anyone else here as necessarily the core customer, it works for them.

Which leads to arguably the most important aspect of crafting an amazing experience. 

Knowing your customer.

That sounds like such a simple statement but how many companies try to be all things to all people. Or are concerned about alienating 5-10% of their audience by not leaning in as boldly as Loot Crate has done. Your core demo may not be as clear, but don’t underestimate how much can be lost by not letting your target audience know loud and clear that you’re speaking to them. Part of the job of marketing is to separate the audience – to attract those you want while dissuading those you don’t.

As for devising your own strategy, knowing your customer, at least who you want to attract is one key step. As is knowing your brand values and what you want to stand for.

Keep in mind, too, that experience can and should be tied to measurable aspects of your business. Not perfectly. And not always. But nothing in marketing these days is “perfect” or an “always” thing. Even one of the most measurable components of the business, traffic from Facebook or Google, has clear areas of grey (attribution window, methodologies, cross-device, etc.).

Next, think about what you are replacing.

For starters, be honest about whether your product is new? Very rarely is the product entirely new.

-StitchFix is a new model for shopping for apparel

-Uber is a new way to get a taxi

-Tesla is an alternative to other cars.

The models and execution were different, the core premise wasn’t.

Hotmail was new. The iPhone was new. Spanx was new. If you have a truly new product, then product can win on its own for a while if it’s good.

Given that most products aren’t conceptually new, and they are a way of replacing what people have available to them, dig in to what people are currently using?

-What do people like about the thing you are replacing?

-What are their pain points around those things?

-What do you bring to them, especially if they’ve never had it before? This could be everything from health to convenience to identity.

-What do your customers value? What *should* they value?

Look back on the above examples and how they have created experienced for their customers that didn’t really exist previously.

Finally, it’s important to be self-aware about your organization’s resources and capabilities. What are some areas you have a sense of skill at or feel like you can create a true point of differentiation around?

The final finally, attach a business outcome to these efforts. Don’t just call them “brand marketing”. Depending on what you do, you should see an impact on one or more of these areas:

-Better performing paid media

-Increase in direct, organic and referral customers

-Higher repeat customer rates

-Lower refunds

-Low inquiries to customer care

-Higher NPS scores

It’s a rare case that a strategy can serve the growth and brand goals of a business. Frankly, consumers would rather have great experiences. They have become accustomed to the status quo. But when done well, as these companies have shown in crafting amazing experiences, consumers reward businesses both with their pocketbooks and thru word-of-mouth.

And aren’t those the outcomes that all marketers are looking for?

(I’m always interested to hear from others who they think nails (and doesn’t nail) customer experience. What aspects of the above resonate? Which parts would you like to delve deeper into? )

We Sat at the Restaurant an Extra Hour and No One Ever Came By

The wait staff may have been indifferent or clueless. But I’ve got to believe that the owner would’ve lost it had he found out.

And I’m guessing this sort of things happens all the time in most every other business.

To set the stage, a good friend and I met up at Clutch, a restaurant in nearby Venice (California, not Italy…). At 2pm, it would be a late lunch for me, but there were a decent number of folks seated. My friend wasn’t eating, so I ordered and started eating before she’d even arrived. Halfway through the meal, she arrived. The waitress asked if she wanted anything (she didn’t), and asked if I wanted another beer — I said not now, but I might in a bit. (And yes, I was drinking a beer at a late lunch on Friday. Back off…)

We shared a dessert and closed out the tab.

We then sat at the table for another hour talking. Having worked in a restaurant before, I’m mindful of taking up seats, but there was no crowd and so we weren’t pulling any business from them by sitting around.

But here’s the amazing thing and the missed opportunity.

Not once after we’d closed out the tab did someone come by to ask if we wanted anything. No water. No following up since I’d said I might want another drink earlier. And since we were there an hour, that might even be due cause to ask if we had gotten hungry again. But nothing. Nada.

Sure, it’s nice not to “be bothered.” But if you ask in a respectful way, there’s absolutely a way for the wait staff to ask if we wanted something. I’d argue that someone should do so every 20 minutes. At least get a verbal “I’ll let you know if we need anything else.”

And here’s the bigger thing. How many other times across numerous areas in the restaurant, or in your company, is there missed opportunity. We’re talking about live people who have purchased something just sitting around. The ask doesn’t get easier.

