In any business, the performance expectations are high and technology is involved in every aspect. And within all this innovation and complexity, we're forgetting how important the actual people are in the process of running a powerful business.
Anyone in business right now can say something isn't quite right. Something isn't connecting or clicking. It is at the root of every challenge I work on.
Recently, I had an eye-opening brand experience I want to share that illustrates a key ingredient in the solution. I'm excited to share it with you.
I live in Chicago and have been a dedicated Mariano's grocery store customer for about 5 years.
At the store this past weekend, I wondered what was it about Mariano's that allowed me to become such a dedicated customer. My favorite color changes with my mood, so how did this grocery store brand get me and so many others (including Kroger) hooked?
I used to be a journalist, so I decided to put on my imaginary reporter's cap and chat with the store employees to figure it out.
The answer: Mariano's is a human-centric business!
The company is empowering its human talent to harness and act on vital data to drive real customer connections and grow the business.
The following are real stories that illustrate the power of humanity in a data-rich and complex business environment. I hope you are inspired and explore the application of these insights in your own organization.
INSIGHT 1: AUTHENTIC SERVICE IS THE BEST MARKET RESEARCH
I asked two employees, let's call them Susan and Alyssa, if they had any barley at the bulk spice and grain section. Susan said no, but she's gotten that question multiple times this week, so they're ordering it. Alyssa jumped in and said she was in charge of the ordering, was working it into the larger inventory and would have it ordered by November 2. Wow, super specific, thank you! These employees illustrate four key strengths: 1) they engage and listen to customers to hear what they really want/need, 2) they understand patterns and are empowered to report these trends up, 3) they have ownership and stake in the solution, and 4) they are excited to share their experiences.
The store stocks products customers want, customers know the store is responding to their needs, employees are happy and empowered, everyone gains a feeling of ingrained ownership in the solution, and Mariano's is getting maximum value out of that employee, who is now market researcher + customer service expert + spice aisle team member.
INSIGHT 2: EMPOWERED INDIVIDUALS WILL EXCEED EXPECTATIONS
I complimented these women and observed they seemed appreciated and valued. They confirmed my assumption and proactively offered me another story of what it's like to work at Mariano's.
They have a coworker who works in the sweets section. She had the idea to take the available nuts, grind them and add them as toppings to some of the caramel apples. She told her team leader, who said something to the effect of "Awesome idea! Do it!" There was no need for another layer of approval, no "consideration process" or analysis to see if it will be effective, and her leader didn't take credit for her idea.
The employee feels genuinely valued and understand the impact of her contribution to the business, she has an appreciated outlet for creativity, other team members hear and feel pride in group, other employees start thinking of ideas they could bring to improve the store, customers get a better product, and Mariano's sells more caramel apples. AND this was all done within a day with no incremental cost.
INSIGHT 3: LEADERS NEED TO FEEL EMPOWERED TO LEAD
I learned each team has a team leader. These leaders not only empower their team members, but they are also empowered to own and drive success for their team. In the caramel apple story, that team leader was able to approve the idea immediately. They were empowered and had the responsibility and authority to make a smart and quick decision. They were also confident in their role to give credit and ownership to a team member to succeed. I was talking to a cashier who told me her team lead is always nearby and behind the cashier lines, ready to help if asked. Now that is leadership. Be supporting and present, and ready to guide or jump in when your team asks.
Leaders feel confident in their roles and focus on leading instead of doing. They are accountable to oversee success in their areas and able to make meaningful decisions based on their expertise and best judgement. They are also freed up to see patterns, connect with each other, and be conduits between management and their team. There is a tangible expression of trust at every level.
INSIGHT 4: MUTUALLY-BENEFICIAL INCENTIVE PROGRAMS WORK
I'm a digital marketer, so I can't talk about business without geeking out on the data and technology. Mariano's had a rewards card that has real valuable for both customers and the company. Employees always ask at the register, and they don't give away discounts if you don't have a card. Instead, they direct you to the self-service kiosks to sign up. There are staff members around to help if needed, too.
For customers, the rewards card gives loyalty points and incentives for services they actually use, like coffee at the café, discounts and e-coupons. At other grocery stores, the rewards card just gives at-register discounts that you could ask the cashier to apply without your own card. Customers want their own Mariano's card because of all the personalized value.
Mariano's (most likely) gets customer-level data on individual purchases habits, which could be informing their supplier relationships and inventory management. I hope they're also creating buyer profiles and insights to drive deeper personalization that adapts in real-time. For example: my e-coupons should be different than my neighbor's, and if I get pregnant, they should change as soon as the pattern is recognized or I update my profile.
Now, what about you? Are you imagining what if would be like if this was your company?
How many ideas like those stories are percolating with your employees and partners? What would you do if you heard there was a way to super-power your business without any additional cost (aka instant improvement in ROI)? How much more positive, excited and innovative would you and your team be if they saw an embrace of great ideas and were empowered to make it happen? How much more effective would your team be if they fully understood the goals and plans, and they felt empowered to use their expertise to make business-driving decisions?
- Data is everywhere. It's about knowing where to look, what to ignore, and how to extract the most valuable, relevant insights for you. It can be website analytics, store sales, customer questions or non-verbal observations.
- Humans are working with you right now, and I can guarantee they would love to be creators and innovators. They want to make meaningful change, if only there was someone to hear them and translate the idea into a strategic action plan.
- Technology is at the ready (and most likely already in use) to turn those ideas and innovations into realities that can be measured, tweaked, scaled and repeated for real business results.
- Marketing is primed to convey those meaningful messages, spread the word and inspire customers to be a part of your brand experience and family.
- You believe in your work, mission and organization. You want to do what's best, and you could excel with a trusted and specialized advisor to fill the gaps: find the meaningful data, connect the dots, encourage the effort and collaboration, and showcase your and your teams' success.
We all have what it takes to succeed. You have all the ingredients you need in your pantry. It takes a new perspective and encouragement to inspire and reach that next level of success.