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How Lexus Made a Customer for Life

My good friend Judy bought a Lexus last spring, from Prestige Lexus of Ramsey, NJ.

A previous owner of a Pontiac, a (used) BMW convertible, and a string of Toyotas, she wasn’t quite sure her self-image was that of a Lexus owner; truth be told, she felt slightly talked into it by her boyfriend.

But that all changed last week.

She had a bad head cold. Her car was due for its 10,000-mile checkup, and there was a product recall check due as well. She set out early for the 40-minute drive to the dealership, and was dismayed to find 20 people there ahead of her for service at 7:30 in the morning.

But the lines shrank instantly in the face of the dealership’s rapid processing, and she was quickly off home in a loaner car—the same model she owned.

At about 11:30AM, John DeSantis of Prestige called her. “That cold of yours sounded bad, Judy,” he said. “Would you like it if we drove your car home for you and picked up the loaner, so you didn’t have to come back out and drive up here?”

Does a duck like water? Judy was grateful for the offer, and even more delighted when she realized the charge for the whole day—checkup, recall, loaner, home pickup service—was $0.00.

“I think I’m a Lexus owner now,” Judy says.

How Prestige Lexus Does It

At first, I figured this was an exceptional event. Turns out, it’s policy, at least on a space-available basis, for scheduled maintenance. 

(On the social media front, I was impressed that @prestigelexus is also tweeting—not a lot yet, not terribly well, but hey give ‘em credit. Though I was very impressed that they’ve got a QR code on their service page!).

It’s tricky to offer services and not have them become commoditized, demanded by customers, standard operating procedure. A lot of doing it successfully has to do with the personal touch; a policy is just a policy until someone makes it personal for you.

That’s what Prestige Lexus did. And no, I’m not getting any recognition or credit or tie-ins with them of any kind. I’m just passing good stuff on.  Judy told me, and I told you, and now you know.

Customer Service Lessons from Ikea and US Air?

IKEA Empowers Employees and Customers

I took my daughter to IKEA today to help her bring some furniture home to her apartment. As we went to the checkout line, there were three self-service lines, and only attended checkout line. We chose one of the self service lines, and checked out very quickly.

As we took our purchases out to the parking area, my daughter commented that it would have been fairly easy for someone to slip through without paying. This was not one of those stores where people scan your invoices and receipts. There were only a few people checking.

Yet as we left, one of the attendants followed us and said, “Wait, wait you forgot one of your purchases.” Sure enough, we had. So I guess they were watching well enough, and she smiled graciously as we thanked her.

Clearly IKEA did trust their customers to some extent, and it also seemed like they trusted their employees to pay attention and do the right thing. My daughter said the experience made her feel like IKEA trusted her, and was looking out for her best interests at the same time.

US Air Gives a Passenger a Really Big Christmas Gift

The week of December 14, I flew from New York to Cincinnati to Charlotte to Toronto to New York, most of it on US Air. On the leg from Cincinnati to Charlotte, I accidentally left my MacBook Air computer in the seat pocket in front of me on the airplane. (Note to Steve Jobs: can you make the MBA a little less convenient, please?) When I got to the hotel I figured out what happened.

I first called US Air’s central customer service, which was a horrible experience. It ended with the person I talked to saying I should talk to TSA. I said that was ridiculous, and got back on the phone to the local Charlotte airport. There I learned that nothing had been returned from the flight and the plane had left for Birmingham. (Second note to Steve Jobs: can you make the MBA a little more clunky and visible, please?)

I managed to get to US Air’s Birmingham baggage office—and suddenly my problems were over. I met Veronica. Who is your basic goddess of travelers.

Veronica immediately understood my problem and offered to solve it. She called the gate to make sure someone checked the minute the flight landed. As soon as the plane landed, she found the computer and called me. I was extremely relieved, and asked if she could send it back on the next plane.

“Gosh, we used to do that, but insurance and so forth nowadays,” she explained. I asked for permission to speak to her supervisor. “Oh sure,” Veronica said, “no problem; maybe she can help you!”