It doesn’t even matter what our response would’ve been in this particular case. Getting a yes is a numbers game to a certain extent. But you’ve got to ask the question.

And I liken asking the question to advertising. People think no one wants to get asked the question. Just like many people think no one wants to see advertising. When in fact that’s absolutely not the case. People love seeing ads. The ones that are relevant to them. Or entertaining. Or inspirational. People just hate seeing bad ads. One that have nothing to do with them. And getting pestered incessantly by them. Just like when people are being pestered by a salesperson. Or wait staff.

But if someone is in your place of business (whether physical or online), and especially when they’ve bought, it’s reasonable to say they are interested and half-way expecting an ask. Doesn’t have to be a rude ask. But an ask nonetheless.

And if you’re a business owner, don’t be so sure your people are doing so. That’s why the secret shopper is an important test to run. Or going through your own site as if you were a new customer, full through to buying and then even returning or cancelling.

As you scale, you have to put some trust in the people on the team, whether 1 level down or 5. That’s one area leverage comes from. But in my opinion, you also need to balance that with a healthy sense of paranoia to check on your business, especially when it comes to sales and customer experience.

You just might find out that that your people, or your site, isn’t going in for the ask. And that kind of missed opportunity is one of the most frustrating. But it can turn an expensive miss into a win.

“Talk to My Supervisor”


Those might be some of the most frustrating words you can hear.

Usually because whatever you’ve said to elicit that comment wasn’t a point of praise.  I can almost guarantee it was a criticism or a complaint.   Think about it – would someone ever tell you to talk to their supervisor if it was something positive? Of course not.

And whether it was those exact words, or something similar, it’s likely that everyone has heard those unbelievably frustrating words at some point.

They wreak of bureaucracy, of governmental inefficiency.  Honestly, they sound like something you’d hear at the DMV (note to the DMV: please don’t make me stand in an (even) longer line just for typing those words…even though they are likely true).

But what is it about those words that drives us crazy?

  1. Whether we are polite or rude, when we are unhappy about our situation, we want someone to take action. To say something to help. Heck, we just want someone to *pretend* like they care or are doing something.  “Talk to my supervisor” doesn’t even humor us for just how apathetic and inactive it shows us the other person is.
  2. Said supervisor is rarely around. They are usually “in the back over there” or dealing with another annoyed individual so you’ll have to wait your turn.  And even then, on the off chance you actually encounter the supervisor, you realize that the supervisor has no ability to do anything anyways.
  3. And that is where you realize that it’s not the individual, but rather the organization or system you are stuck in. That place has no accountability.  That role is reserved for the “they” – and no one really knows who “they” is (or is it “are”?).  The entities where these painful words are uttered are bastions of bureaucracy, inefficiency, and pain for the consumer.
  4. Most annoyingly, usually the person saying those words has spoken them countless times before. It’s almost like the words roll off their tongue.  As if they are so resigned to their lot, as if they just don’t want to hear it anymore.  As if I should be questioning why I even opened my mouth.

Here’s the kicker.  The attitude and culture of “talk to my supervisor” isn’t reserved for government offices.  It happens every day in companies, but just under a different expression:

“That’s what I was told was decided at the meeting a couple weeks ago.” (passive voice intentional)

“I got an email that said we shouldn’t be doing things outside the box.”

“What do you mean?” Followed by utter silence

And my all-time favorite:

“The CEO said to do it.”

It’s no wonder that the number one characteristic that top managers are hiring for is pro-activeness.  Because it doesn’t show up that often.  But also because of what it reflects:

-Someone actually thinking (I could just stop here, but I’ll go on)

-Not waiting to be told what to do

-Some semblance of leadership skill (note that is not the same thing as management skill)

-A desire to make a positive impact (assuming the idea is halfway reasonable)

-An action-orientation

-Presumably the right amount of impatience

Certainly there’s plenty of discussion to be had why the lack of initiative is so prevalent in companies.  This, despite that companies typically operate more efficiently than government entities.  People don’t like to stir the pot or draw attention to themselves, laziness, or politics.

And those cultural norms need to be addressed.

