Most CEOs don’t clean bathrooms, report to entry-level employees, or stop by stores just to chat with customers. Then again, Larry Sutton isn’t most CEOs.
Larry has turned RNR Tire Express into the fastest-growing tire franchise in the country with a humble and self-deprecating attitude. Larry doesn’t see himself as the head of the company; in fact, he’s actually turned the entire structure upside down. RNR uses an inverted version of the traditional pyramid hierarchy system. Larry reports to other executives, who report to regional managers, who then report to store managers and employees. As Larry says, the people who are doing the actual work are often the ones who have the best answers; if he wants to find out what kind of trucks to buy, he’s going to ask the manager who works with trucks all day instead of an executive who is removed from the actual work. It’s all in an effort to create a serve spirit instead of a service spirit. The CEO reports to everyone else because it is his job to serve them. That culture trickles down to customers, who can see a difference.
A serving attitude permeates RNR in how employees are treated. Larry believes that employees won’t be willing to serve customers fully until they are served and valued. That comes from working with them as a person instead of just an employee. Managers and executives help employees develop life skills so they can be the best husbands, wives, fathers, sons, neighbors, etc. they can be. RNR is a company full of changed lives in the business of changing lives. Focusing on employees and changing their lives spreads to customers and helps the company change their lives, as well.
Larry follows the Yes CEO mentality and has a goal to say yes more often than he says no. When an employee or franchise owner has an idea for something new, Larry almost always lets them try it, even if he doesn’t think it will work. The idea will either be a great success or serve as a learning experience for the employee and teach them more than if Larry had just shot the idea down in the first place. As long as it doesn’t hurt the brand, employees are free to try a lot of different things to create unique solutions to help customers.
Serving is at the heart of everything RNR Tire Express does. The goal is not to provide service, but to serve people. Multiple times a year RNR hosts events for employees and their families to connect and share the culture of the company. It costs a lot of money to put on events and offer rewards, but Larry believes it is worth it to serve employees. In an effort to build the culture of service, Larry has even turned down potential franchises who just didn’t fit the RNR culture.
Another way Larry stands out from the typical CEO is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He knows his employees and can connect with them on a personal and self-deprecating level. When he stops by the stores, he often checks to see if the bathrooms are clean. If they aren’t, he quietly grabs a mop and gets to work.
Larry also isn’t afraid to get feedback. It all comes back to the attitude of humility. He realizes that getting tires isn’t a pleasant experience for most people, so he welcomes new ideas of how to improve the experience. As Larry visits RNR franchises, he talks to customers in the waiting rooms about what could make their experiences better. When one customer suggested free Uber rides, four franchises started testing the idea. Other franchises are trying free pickup and delivery and mobile tire installation, and all franchises offer free refreshments and charging stations.
Larry truly believes that investing in customer experience pays off by creating an environment where people want to work and customers want to do business. His unique approach is working—RNR Tire Express has grown to a $130 million business since it started franchising in 2003. Thinking outside the box and serving with humility can make a big difference for companies across all industries, and it starts at the top.
When it comes to customer experience, many companies often overlook an important group of customers: their employees. According to Melanie Foley, EVP, Chief Talent and Enterprise Services Officer at Liberty Mutual, seeing employees as customers is key to creating a great experience. Just like customers can choose to buy your product or not, employees can choose to work for your company or not. Creating a culture of employee engagement helps drive a strong customer experience because employees are excited and prepared to interact with customers.
Treating employees as customers starts with the hiring process and delivering on the promises made in interviews. At Liberty Mutual, there is a large focus on developing engagement and loyalty by creating a culture that inspires employees to want to do the best they can for their customers. When companies provide an enjoyable atmosphere and make it easy for employees to do their jobs with the right technology and efficient processes, employees come to work because they want to, not just because they have to. There’s a definite difference between employees who are engaged and passionate about the work versus employees who are just there for the paycheck, and customers can sense that difference.