Lisa is what you’d expect from a goddess’s supervisor. She listened carefully to my story, and explained their policy. They were willing to send it via FedEx. I explained I was willing to absorb the risk of damage. (Third note to Steve Jobs: could you please make the MBA a little more breakable?) What I really didn’t want was to not have it for the next day in Charlotte, and have to suffer the risks of FedExing it to Toronto. (No offense to FedEx, my carrier of choice).

She weighed the data, and made a spot decision. By herself. She asked Veronica to pack it very carefully and get it shipped to me on the next flight back to Charlotte (the last flight).

Good call, Lisa.

I went back to the airport and bit my nails, until a package came down the baggage chute. Carefully wrapped, it had a handwritten note in big letters on the outside: Merry Christmas Mr. Green!

US Air may not be perfect, but they got three things perfectly right. They hired Veronica. They hired Lisa. And they gave both of them the power to make smart decisions, on their own, when it came to customers.

Trust and Collaborative Capitalism

Shout out to both companies. Trust your employees to trust your customers. Trust begets trust, and everyone benefits.

This is collaborative capitalism, folks. This is not your father’s zero-sum game. This works.

Is Your Marketing Poisoning the Well?

I met Joan at a group dinner the other night. When she found out what I did, she said:

The other day I got a call from the local Ford dealership—I had bought my car from them several years ago. They wanted to know if I’d be willing to refer several of my friends to them.

“Refer my friends!” I said. “You’ve got to be kidding! Your dealership behaved very badly towards me twice in the last six months—unethically, even—and despite my complaining about it, I have yet to hear anyone there apologize, or even take responsibility for it.

“In fact, I’ve already told a number of my friends to never do business with you. And you call me and ask me to refer business? Do you know what ‘fat chance’ means?”

Ouch, Mr. Ford Dealer.

In the “olden” days, it was lore that a good customer service story might be retold a dozen times, while a bad customer service story would be told a hundred times or more.

Nowadays: make that a hundred thousand times—or more. And within days. The now-classic example: the United Airlines broken guitar video , which garnered 3 million views in seven days. (It’s a pretty catchy song, if you haven’t heard it).

Reputation Marketing 2.0

Industry after industry has historically made an implicit assumption in their marketing: that the supply of new customers is endless, and endlessly renewable. Don Peppers and Martha Rogers took a head-on shot at this fallacy in their under-appreciated 2005 book "Return on Customer," stating that customers are, in fact, the scarcest resource.

In other words, the very common slash and burn marketing tactics that most companies use to churn through leads—massive emailing, lead culling, indifferent customer service reps—are now poisoning the well.

They were right in 2005, and they’re about 100 times more right in 2009.

How many of the 3,000,000 YouTube views made in one week were of people who were potential customers of United? Existing customers of United? Employees of United? It’s a hard number to calculate, but let’s agree on three things:

  • it’s big
  • it’s bigger than it used to be
  • it’s very not good for United.

Is Your Marketing Poisoning Your Well?

Back to Joan and her local Ford dealer. Can you imagine the impact on that dealerships’ local market if Joan had access to local media? Well guess what, she does. And since all media is local in this age of Craigslist and YouTube, Ford itself could and should be concerned about such things.

The biggest impact of all this bad-news-traveling-faster world is that Darwinian selection can act a lot faster. Businesses using anti-customer tactics are subject to being outed on a massive, nearly real-time basis. Customers can make up their own minds, and increasingly trust surveys show that we trust others like us more than we do nearly all other institutions.

Which means users of classic anti-consumer bad marketing tactics are now more likely to have the gun pointed right back at them.

I’m going to give the Ford dealership a break and not name them by name. But rest assured I’ll send them a link to this blog. They dodged a bullet this time; but bullet-dodging is not a good strategy going forward.

Why Mistakes Build Trust




My mechanic taught me something the other day about being a Trusted Advisor. He screwed up in a big way. And I ended up trusting him more as a result.

