Rob Catalano writes on recognition, engagement, alignment and forward-thinking methods for helping organisations focus on employees to drive business success. He leads global engagement and expansion at cloud recognition and engagement company Achievers. Rob is a Certified Recognition Professional (CRP) and a popular speaker on the HR circuit, having presented on best practices and trends in over 30 cities. His writings include a ‘wisdom of crowds’ approach leveraging his work with hundreds of organisations globally.

Well, I guess it’s not a secret anymore. I just had to share my feelings.

John L. lives in several places around the world, but I fell in love where we first met in London, UK.  I recently moved there (originally I’m Canadian) and sadly never encountered John in my several trips throughout the years. 

So why am I so enamoured by John L?

He is so attentive. So in tune with my needs. Treats me like I’m the only man in the world.

John isn’t a person, though. I’m actually talking about John Lewis the retail store.

Is it that weird to have a crush on a retail store? One I barely know?! And it wasn’t the brand that did it (I didn’t know the brand at the time), nor was it fancy marketing, or referrals from friends… it was the experience the staff gave me in the store. 

And why does that make me feel all fuzzy inside and get butterflies in my stomach?

For those that don’t know me, I’ve spent the last decade helping companies transform their businesses by recognising, engaging and aligning employees to enact company strategies. Often, those strategies include remarkable customer service. I’ve seen the impact company culture can have on these types of business results and I’m ‘crushing’ on John Lewis because they’re doing something right.

The experience I had as a customer was awesome and like no other store, outlet, restaurant, you name it, that I’ve encountered here. And it wasn’t one lucky interaction, it was four separate occasions. It got me excited and intrigued. I had to learn more.

What I found amazing in my research on John Lewis is the focus on their employees (they call partners, because they are all owners) and on their purpose. They are one of the UK’s top ten retailers. And from their 2014 annual report (which is a great read!), two brands, Waitrose and John Lewis, increased market share for the fifth consecutive year, have grown by almost 10% and, for the first time, have achieved sales of over £10 billion. Check out this interesting video about their business – love the message.

This reinforces something that I hold very dear to me as a concept and suggest we should have infused into the fabric of our organisations: the service-profit chain.

This concept is that if you start with focusing on your employees and ensuring that they’re engaged, empowered and aligned to your purpose, it is only then will you see great customer satisfaction leading to repeat customers.  Your result is improved shareholder value or profitability.

In fact, according to Best Companies, 2014 data revealed that Accredited Best Companies’ shares outperform the FTSE100 by 3.5 times.

The exciting part of this for HR is that we can control this chain. Shareholder value and customer satisfaction are outputs. We can’t quickly change those metrics tomorrow, or over a sustained time period, but we can control the inputs. We can control how we treat our employees and provide an environment where employees can thrive. The business results follow.

Why am I telling this story?  Because if you work for a service-based company in any capacity you should care for your business and the country. For the UK economy to grow, businesses will have to focus on remarkable customer service. 78% of UK’s GDP is derived from the service sector, with 70% of UK employees having direct contact with customers (Customer Service in the UK, ICS, 2014)

Today, your customers have the power to influence your reputation as never before – for better or for worse. They demand more from businesses than product relevance and an 0800 number.

Today’s marketplace has made it not only impractical, but also unrealistic for brands to try to differentiate themselves on product or price alone.  Customers are more fickle and less loyal.
So if you’re a business that relies on service to be successful, this is what you should consider doing differently:

  1. Create the vision – it needs to be part of your organisations purpose to delight customers
  2. Put employees first – empower them to take ownership of this mission.  Don’t micro-manage it.
  3. Enact the vision TOGETHER – reinforce the correct behaviours with recognition. Everyone participates – not just top-down
  4. Maniacally measure – what gets measured, gets improved.  And celebrate the success

I have no financial tie to John Lewis, but an emotional one. They made me a Raving Fan (great book to get your whole service team to read). I shop at their stores almost exclusively. And I did before jumping into the research of what makes this company unique. It starts with their people, and we can learn a lot from the experience they offer customers.

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