the one question HR misses

We all have one question hammering away at the front of our skulls whenever we’re faced with something new or different. You’re asking yourself the question right now as you decide whether to continue reading or not. It’s a simple and straight-forward question that HR often misses: What’s In It For Me?

Phrased that way, it sounds crass and selfish, yet we are all seeking to figure out how we will benefit. We want to know what pleasure we’ll gain or what pain we’ll avoid. We want to know What’s In It For Me?

Sales and Marketing 101 tells us to focus on the benefits, not the product or service. The customer can plainly see the product, so we need to help them understand all that they will gain. They know the tangibles, so what are the intangibles?

A car’s just a box with wheels, good for hauling people and stuff from point A to B. Yet car ads focus on the unmeasurable intangibles of cool, intelligent, adventurous, unique, practical, sporty, sexy, thrilling, rugged, safe, ecogreen, patriotic, etc. etc. A house is nothing more than some walls and a roof, but we know that. Real estate ads show happy, safe, secure kids, and proud responsible parents; they show lifestyle, status, and image; and the American Dream (with a capital “D”).

There is not a single human alive who wants to diet. Yet, at any given time there are millions and millions of people dieting, buying diet books, watching diet shows, reading diet blogs, spending money on diet plans. Why? Because of what we think it will get us; because of what’s in it for us. My absolute all-time favorite diet book title is: 6 Weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends. I know nothing about the book but love the title because it’s so eye catching. There are a lot of reasons to diet, but forget dieting for health, physical performance, longevity, or fighting disease because this book knows its audience and its audience loooooves the ideas of being skinnier than their friends. The title immediately lets them know What’s In It For Me.

This is where HR can learn big from sales and marketing. HR tends to announce new programs and services by talking about the program and service. It seems reasonable, but even the most hack salesperson knows you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. HR forgets to sell at all. We think just putting it out in the world is enough. We don’t mention the benefits, we don’t help people understand why they should care, we don’t show them What’s In It For Me?. And then we’re surprised when the response is a collective yawn from the organization. We’re shocked that people aren’t using it – that they keep using the products or systems they are familiar with rather than the new ones they’d have to learn. We’re appalled that people don’t appreciate all our hard work and efforts on their behalf. We wail, They just don’t understand! [sob!]

The best products and services in the world are irrelevant and worthless if people don’t know about them or use them. I wonder how much adoption rates will jump when we learn human psychology from sales and marketing and answer one simple question for our customers.

What’s In It For Me?

make it easy

Doug Shaw over at Stop Doing Dumb Things to Customers ran a post yesterday called “A Little Enthusiasm…” about his frustrations with businesses that didn’t seem to care when he was trying to pay them. It clearly struck a nerve with folks and generated plenty of comments as people joined in and shared similar frustrations.

It’s a shrinking world and the consumer can buy from almost anywhere. I discussed this back in February after purchasing mountain bike parts from a shop in the UK.

We all know the world is getting smaller, so it’s interesting how many businesses haven’t gotten the message yet. My wife and I both purchased cars in the past couple of months and had very different experiences. The dealer I bought from did ok, but was still stuck in the mindset that their cars are somehow special. I live within three hours of two of the biggest metropolitan areas in the US – no car is so unique that I can’t find it sitting on a lot relatively close or have it ordered in. When my wife was looking, they irritated her so much she kept right on looking.

My wife eventually purchased from a small town car dealer about an hour away. Here’s what they did right: they were patient as she test drove at least six cars, they were low pressure, they called back when they said they would, and when she told them that it would be several days before she could return to complete the deal they brought the car to her with all the correct paperwork including a generous trade-in on her old car made sight unseen. She signed some papers, swapped cars, and was on with her life in less than 30 minutes. They made the deal happen by making it as simple as possible for her to buy.

But wait, there’s more… My wife’s car is the same brand as mine. Guess where my car’s getting serviced from now on? So, my dealer screwed up selling to a RETURN customer, lost out on a SECOND sale, and lost out on all FUTURE maintenance/service business (where the profit margins are much higher than in car sales).

Businesses scream and yell for innovation, yet ignore that some of the most innovative products and services simply make it easy to buy and make it easy to pay. Strive for the example set by Intuitive site, one click purchasing. It doesn’t get easier.

HR spin

How easy is it for HR’s customers to complete transactions? How simple and painless is it to submit an application? How easy is it for hiring managers to understand the process and have all necessary paperwork in hand? Do document instructions make sense? Etc. etc. etc.