An Old Car and an Intimate Relationship with AAA

I love old cars and I drive a 19-year-old Mazda Miata as my primary vehicle to prove it. This necessitates an intimate relationship with AAA, as well as Gray’s Auto in Arlington, VA, where I’ve taken my cars for years with good results. A few weeks ago my car overheated on the way to an appointment. AAA came to the rescue, depositing me at Gray’s where Kevin and crew graciously inserted their unexpected visitor near the top of the list of waiting customers. it took days (and a lot of money) to diagnose and fix the problem. When I arrived at the scheduled time to pick up the car, it wasn’t ready–still being test-driven. It didn’t pass the test. I sat in the grimy waiting room for nearly three hours until it was (ostensibly) ready to go. Then half a mile into my drive home it overheated again–dead as a doornail in the right-hand lane of a busy DC thoroughfare. It was Saturday; growing dark; raining. I wasn’t the happiest of campers.

I called Kevin. He was embarrassed and frustrated, and tried valiantly to find a wrecker (on their dime) to retrieve me faster than AAA could. No luck. "We’ll stay open for you," he assured me.

Ninety minutes later my haul and I were back at Gray’s, where Kevin and crew waited to take care of me. They handled the situation beautifully. They were responsible and apologetic, not defensive and guilt-ridden. They didn’t explain or justify or blame; they simply said, "We’ll take care of it." Then Kevin’s boss insisted on driving me home, stopping along the way for take-out (on his dime) so I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner. And in the end, there was no additional charge for the final repair, even though they’d spent considerable money on parts and labor replacing another failed temperature sensor. We joked when I picked up the car the second time about a mutual desire not to see each other again for at least a couple of months.

Trust Doesn’t Just Trump Screw-ups: Screw-ups Can Create Trust

So why do I trust Kevin–and Gray’s Auto–more as a result of this experience? Because I’ve seen their true colors. I know what they stand for. And I am confident that, given another challenging situation, they will rise to the occasion. Could they have fixed the problem the first time? Maybe; I don’t really know and I don’t actually care. What I’m left with is an experience of being looked after by people who chose to do right by me, which far outweighs the costs (tangible and intangible) of a one-time goof.

Mistakes are an opportunity for us to show the world what we’re made of–to make known how we handle ourselves and who we choose to be in a moment of truth. Don’t be afraid to screw-up. When you do (and you will because we all do), don’t cover it up with excuses or defensiveness or blame or avoidance tactics. Show your clients who you are for them. Do the right thing and they’ll learn they can count on you for far more than parts and labor.

Trust is the New Black: Insights from Craig Newmark of Craigslist

Craig NewmarkCraig Newmark, founder and Chief Customer Service officer of Craigslist, spoke last week at the Harvard Business School Club of New York, a talk he titled “Trust is the New Black.” Can I borrow that phrase, Craig? With attribution, of course.

I had not heard Craig speak before. Readers of this blog will find themselves nodding at many of his comments, and I for one found his thinking on several issues to be insightful and provocative.

Since I am not a professional reporter and did not record his talk nor take detailed notes, let me state that these are my impressions: while I’m trying to make my comments correspond to the reality of what he said, any disconnects are entirely my fault.

Unlike many speakers in the HBSCNY series, Craig allowed his comments to be on the record; he also gave out his email, Facebook and Twitter addresses freely. Not really surprising for someone who describes his primary job as being customer service. As he put it, “I haven’t done customer service for—oh, about an hour now.”

In the same vein, he suggests, “customer service, if done in good faith, is a form of public service.” That takes “doing well by doing good” to a whole ‘nother level. (I see some parallels with Buddhist Capitalism).

Craig Newmark on Leading and Managing: Competition, Metrics, Timeframe

Craig stated in definitive terms a couple of themes that readers of this blog will resonate with—the need for long-term thinking, and the focus more on commerce, and less on competition.

Someone asked about what he focused on: “I’m focused on the next 20 years, with an eye to the next 200. And I’m not kidding.” He isn’t, either. He’s very conscious of changing society, e.g. his recent involvement in veterans’ affairs.

In response to the question, “Who among your competitors most causes you to lose sleep?” Craig answered, “I don’t really lose sleep over competition at all. My focus is much more on customer-related issues—spam and scam, service.” My translation: Take care of your customers, and your competition issues will take care of themselves. (It also brings to mind an old Jerry Garcia quote: “The Grateful Dead don’t strive to be the best at what we do, but the only ones who do what we do.”)