In particular, because this type of behavior is probably present in your organization, far beyond whatever level you think it exists today.  And I’d posit that it’s more costly than certain failed strategic initiatives because it lives each day in the organization and is impossible to be compartmentalized.

But it has to get rooted out if you want to have a great organization.  Which could include doing one or more of the following:

-Creating a culture of accountability – where single individuals hold accountability for key areas of a business (nothing is worse for getting something done than having 2 or more people supposedly assigned to it)

-Building a coalition, if you will, of people who will marshall the cause of change and proactivity

-Taking a stand for what you do and don’t accept.  And that often happens in the moment, when either because of time or even social etiquette, it is more difficult to take action.

-Making changes to staff when the desired behaviors aren’t displayed.

-Figuring out what your version “Undercover Boss” is. (By the way, I love that show because of how it gets regular employees to put their guard down, so you see who they really are, both negative and positive.)

So yes, we all go crazy when we hear those almost-insulting words of “Talk to my supervisor.”  But let’s also not be so delusional to think that that culture and thinking is confined to wherever you associate it.

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere.  And any organization that wants to be considered “great” has to take proactive steps (there’s that word again) to eliminate, or at least minimize the apathy, lack of leadership, and an overall sense of “it’s not my responsibility” in your organization.

And if you need any additional further motivation, just imagine if one of your employees said their version of “Talk to my supervisor” to your customers…

2 Areas that can Most Impact Your Business

2 Areas That Can Most Impact Your Business

“What are the 1 or 2 key levers that can move my business?” I’ve gotten this question several times this week.  My process of working with folks to know the key levers in their particular business is a bit more involved than a simple answer.  And I’ll be posting that process soon.

But in the interests of simplifying it down to 2 buckets, I’d say that it comes down to focusing in on these two areas:

  1. Customer Success
  2. Cash

There are nuances to each of these.  They can be at odds with one another at times.

But at the end of the day, are you doing everything you can to increase the chances of success for your customers?  What about the magnitude of that success?

And are you following the cash?  Are you maximizing revenues, cutting down expenses, and managing cash effectively (see my post here).


Customer Success

Some businesses call them customers. Some call them clients.  Others, unfortunately, have bad names for them.  (For simplicity sake, I’m going to refer to them as customers and will speak in the context of a product, even though it could also be a service.) But there is a reason these people have paid you money, bought your product, signed up for your list, come to see you speak, etc.  Or maybe they have expressed interest and they haven’t converted.

There is a problem they want you to help them solve.  So take a look at what you’re doing and ask yourself, “Are we doing everything we can to support success for our customers?”

Whatever your brand promise, does your product do what you say it’s going to do? When you talk with customers and solicit feedback from them (you do talk with your customers, right?), what do they like most about what you provide and what are their pain points? These are very easy places to start.

Then look a layer deeper to how customers experience your product:

  • Do you make it difficult / painful to order?
  • What is the emotion after ordering (hopefully slightly better than when people get their driver’s license renewed at the DMV)?
  • How long does it take from the time they order to the time they receive your product or gain access to it?
  • Do customers have access to information about the status if there is a lag? (Ever been to a restaurant and wondered if they had to go find a chicken to lay an egg to make your omelet?)
  • If it’s a SaaS product, what is the onboarding experience like (here is a great breakdown of various products – )


You’ll notice that none of these have to do with the customer actually using the product or service.  But they are experiencing your business. And if you are making the process before they get to the product or service miserable, you are affecting their mindset which is going to affect their experience.  If you screw up the ordering and the wait, you are messing up the product.  A product has to be off-the-charts amazing to make up for a crap experience prior to getting it.  (Going back to the restaurant analogy, ever waited so long for a drink to arrive, that when it does you say, “I don’t even want it anymore?”)

Once a customer begins using the product:

  • Are the instructions clear? (My son just got a Gorilla Gym –  looks super cool.  Except the written instructions are atrocious. I need to watch a video but didn’t have a computer next to me, which means it’s been sitting on a table for 3 days.)
  • If a customer has questions, is it clear where they should go? Is it clear how long it takes to get a response? Is that promise met?
  • If something breaks, how miserable do you make the experience to fix or replace it?
  • What else does a customer need to use your product? (“Batteries not included?” Grrrrrrr.  Or, ever bought something with a triple-prong for the outlet but your extension cord only has 2 prongs? Friggin’ drives me crazy.  And I still don’t know why some products need 3 vs. 2.  And frankly, I don’t care. I just want to be able to plug it in.)
  • If I want to return your product or cancel the service, do you make it difficult? Or worse yet, do you offer me a better deal than I already had? (Mobile carriers and cable companies do this all the time – why does it take me saying I’m leaving for you to give me a better deal?)


