Having spoken to business leaders in retail, repairs and restaurants, Curium director and co-founder Andy Dawson reflects on how listening to customers and employees is helping to drive their success.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting and talking to some impressive leaders this week as part of a typically busy week at Curium.
As I type, people are digesting the results of the European elections and the PM is counting down her days in office. In the business world, British Steel is on the brink of collapse and M&S has issued a heavily discounted rights issue.
Things are tough out there. The business world is nervous, and politicians are confused (as are we), but… I’ve been party to some positive conversations about great things that are also happening. I thought I’d share some of them.
Gymshark is a successful fitness apparel business, based in the Midlands, and I was privileged to hear their CEO, Steve Hewitt, talking at a business lunch. Growth is impressive (increasing from £103 million this year to circa £190 million), selling across 170 countries with 300 employees (and growing) with an average age of 26. Steve shared many insights, but some that really resonate are:
- Employee engagement: make Sunday night feel like Xmas for your teams
- Culture: they are happy to ‘fail fast’; it’s critical to hire people who are the right fit – “we’d rather have a hole than an a*!?hole”
- Customer: develop fans not customers. They are fast approaching 10m social media followers
- Focus: know your target customer/market and stick to it; it is important to know when to say no
What interested me was the fact that the conversation very much focused on the importance of people. Get it right for your team and your customer and you can succeed, whatever the challenges. Long may that continue!
I attended another event and listened to the equally impressive Greg Reed, CEO of Homeserve UK. I’ve watched this business for a few years. They have delivered an impressive turnaround in recent years and now boast a strong culture and employee brand.
They help 1.5 million people each year at their most challenging times (like when water is pouring through their roof!). I am impressed by the simplicity with which they have dissected their business to make it as easy as possible for the customer to experience the service that they offer.
Greg and his team have listened intensively to their own teams, sitting themselves in the heart of the customer contact centre, as well offering the customer flexibility and a voice (and answers) on social media.
Again, the underlying success here is putting their people first, listening to them and then making sure that they respond to their customers. Homeserve hit £1 billion of revenue in their recent results announcements, and good luck to them hitting the £2 billion mark.
It was sad to see the collapse of the Jamie Oliver empire this week. The casual dining sector has been hugely difficult for a long time, with high-profile failures.
However, this week I chatted to an entrepreneur is this sector, who is succeeding in face of massive shifts in consumer behaviours and uncertainty. He is investing heavily in the business, including in developing the capabilities of the leadership team. People first again.
I spend most of my time out and about and I’m constantly learning, recognising that whatever the business or sector you are in, there are common trends among the businesses who are doing well:
- Block out the white noise – be focussed and have clarity of purpose
- Your people are the ones who deliver your promises and are much closer to your customers than you will ever be, so listen to them and act quickly
- Customers are more transient and vocal than ever before. Today, it is easy to engage with them directly, learn from them and adjust your offer accordingly to turn them into fans and advocates
- Culture is a source of competitive advantage that takes time and effort to develop, and is very hard to copy
If I could sum this up in a couple of words, it would be “People First”. I think it is too easy to complicate things and look for the silver bullet. Looking back over the years, businesses with great cultures and people tend to win more often than not!