On analytics: “We get lots of anecdotal feedback, and rely on intuitive skills. Whenever I’m in New York, I love popping in on realtors. We’re not so big on formal analytics.” I can’t read Craig’s mind, but I suspect he’s also got a healthy suspicion about the dangers of OD’ing on analytics.

Craig Newmark on Trust

Craig uses the designation “curators” to describe the job of editors; that was new to me, and I like it. “The news curators have a particularly big role to play in restoring trust in the media.”

Craigslist puts a lot of effort into combating fraud. One person asked whether it was a losing battle, with fraud increasing. Here’s what Craig said: “You can’t make the world 100% safe, trust doesn’t come without risk. But in my experience [and he has a lot, I might add–CHG] the vast majority of people are trustworthy; maybe 1% of people have bad intentions. Just use commonsense.”

Asked about ways to improve trust going forward, Craig talked about establishing different levels on the scale between anonymity and certifiable identity. For a small transaction, maybe we don’t need to know much. For larger transactions, we need to have higher levels of verified identity.

Fair enough, but I actually found his answer to an earlier question to be even more relevant. “I’m not interested in politics, my focus is governance,” he said. “And we’ve got some great examples of governance right here in the US; they’re called the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you focus on asking how to work with those forms of governance, you can frame political issues in a far more productive way.” I’m guessing that Craig sees that focusing on issues of governance at the corporate level is similarly a way to resolve issues of competition, politics and social relevance, not to mention customer service.

My words now, not his: I think what he’s doing is running an organization which is at once purely capitalist and at the same time, always striving for integration into a broader context of social responsibility. Remember: “the dedication to true customer service through a for-profit enterprise is a form of public service.”

Capitalism and social responsibility are not incompatible: Craig Newmark is one of those rare leaders who sees that, done right, they are in fact inextricably linked, and for the benefit of both.

Do You Trust the Tech Support Folks?

What is it about tech support?

We want to trust that they will solve our problem. But wanting isn’t getting.

I had lots of time-on-hold to think about this recently – that is – what bolsters trust and what detracts from it? Here are my recent experiences.

1. My computer died in my sleep. It was under warranty. I called the tech support line. When I tested the computer with the agent on the line, the video card ignited in flames!

The agent stayed calm and made sure I was safe, genuinely caring about me and my home. Then he cared about my hard drive – assuring me that it was likely to be safe as well.

Then he addressed the issue – and decided to replace my computer, rather than just the parts. He described the exchange process, and said it could take one to three weeks, but might come even sooner. It arrived in 3 business days.

2. My PDA Calendar was deleting my entries. I called my cellular carrier. I slogged through one automated system and two phone agents–repeating my identification and other security data, in addition to my issue each time. Most of the conversation was scripted apologies about my woes, repetition of what I just said, and thanks for using their service and calling them. Having exhausted the service available, the last agent rightly granted me access to the manufacturer.

At that point, my experience changed. The first person asked about my problem and for my phone number in case we disconnected. Then I was transferred to a person that already had that information on the screen and who didn’t ask me to repeat either my identification information or my issue. He assured me he would stay with me until we resolved the problem – which is what I really wanted – instead of a disingenuous apology. We agreed to break at one point, at my request. He kept his word and called me back right on time, using the number that was logged earlier. And we resolved my problem.

Net net: for my computer problem, I trusted my phone agent, and through him, his company, and will buy from them again. I trust my PDA manufacturer, and will buy another when I’m ready. I’m not so sure about trusting my cellphone service carrier, and may change next time around.

What engendered trust:

• Skipping the unnecessary script and focusing on the problem
• Genuinely caring about me, wanting to help and reassuring me every step of the way
• Being transparent about process
• Keeping promises, showing reliability
• An agent recognizing that he can’t help, and referring me to one who can, as quickly as possible.

What detracted from trust:

• Canned apologies, fake empathy, and useless thank-yous designed to meet some behaviorally observable criteria judged by “management” to serve as a proxy for genuine trustworthiness;
• Asking me for the same information over and over and over…making me doubt either their intent or their competence, or both;
• Multiple transfers without results.