If your HR department’s customers had to pay money for HR’s products and services, would they? Could they? Would your HR department be the vendor of choice or would your customers get frustrated and go elsewhere?

an open letter to the salesman who didn’t sell


I got the sense when we were test driving a car that you felt like I was wasting your time. Admittedly, it wasn’t a car I had originally mentioned I was interested in and I was vague about my intentions to buy. Quite honestly, I didn’t intend to purchase a car that day. But I was trying to determine which car I would buy soon.

You had some choices to make:

  • Build a relationship that might pay off or only worry about making a sale in the next 15 minutes
  • Find out more about what I was looking for and why or take my initial thoughts as set in stone
  • Treat me as though you want me to refer others to you or treat me as though I’m only important if I can benefit you this second
  • Give me reason to buy from you or ammunition not to.

All these choices were yours.

I didn’t start the day thinking I was going to buy a car. Heck, I was just going to go mountain biking and maybe see what I could get for my truck if I decided to sell or trade it. That was my plan. I didn’t know I wanted to buy a car that day, but it didn’t take long for you to convince me that I wasn’t going to buy a car from you.

Here’s what you know: I was vague and non-committal. I was only there to get my truck appraised. I didn’t really want to buy a car that day. I wanted to test drive a car or two.

Here’s what you don’t know (and what you don’t know will blindside you). I had been seriously considering getting a car within a couple of weeks. After you gave me several reasons not to ever buy from you I went across town to a salesman I had talked to a month earlier about a used car. By the end of the day I ended up buying a brand new car from him that was 25% higher than the price range I had mentally set. I didn’t intend to buy, but I’m excited I did. That sale could have been yours.

It’s a shame I wasted your time. Sorry about that.



lessons from used tires

It’s pretty easy to confuse flash for substance. To think that we’ll do better once our surroundings, our products, our marketing are better. Once we have the nicer office, we’ll keep it better organized. Once we have a better brochure, we’ll be better salespeople. Once the new software is set up, we’ll provide better service to our customers. Once we redo the lobby, we’ll get more business.

And it’s a lie. We tell it to ourselves because flash is easier than substance.

Appearances do matter, but delivery matters more. Looks can give credibility to a first impression, but results keep people coming back. All else being equal, flash will attract more attention, but things are rarely equal.

I was reminded of this lesson over the weekend. My truck needed new tires so I headed over to my favorite tire shop on Saturday morning. It’s a business that most would say are doing everything wrong. They:

Only sell used tires. Used tires are not sexy.

Only carry popular sizes. Need something special ordered? They don’t do that.

Don’t advertise (as far as I know). If they do it’s in the local trader classifieds.

Don’t have any product displays. No pretty pictures of families traveling in their car, tough four wheel drives adventuring through the back country, or sports cars gripping the road at high speed. The only display they have is a shop with tires stacked to the roof. If you’re buying from them you want tires, not a lifestyle validation.

Don’t have individual bays for each car. They have a shaded concrete slab that’s about three cars wide. It looks like a race car pit crew decided to work in a driveway.

Don’t have a reception area. There is no lobby. The office is where you go to pay and it’s off to the side. There isn’t even a dedicated person to greet you.

Are off the beaten path where you would never pass by in your daily activities. You’d never even find them accidentally. They are in a rough and forgotten part of town. Not dangerous, just poor and long neglected.

Look well worn. The shop is old galvanized metal and looks like it belongs on a weathered farm. The office is the size of a small garden shed and is clearly an afterthought. The business name was painted on the outside once, but has long since faded and been obscured.

Don’t pamper the customer. You could wait in the office but probably don’t want to. Most just sit outside near the cars on plastic chairs.

The appearance doesn’t inspire confidence. There is no flash. Judging by looks you’d assume they can barely afford to be in business. And you’d be wrong simply because of what they get right. They:

Are friendly. They talk to and joke with their customers. They enjoy their work and their customers and it shows. Many repair shops are terrible with customers and these guys really stand out.

Are fast, fast, fast. Saturday morning and I was in and out in less than an hour. Done and on with my day.

Are busy. It is always a beehive of activity. The place would look abandoned EXCEPT for all the people and cars always there.

Greet you quickly. Despite all the noise and chaos of power tools, cars, people, etc. I have never waited more than 30 seconds before someone noticed me and came over to help me.

Know who they are and what they do. They don’t pretend to be anything else or waste the customer’s time trying to do something they can’t.

Thrive on repeat business and word of mouth. I’ve bought at least four sets of tires from them and every time I’m there it seems that most of the other customers are just as enthusiastic and have been coming to them for years.

Are empowered. There is no visible chain of command, no noticeable differentiation between employees. Everyone is helpful and everyone helps.

Have freakishly low prices. Seriously. They clearly aren’t spending money on their location, buildings, or marketing and the customer benefits. They’ve used what most would consider a major disadvantage (location and appearance) and turned it into a huge competitive advantage.

