February 25, 2008

Good day, team,

While reading the newspaper this morning, I saw a quote from Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the founder of the Toyota Car Company. He said, “If I am going to be at the top of the car company, I want to be owner-chef: with knowledge not just of its vehicles but their ingredients. As such, I taste my car, and if it tastes good, I provide it to the customer.”

Mr. Toyoda is currently one of the possible candidates for the position of Toyota’s president. Just because he is the grandson of the founder doesn’t guarantee that he will get the position. He has to earn it. He’s already held many prestigious positions at Toyota, but he must also have an intimate knowledge of the company’s products. Part of the requirement for becoming president is 10 years of monthly, Toyota race-car training. Evidently, if you want to become the president of the world’s most successful car company, you have to drive the cars and understand on all levels what they feel like and how they perform.

The above-mentioned quote made me think about what it means to have first hand knowledge and experience with your product and its effect on your customer. How many companies actually require that their team members use the products or services they create? I once went to a bank to get a home equity line of credit. I asked the loan officer about customer service support to ensure that I would actually get to talk to a live person if I had a problem. I remember her saying, “Well, I don’t really know. I don’t bank here. I use my husband’s credit union because the service and rates there are much better.” Needless to say, that bank didn’t get my business.

Some of my clients are in the Internet business. Over the past few years, they have found themselves becoming more and more disillusioned by the type of work they’re doing. It used to be about designing the Web site for the user: making sure that whoever clicked into their site had the best possible experience. Nowadays, it’s about monetizing. That is, instead of focusing on the customer experience, companies try to maximize the number of ad impressions they can expose viewers to before driving them away. It makes me wonder if the people in the company who are concentrating on monetization actually go into the site and try to use it?

Your challenge this week is to take Mr. Toyoda’s advice and try to taste your business. If you’re in the service business, try using your service for a week. If you produce a product, try using the product. If you work in a company that has a production line, try working on the line for a day to see what your production team members actually experience. If you work at a call center, get on the phone with a customer and “taste” what you’re feeding the customer and also what the call representative is experiencing as well. It’s not enough to ask your customer what they’re experiencing; try having the experience yourself so you know first-hand what it feels like.

In the article, Mr. Toyoda also told one of his favorite stories, about three dentists. One advertised he was the best dentist in the world. The second dentist claimed to be the best in France, and the third dentist said only that he was the best in town.
“Everyone says Toyota is the best company in the world, but the customer doesn’t care about the world. They care if we are the best in town.” And when they buy a car, they care about whether this car, right here, right now, is the best for them.

This week, find out whether you’re the best in town by experiencing what you have to offer. Become your own customer and see what it tastes like.

Have a great week!