That’s just me. What makes you trust tech or customer service — and what makes you cringe and wonder whether anyone really cares?

Using Trust-based Selling in Banking: St. Meyer and Hubbard

Two years ago, I got a call from Jack Hubbard of a firm named St. Meyer & Hubbard . They did sales training for bankers, or so I understood, and were developing a "Trusted Advisor Prospecting System."  I was initially skeptical.  I viewed Trust-based Selling as more suited for B2B clients, and largely for later-stages in the sales process.

They showed me otherwise. 

We spoke a few times by phone, and exchanged some writings. I was quickly impressed with their unusual combination of vision-and-values perspective and down-and-dirty detailed, tactical programs.  They were teaching clients to apply trust principles at earlier stages and more retail-focused levels than I had appreciated was possible.

Jack and his partner Bob St. Meyer and their team have now written their own book—Conversations with Prospects—which I can enthusiastically recommend.

Recently I got to see them in action at an annual conference they put on for bank CXOs, mostly existing clients. And I don’t know when I’ve seen such a uniformly positive, enthusiastic and solidly appreciative set of clients.

Until a week ago, I had never personally met Jack or Bob—yet I felt like I was catching up with old friends even before meeting up in the hotel lobby. At dinner, they were Midwest-friendly, but also New York direct and to-the-point.

They clearly know banking. And here they were putting on a conference for their clients about their own subject matter—selling. But they always steered the conversation around to the others at the table. They never mentioned selling their own services. Which of course sold me even more.

In other words, they walk the trust talk.

Jack, for example, sends out over 500 emails a week of the “you might enjoy this article” variety. He doesn’t use a tracking system to follow each one up; he’s not looking to connect each of his actions to a client profitability analysis, nor does he constantly examine his behaviors to determine his sales efficiency. He just focuses on his clients, both those with whom he has signed contracts and those who have yet to do so.

Here are a few excerpts from “Conversations with Prospects.”

One thing all prospects want is the same thing any of us want in our most valuable personal relationships. They want to be visible. They need a bank, but they want a banker—someone who knows who they are, what they do, and what are their challenges and opportunities.

Bankers often try too hard to prospect using techniques that are all about the bank, relying on persuasion instead of conversation. Unless the banker gets lucky and hits the prospect at a moment of desperation or unfulfilled need, the prospect invariably pushes back with any number of brush offs, but most often the shut-down line is: “I’m happy with my present bank.”

Bankers will introduce themselves to prospects by saying things such as, “I’d like to come out and introduce myself because I think I can save you some money.” Or, “I’d like to discuss our cash management offerings.” Who really needs to spend time listening to another banker peddling the same products as the rest of the pack? We see a lot of sales letters that are just as bad, talking about the sales person and company, but not the potential customer and their issues.

Needs are not products. Bankers that discover, create, and exceed the need will always have business. When the push to sell products overrides the best interests of the client there is little discussion about managing anything.

When sales people are measured solely on the basis of production, the client is the ultimate loser.
In trust-based selling, the sales person stops trying to be interesting and learns to be interested. Banks that understand this work hard to focus on and understand the buying cycle of their prospects and clients. When banks match their sales cycle to the customer’s buying cycle, it’s a trust connection and they are well on their way to a sale.

Bingo.

Bizarro Customer Service: The Anti Nordstrom

Ever run across customer service that was just so perfectly, precisely, exactly—wrong? Like Bizarro Superman, or the Seinfeld episode it inspired, a world of 180-degree opposites? My friend Jim entered Bizarro-land this week.

Jim’s an aw-shucks, dumb-like-a-fox Texan: MIT degree, world traveled, he’s currently building a truly special house in a gorgeous location. And when I say “building,” I mean he operated the earth moving equipment and cut the special trees for the special timber-based patio roof himself.

Back home this week, he visited two stores seeking some special pieces of hardware. The first place—Pierce Hardware in Fort Worth—treated him beautifully. It’s not in stock, but let’s go through some catalogs. You need an in-between size? We’ll work with the manufacturer to get something custom. And so on. Jim bought some things, and may buy more.