Here’s the thing about these types of issues – some of them are zero cost and some of them will require investment.  And I’m not saying that you should literally do everything that someone can dream up to support a customer.  Much of this stems from your brand promise.  If you’re a personal trainer, I’m not saying you should get in the food delivery business.  But it might not be crazy for you to partner with a food delivery company, HealthyOut for example, to suggest to your clients?

And remember, the question was about originally about identifying key levers in your business.  This is more about the fact that if you focus on your customer’s success, you’ll likely find some key levers.



Sounds like an obvious area.  But sometimes it’s about realizing that you don’t need to make things more complicated than they need to be.

What generates cash?  What costs you cash?  What are you doing to manage cash?

And yes, I’m aware that the above section on Customer Success may cost you cash.  Or it may cost you cash, in the short term.  But you make it up with lower returns, stronger brand loyalty and word of mouth in the longer term.

Focusing on cash isn’t necessarily the yin to the Customer Success yang.  But rather it’s another lens through which to look at your business.

  • How much are you generating from customers? Have you maximized revenues?  (Note, you might maximize revenues at the expense of customer experience – I’m not saying one is right or wrong.  Just be aware.)
  • Many times, your customer would actually like to give you more money.  Russell Brunson did a great podcast on this recently –  He gave one example of wishing his pool cleaning company would’ve picked up on his question about replacing his pool filter by offering to do it for him.
    • Or perhaps you sell a 30-day supply of a protein powder.  Do you actually email the customer on day 27, or ever for that matter, reminding them that they are likely running low on the powder.  And if they just click the button below, they can re-order? By the way, this nicely falls under the Customer Success bucket as well.  Always nice when it fits under both.
    • While offering installment plans may actually lead to some bad debt, do you generate more customers by doing so? The answer is likely yes.
    • Do your sales reps – whether on the phone or in a physical store – know enough to suggest a complementary item to what a customer is already purchasing?  Suggesting a really cool belt to go with the shoes I just bought doesn’t have to be an intrusion.  In fact, many people would appreciate the guidance.   And voila, you’ve increased cash.  And increased Customer Success.

What about expenses:

  • If you’re a growing company, when was the last time you revisited pricing from your vendors?
  •  Is there a vendor that is now available to you with your increased scale that wasn’t available to you previously?  It’s all relative.  Whether you do $1,000, $100K or $10MM per month, you should have someone accountable for reviewing expenses and pricing every quarter, especially when you’re growing.  One of the biggest challenges growing companies face is behaving like a bigger and grown-up company.  Too often expenses and vendor pricing are the big areas overlooked.
  • Take a look at your company credit card (or your personal one for that matter).  I’m guessing there are a host of services with recurring billing that you don’t use anymore.  Take the 15 minutes and cancel them.
  • UberX vs. Uber Black Car – there’s being penny-wise and pound foolish.  And then there’s just no need to spend more.  Both options are clean and will get you where you want to go.

There’s also simply cash management:

  • If you prepaid your vendors, or had tighter terms, would they give you a discount? Maybe that $35 wire is worth incurring.  Or maybe you just need to bring a bit more cash into that bank account to get the wire fees waived?
  • Have you asked for terms from your vendors? Sure, the 0.2% interest you get on your cash may not seem like much, but it’s always nice to have more cash in the bank longer.  And I’ve found that when you start paying attention to these little things, more little things catch your eye.  And those lotta littles start adding up.


At the end of the day, a business should serve customers and generate cash. (I’ll ignore both Amazon which has a heavy reinvestment strategy and venture-backed companies which have a different philosophy for the moment.  These are by far the exceptions rather than the rule on how most businesses operate.)

Make sure you are helping your customers succeed.

Follow the cash.

You’ll likely find plenty of gaps and opportunities.

And you should hopefully build a better business in doing so.


Please leave a comment below because I’d like to hear what you think. 

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