Treating employees like customers can also be measured. Liberty Mutual uses NPS to measure customer satisfaction and will soon be rolling out eNPS, or employee net promoter score, to all 50,000 of its employees around the world.
Strong companies anticipate and meet their customers’ needs, and the same needs to be done for employees. Liberty Mutual does this by encouraging empathy, dignity, and respect for everyone—customers and employees alike. Insurance can be a stressful business, and employees are often communicating and working with customers after they have had a devastating loss and are working to fix things. Although it has been a difficult and costly few years for the insurance industry, Melanie encourages companies to not nickel and dime their employees. Employees need to feel valued and won’t want to take care of customers if they feel the company is cutting corners on its customer and employee experience to save a few bucks.
The pace of change is increasing rapidly, especially in insurance. Strong companies are forward-thinking and try to get ahead of change. One of the best ways this can happen is by making sure all employees have change leadership capabilities and feel prepared to face change in their individual roles. Change can often lead to anxiety, so providing a space where employees can practice mindfulness is key. Liberty Mutual recently switched from a traditional wellness program for employees to a more all-encompassing well-being program that also encourages mindfulness, breathing, and taking time to calm down and reset.
In order to create a strong employee experience, leaders must be willing to have difficult conversations. Companies should be transparent and create spaces to talk honestly about important issues that are facing employees, especially with regards to themes like gender representation and making sure women are treated equally. Tools like employee resource groups and other discussion avenues can be powerful in making sure everyone’s voice is heard.
Every company exists to serve a customer, whether that customer is someone buying the product or an employee. Engaged employees make engaged customers. By focusing on building trust, innovation, and loyalty with employees, everyone in the organization, including customers, will feel engaged and satisfied.
When an insurance claim is filed, it means there has likely been an accident or some damage to a person’s car, home, or business. Understandably, most people aren’t thrilled to have to go through the claims process. However, customer experience is still vitally important in the insurance industry and can make the journey more pleasant for everyone involved.
According to Alex Glanz, global insurance practice lead at Medallia, the insurance industry is similar to other subscription businesses—customers pay in advance and feel the value of their purchase later. Customers use insurance all the time. Although they likely aren’t frequently filing claims, having the peace of mind that they are protected no matter what happens will improve the quality of life of a customer.
In the insurance world, there is a natural tension between saving money and helping customers. Insurers want to provide a great customer experience and follow through on their promises, but they also want to manage claims efficiently and effectively, which can often be at odds with each other. Sometimes to create a good customer experience the claim needs to take longer to process, but that costs more money, just like making detailed estimates can hurt customer experience. In general, the better the experience, the higher the cost. The balancing act for insurance companies is to create fair outcomes while managing costs to best serve customers.
In order to do that, insurers should think about things from the customer’s perspective. This week’s guest on the Modern Customer Podcast - Alex Glanz - recommends using data to understand the customer journey and see the points where the company’s actions aren’t meeting the customer’s expectations and using those as areas for improvement. Truly providing a great customer experience comes from having a customer-focused culture. According to Alex, everyone in the company must be focused on customer experience. It needs to start with the C-Suite and spread through the entire company. The best companies democratize their data and get it into the hands of people who can take action. When everyone engages around customer experience, customers are satisfied and loyal to the company.
Alex preaches the importance of moving past operational customer experience, which takes a research-based approach, and instead focusing on an agile, emotional response. Many companies fall into the trap of doing research about customer experience, coming up with a strategy, and slowly rolling it out in controlled segments. However, the best customer experience responds to the needs of customers and is more flexible. Real customer experience grows as it is part of a company’s day-to-day operations and a living piece of what every employee does.
The goal of customer experience for a brand should be to remove friction, and that goal is critical in the insurance industry. As customers file claims during difficult times, companies should be looking for ways to make the process smoother and help make customers’ lives easier, not more difficult. Improving customer experience helps lower costs, which keeps things in balance. Although the insurance customer journey might be unlike that of any other industry, customer experience is still a vital part of the insurance process and can be developed by knowing and understanding customers.
Disclosure: This is a podcast and post sponsored by Medallia