Then he visited Company B, a national franchise chain I won’t name. When they found out he wasn’t from the area, the salesperson seemed to him to lose interest. When Jim asked if he could take a very fancy brochure home, the salesperson said she had to ask permission from the Vice President of the franchisee.

So far—no Bizarro, just weak customer service.

Then Jim emailed me, describing the “Tale of Two Stores,” about the contrast between the true customer focused experience he had at one store, and the feeling of being shunted aside because he didn’t live within Company B’s franchise area.

And he cc’d the Vice President at Company B.

Now it gets juicy. Following are excerpts from the email Jim received back from the VP at Company B:

"I am aghast at this completely inaccurate account of your interaction with me and my staff at my showroom.

"As you are well aware, you have completely misrepresented our conversation… I am not sure what you [sic] motivation is for coming into a business and communicating a false recount of your experience.

"What would be of value to you and those few people who may read your email is to do 10 minutes of research on the company that you will be writing about before you attempt to blog about customer service / salesmanship.

"You did not do this so I am going to take a few more mintutes [sic] out of my extremely busy day to educate you on our company…

"… The space you walked into was a showroom for a high-end custom product. Again, listening to what the staff is tellling [sic]you and having a little background on exactly what the business you are critiquing does would have helped you communicate responsibily.[sic]

"In regards to the brochure that our Showroom Liason [sic] so generously handed you is exclusively for our clients that schedule in-home consultations with us and for our trade partners, not designed to hand out to someone walking off the street into our showroom. However, even though you were misleading our employee she gave you the benefit of the doubt and gave it to you in the name of superior customer service, which is our passion at XYZ. Again, if you had done even 10 mintes [sic] of research you would have know that we are a national brand with an unsurpassed reputation for exceptional service.

But the irony’s not over yet. She concludes with:

That brochure costs $12.00 so it is my expectation that you will do the right thing and return it.
FYI – I am cc-ing our corporate office and attorney on this email.

 

To recap: here’s Company B’s response to a customer complaint:

  • You’re a liar
  • I can’t imagine your motives for lying
  • Nobody reads your stupid blog
  • You should research us so we don’t have to waste time selling to you
  • I’ll waste 10 more minutes of my valuable time on you
  • You clearly don’t understand our business model, because—
  • If you did, you would have stopped at the trailer park instead of at our high class joint
  • Gimme back my brochure—after all, it’s only right, it wasn’t meant for you
  • I’ll sic my lawyer on you
  • And I’m sure my franchisor thinks this is a dandy way to handle customer relations!

Hopefully her attorney has by now informed her that (s)he has a fool for a client. And if counsel doesn’t have a gut feel for good customer relations or PR, I suspect the corporate office does. Because XYZ does in fact have a fine and well-deserved reputation and great products, and didn’t get there by boneheaded Bizarro antics like this.

That’s why I’m resisting the temptation to name names here. Ms. Bizarro doesn’t represent this company. Heck, maybe she just had a bad day and normally represents the company very well. I once had a day like that myself. Maybe two…

Reputation matters. It is the result of massive accumulations of daily, truly customer-focused behaviors. Sometimes that’s enough to get you off the hook for even Bizarro behavior. Maybe once or twice. Not much more.

Customer Service Showdown: The Cable Company vs the DMV

The stories you are about to read are true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Wait a minute—there are no innocents! Let’s name names. It’s the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles vs. Comcast Cable.

And believe it or not, one of these is a wildly positive story about customer service. The other, of course, is not (lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, especially if that place is New Jersey).

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to guess which story is which.

First, the disaster story—courtesy of my friend Judy.

Judy called XYZ about a common transaction. “Sure,” they said, “here’s what you need to bring, and we’ll take care of you.”

She gets there: “What? Who told you that! You need to go back home and bring the other thing.”

She returns. “You can’t do this, your ex-husband’s name is on the records. We need a copy of the twelve-year old divorce decree, plus his signature on a form. We don’t have that form, but we’ll fax it to you.”

Days later. “Who told you we could fax that to you? We can only mail it.”

More days. “We need to confirm your social security number.” She gives it to them. “Sorry, we can’t match it; we don’t have records of your social security number.” “Then what were you going to match it to?!" Judy asks.  We have entered Kafka-land some time ago.