Are not a “me too” business. They have the segment to themselves. While others fight and scramble for their piece of the pie, these guys found a niche where they get the whole pie for themselves.

Want you to come back. Too many businesses stop caring the second they have your money. Not these guys. The manager/owner stopped working on a car as I left to shake my hand and tell me to come by if I needed anything, had trouble with the tires, or wanted them rotated.

What can we learn? Reputation matters. Attitude matters. A focus on long-term service matters. Speed matters. Results matter. What you deliver matters. Caring about the customer matters.

What other lessons can we take from this? How else does this apply to HR, leadership, sales, Realtors, health care, and everyone else?

customer service: if you want a 10, do 10 work

You want your employees to do well, right? Of course, and you know that you can’t manage what you can’t measure so you set up some way of measuring their performance. And then you discover that you truly get what you measure, regardless of whether that’s what you actually wanted or not.

A salesperson recently revealed the disconnect between measured and desired outcomes when a co-worker purchased a car a couple of weeks ago. The salesperson’s parent company has a big focus on customer service and providing an outstanding experience. Each customer is surveyed after the sale and any rating lower than a 10 (the highest possible) drew negative attention for both the sales person and the dealer.

On the surface this sounds great. You can just imagine the company saying that they want every customer to have a 10 experience so that’s what they will measure and reward for. The problem – for this salesperson, at least – is that the focus shifted from providing an 10 experience to getting a 10. This is key: the focus shifted from the customer’s experience to the salesperson’s ratings.

This sounds similar, but it is very different. Because the salesperson was so worried about his ratings, he never bothered to provide service worth rating. I need to mention that she is one of the kindest, non-confrontational, charitable people one could hope to meet. She does not gripe or complain maliciously, yet had little good to say about the salesperson. Some highlights of my co-worker’s experience:

The car was being shipped because what she wanted wasn’t in stock the day it was purchased. Rather than keeping her posted, she had to constantly hunt down and badger the salesperson to find out the status of her order.

Whenever she pointed out his poor efforts, he blamed other people. In fact, it sounded like he spent the entire time saying, “You are going to give me a 10, aren’t you? It was never my fault things went wrong. You need to give me a 10.”

She was told that if she gave the salesperson and the dealer a 10 on the survey they would give her a free oil change.

The salesperson said that if she wasn’t going to give him a 10 it would probably be best if she didn’t do the survey at all.

She had to endure a bunch of whining about just how hard his life is and why she really needed to give him a 10.

He was so obsessed with getting a 10 that she hesitates to give less out of a mild concern of some type of retribution.

The whole thing sounded boring, repetitive, insulting, and possibly immoral. If you want a 10, do 10 work. If you can’t do 10 work and your career hinges on it, find another career.

I wonder if the company knows how much their dealers and salespeople are aggressively gaming the system? Punishing for anything less than a 10 seems counterproductive because if forces people to be short-sighted and silly and ultimately creates an experience that discourages repeat sales. People make mistakes, things go wrong, customers can be unreasonable, some people will never give a top rating except at gunpoint, etc. Insisting on continuous very, very high performance is fine, but it places much greater emphasis on outstanding hiring and very thorough training.

A top performer will still stand out and rise above when things go bad and try to make it right because they are focused on delivering a great experience, regardless of the circumstances. Marginal performers will retreat into fear and self-preservation. Their well-meaning system forces these extremes.

How would you set it up differently if you were the parent company?

keepin’ it relevant

Recently my daughter and some friends were doing a scavenger hunt where they followed a series of clues to discover the prize at the end. One of the clues was, “The place where we get bills.” Immediately, my daughter rushed to the computer because that’s where we pay bills. Uh oh. The last thing a business wants is to be irrelevant to the customer.

Your business, your department, and even you become irrelevant to your customers the second they no longer think of you as a resource and solution to their problems. Few think about it that way, but it’s true. Customers are trying to solve a problem they have and need you to do it. Put another way, from the customer’s point of view, your business (department, team, etc.) is useful and relevant only if you can solve their problem.

Banks exist to solve the problems of safely storing and accessing money. Lawnmowers exist to solve the problem of an unkempt lawn. Car dealers exist to solve personal transportation problems. Human Resources departments exist to solve the problems of finding, hiring, managing, and developing people. And so on. Internal or external, it doesn’t matter – your job is to help your customers solve their problems.

When salespeople don’t listen to the customer, they don’t (can’t!) provide solutions. When employees judge their worth to the company by their tenure rather than the problems they are solving, they are missing the point. When HR departments focus on administration they are solving only the lowest level of problems (which are easily outsourced). When your potential customers avoid you or work around you or tolerate you because you are the only option (for now), you become a problem to them.

You become a problem that they will look to someone else to solve.