It Starts With Culture

I’ve thought a lot about culture and building community lately. As a result, I’ve been really hungry for opportunities to learn from others who have expertly crafted amazing culture within their own communities. My latest journey into the world of learning from culture and community experts took me to a ‘Box Lunch at Indy’s own Smallbox yesterday afternoon. I had the chance to meet some really smart marketing professionals in the Indianapolis business and nonprofit community, and learn from culture and customer experience enthusiasts Elizabeth Heil and Jason Ward. The whole experience really satisfied my appetite in more ways than one!

We discussed competition, rethinking how we work, fueling good experiences with solid culture, transparency, giving people something to believe in, setting expectations, and being accountable. Can you believe we managed all of that in an hour, and still had time to eat?


Since you probably don’t have an hour to digest my humble little blog post, I’m going to provide the best of Jason and Elizabeth:

  • Question your notions of competition. when it came to discussing our biggest competitors, many of us cited insourcing and vendors as competing with our organizations for business. This is especially relevant for service-oriented, B2B companies. We often play the role of the middle man for companies that don’t have the time or patience to work directly with our vendors. We also often represent an alternative to internal hiring. My company for instance, a managed services provider, is able to offer companies an alternative to a hiring more IT staff, and companies like Smallbox often work with companies who have small or nonexistent web marketing teams. When companies decide they’re ready to beef up their hiring efforts, service providers can often find themselves fighting for a share of the work.
  • Ask “How was my service?” and mean it! Elizabeth told a story about a recent experience she and her husband had on a cruise. Their regular server on the ship was so mindblowingly amazing at creating great dining experiences, that the couple went out of their way – even going to late dinners – to experience her service. Her secret? Every night, at the end of her dining service, she asked, “How was my service? If my service was not excellent, I want you to tell me how I can improve.” What we can learn from this as customer-serving organizations is to always solicit and accept feedback.
  • It starts with culture. The what of your product should be a foregone conclusion, so focus on the why and how of your product. The why and how comes from the culture you and your team create. You can hire your way to a fantastic culture, but without something fantastic for your team to believe in, that culture will fizzle out pretty fast. If your team doesn’t have something to believe in, you can’t expect your clients, members, or donors to believe in anything you do.
  • Always under promise and over deliver. This was one of my first lessons in customer service, and it rings true in all kinds of service delivery relationships, whether you’re interacting with bosses, internal teams, or clients. This will save you from disappointing clients when projects end up being bigger and more time-consuming than expected. Instead, you give yourself the opportunity to surprise and delight your client when you are able to go above and beyond their expectations!

If you want to make sure you don’t miss out on the next ‘Box Lunch, keep an eye on the SmallBox twitter feed. AND because I’m really nice, I’m going to share Jason and Elizabeth’s kickass slide deck with you too.

If you want to learn more about Smallbox and their culture-powered marketing, check out their website, or come say hello at their fabulous Broad Ripple digs!


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