At last, Judy leaves with the desired outcome. It turns out to be wrong.

On returning yet again, it’s, “well, who in the hell gave you that? It’s obviously wrong. Hey lady stop screaming—no need to take out your personal problems on us!”

OK, that was—drumroll—the Cable Company!  Comcast of West Orange, Essex County, New Jersey.

And that means—yes, people, believe it or not—the raging success story is the New Jersey DMV. Lately renamed the  Motor Vehicle Commission

I visited the Morristown office recently to register a new (actually used) car and change my address. I walk in at noon. The parking lot is full. I dread what is about to happen to my afternoon. 

But no; the lines are short—very short—and moving. I’m aggressively approached by someone who looks me in the eye. “Waddya here for, how can we help yez?”

“I want to register a car, and do a change of address,” I say. No hesitation. “Great, come on over here, let’s kill ‘em both off at once,” she says.

And she proceeds to do just that. She gave me practical advice: “If you don’t mind camping on a phone to Trenton for 10 minutes, it’ll save you a whole lot of time later—I’ll get you a chair. Meanwhile, I can download this part and fill it in for you.”

An elderly woman came in with an oxygen tube and a walker. An employee briskly walked her to the ladies room, then on her return, firmly asked someone else to move down to the next chair to make room.

A man with an accent said he was foreign born but naturalized years ago, and was worried sick about getting some documentation. An employee talked to him intently for 5 minutes; he ended up saying, “Oh, thank you so much, I am so relieved to find someone to help me with this, thank you.”

A woman next to me said, “I can’t believe how much better this place is than the department store I was just in.”

I sought out the office head before leaving to congratulate him on how different this office felt than others, and how much better than it used to be. “Yeah, we’ve got a pretty good team here,” he said, waving at his staff of eight or so.

Now, here’s the punch line. Which office do you think has bulletproof glass in front of the service windows?

Answer: the one who needs it.

Trust Is the New Leadership In A Flat World

Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat is an absurdly great best-seller.

It was a best-seller when printed in 2005, and as of today it’s still ranked #112 on Amazon. That’s a lotta bananas.

I don’t recall if Friedman ever defines “flat”—but it is an apt adjective.

“Flat” conveys the sense of “level playing field,” as in markets opening up to competitors from everywhere. It suggests a levelling of wages and prices, for the same reason. And it certainly conveys the feeling of lots and lots of interaction between buyers and sellers.

But enough about Friedman. Here’s what “flat” says to me.

Business used to be about stable, vertically organized, fire-walled, corporate entities—which competed against each other. That was business.

Not any more.

In the “flat” world, we don’t have corporations—we have supply chains. The vast majority of the auto industry’s costs are purchased costs. I’m told that when Tata set out to design a sub-$2500 car, they didn’t call a company meeting—they called a supply chain meeting.

The old job of leaders and managers—to organize (largely hierarchical) efforts within the walls of the Good Ole Corporation—is disappearing.

The new job is being done by supply chain managers, customer relationship managers, key account sales managers, and field engineers.

And that new job is not about directing people over whom you have control—it is about influencing those over whom you have absolutely no control whatsoever.

Trust is the new leadership.

It’s no longer about how you measure, motivate and inspire those beneath you or with the same W-2 form as you. It’s about how you connect with, help, and serve those with whom you interact in the Great Outside World.

Trust is the new leadership.

It’s no longer about how you help those who depend on you. It’s about how you help those on whom you depend.

And there’s the rub. Our old leadership models were internal; it was OK to help your people—after all, you all worked for Good Ole Corp.

But in old-think strategy, the customer and the supplier are your competitors too (think Five Forces model). Don’t share your cost information; contract for everything; you get what you bargain for; check with the lawyers.

In a flat world, old-think strategy runs smack up against new-think leadership.

In a flat world, you actually have to trust your supply chain. Your supply chain is your friend, not your enemy.

It’s no mistake Davos this year was all about collaboration. Collaboration is the new competition.

And trust is the new leadership.

Like old “internal” leadership, it comes with a paradox. If you focus on serving others, you will be served yourself. But if you set out to serve yourself by the “means” of serving others, you will be found out.