Competitive advantage and UBER culture

Mar 08 2011 by Andy Hanselman Print This Article

Culture is often seen as the soft, 'touchy-feely' side of business. My experience suggests it's actually one of the hardest things to deal with. Why? Because it deals with attitudes and behaviours which all seem a bit vague and hard to manage. It's much easier to talk about territories, product life cycles, sales targets, margins and advertising budgets – things that are a bit more tangible.

In fact, in reality, culture is very tangible. As customers we often experience the 'culture' of a business simply by talking to and interacting with employees, whether it's by email, on the telephone or face to face. In real customer-focused businesses, 'culture' is an integral part of the competitive advantage and gives us reasons to come back and to tell others.

My very simple definition of 'culture' in a business is 'the way we do things around here' and

an UBER customer-focussed culture is one that creates real competitive advantage by focussing everyone on delivering great customer experiences.

My research suggests that the key ingredients of an UBER culture are:

  • Everyone Understands what's expected of them and behaves accordingly and consistently as a result
  • Systems and processes are Built to create consistently great customer experiences and reinforce that culture
  • People are Engaged, Empowered and Encouraged to deliver them
  • People are Rewarded and Recognised for doing it!

'Encouragement and empowerment' are part of an UBER culture and here's a great example that hopefully illustrates the point. It comes from one of my favourite companies in the UK, First Direct Bank.

I was with clients recently and we were discussing customer service. One of the them explained that she had left her office in Leeds to go to London for a couple of days, and having got there, discovered that she had lost her purse (or it had been stolen).

Understandably, she quickly got on the phone to the various banks to cancel her cards and explained that it all went very well – details taken, courteous staff and cards cancelled – no problem.

She then called First Direct, and was asked "How are you feeling?" which was a nice start, and then the card cancellation process got underway – very similar to all the other card providers.

Except that at the end of the process, the First Direct lady asked her: "What are you going to do for money in the next couple of days if you have no purse or cards?"

"I'm not really sure" came the reply.

"Well, would you like for me to arrange £200 to be collected from a nearby HSBC bank? I've worked out where the nearest branch to your hotel is – If you tell me what you'll be wearing, I'll get them to look out for you and you can collect your money!"

I'm sure that there isn't a rule book at First Direct that says 'in the event of a client losing their card and being stuck in a hotel with no money, please follow this procedure'. First Direct has created a customer focused culture that encourages and empowers its people to use their initiative and delight their customers. No wonder they are the UK's 'most recommended' bank.

An UBER culture doesn't happen by chance - it needs driving, managing and consistently reinforcing. Here's a great quote from Simon F Cooper, the president of Ritz Carlton Hotels that illustrates this:

"We entrust every single Ritz-Carlton staff member, without approval from their general manager, to spend up to $2,000 on a guest. And that's not per year. it's per incident"

Now, THAT'S Empowerment!

Here's another quote from a business leader who really has created and sustained an UBER culture – Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe and clothes retailer, Zappos:

Key questions for your business

  • Are you happy with your company's culture?
  • Do your leaders act as role models and positively reinforce your values and preferred behaviours?
  • Do your people act in line with your values and preferred behaviours?
  • Do your reward systems, performance management and operational procedures reinforce and help promote your values and preferred behaviours?
  • Do you actually have values and preferred behaviours?

"We interview people for culture fit. We want people who are passionate about what Zappos is about–service. I don't care if they're passionate about shoes."

It's clear that this stuff doesn't happen by chance. Successful businesses proactively take steps that help develop an UBER culture which mean that they truly value their values. They clarify what these values really mean to their people – the result is clear definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours.

They then use these values in the day to day management, recruitment and rewarding of their people. Their leaders talk about and refer to them regularly and use them consistently. They act as role models and actively promote the behaviours they want to see in others. Those that don't simply put up posters and talk a good story.

UBER cultures result in the customers talking the stories, just like I've done with First Direct!

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.