The one thing you must do to be a people business.

timelapse photo of people passing the street

The importance of people to a business cannot be understated. I know that sounds incredibly obvious, yet, how many businesses lose sight of people?

Have you ever had an experience where you felt like a number? Call your local internet provider or cable service or, well, name almost any business. The first thing they ask is for is your account number. Then they want your name and address so they can ensure it is you. It is telling that that account number is so important. Like it or not, you are a number, a data point to be crunched and used as a training tool or a reason for a new product—or a new charge.

Thing is though, business needs people. Every customer of every business everywhere is a person, not a B or a C, they are people. Any purchase of anything is made by a person, a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person and it is being sold, delivered, and serviced by a person, a living, breathing, thinking, feeling person.

But for much of the time it seems not to matter. We meet daily and look at the “numbers.” We study the “data.” We review the survey scores and look for trends, peaks, and troughs. Almost nowhere is there talk of the humans who create the numbers, data, scores, etc.

Then, we create products and services, put them out there, and wait. We wait to see what happens and then wonder why people don’t buy, or, if they do buy, complain.

Mark Stickdorn, the service design expert and author of several major service design books, created a poster that says, “Just f***ing ask your customer.” I couldn’t agree more. Why aren’t more companies talking to customers, not surveying or focus grouping, no, actually talking to them? Why have I never been asked what I would like to buy, see, experience as a customer? I would think every person who buys should be asked personally what they think at some point in their long life of being customers, but I have never, in my many years of shopping and buying, been personally approached by a manager or business leader to simply find out what I think. Kind of shocking when you think about it.

And this isn’t just about customers, the same goes for employees. Business leaders everywhere are bumbling around left and right wondering what they need to do to get more productivity, engagement, ideas, initiative, etc., etc. from their employees. So, what do they do? Send out a survey. Why not talk to some employees? Why not get them off site and get some real feedback? Surveys aren’t all bad, they just don’t tell the whole story.

People. They are quixotic, finnicky, inconsistent, emotional, and multi-faceted, and they are central to why and how we do business. And if you think they are just a necessary evil, think about sports during the pandemic. How many times did you lament the absence of fans? Ask any of the athletes. How much did they miss the energy and support from the fans?

People. They and all their baggage are not all good, but we need them. We have no other reason for business than people and trying to know them with a spreadsheet is a fool’s errand. So, go out and meet them. Talk to them. Learn from them. Find out what they, both customers and employees, think. Or, in the words of Mark Stickdorn, “Don’t just guess what your customers want.” (And don’t guess about your employees either.)

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