Growing up in Singapore, I had been inculcated with the value of people in the country. As we all know, Singapore is that small little island nation in South East Asia that grew to become the leading financial centre of that region. How did a nation without the vast natural resources of its neighbours grew to become more developed and advanced? That advantage lies in the value the country places on its people, with investments in education and infrastructure meant to improve living standards. It makes sense for a nation to care so much about its citizens and ensure that their citizens can compete globally in the event of increased competition. However, the similar perspective can be said in a corporate setting. Lest we forget, Singapore as a nation was run and managed like a corporation right down to the way its ministers are remunerated in accordance to how the nation fares economically. Thus why shouldn’t corporations look after its people and promote their wellbeing?
The last point brought on an especially new meaning to myself after my first semester in the Sauder School of Business at UBC in Vancouver, where an excellent professor brought the point of organizational behaviour and human resource very fluidly into the teachings of business and management. It was especially fascinating to see how operations management techniques like six sigma and lean operations could be implemented more effectively once a company gets the culture right. And it is no different for small and medium enterprises. Perhaps the application of investing in people is even more prominent in service-oriented businesses like the airline and hotel industry. Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons are two international hotel brands that have been able to command that price premium and might even make guests willing to sacrifice some benefits like location for a stay at their property. I have personally experienced this point in a stay at the Hotel Indonesia (managed by Kempinski) and the Ritz Carlton. While the former is the newest and most posh hotel in the most desirable location in the city, the latter gets my attention for the level of customer service and provides me the lasting image of the brand.
And in the airline industry which has been besieged by union strikes that have caused plane delays, Southwest is perhaps a case study worthy in any business school for the culture that makes low cost carriers work. There have been tales of pilots helping with the ground crew in aiding for a faster turnaround, leading to increased profitability. Their culture has been so strong that employees have been known to take a lower pay to work in the company. After all a workplace is where most people spends their time in on the weekdays. Working in a place with a great culture where colleagues motivate and help each other, supervisors care for the well-being of team members, and a clear rewards system is in place to encourage people to get up every day is akin to having fun at the workplace. This could be one reason why Cathay Pacific’s newest advertising campaign focuses on its people. Being a frequent flier of the airline, I have really had some fond memories of the way the airline treats me as a customer, and it is always heartwarming to the passengers to read about the lives and aspirations of the crew members and ground staff working in Cathay Pacific. My guess is that not only does it motivates customers to share the love of travel and flying with the crew members, but it will also encourage and provide a sense of satisfaction and purpose to the crew members featured in the advertisement. As I read about the pilot who have previously gotten a medical degree, or the stewardess who has an alter ego besides from serving drinks up in the air, I feel they are more human and passengers suddenly get a personal bond with these crew members who are in uniform.
While the effects might be more pronounced in a service-oriented business, let us not forget the Johnson & Johnson credo towards human lives, the consumer-centric culture of Apple, or Nokia’s advertisement with the tagline of ‘Connecting People’. It was these simple strategies that helped these companies gain market leadership in their respective fields. It should also be with the mindset of starting with people that companies should base their research and development upon. And that is what customer feedback forms are used for, companies should always communicate, engage and ‘talk’ with their consumers to find out their needs, wants and dissatisfaction and seek solutions to improve their products and services to meet or exceed expectations. Nokia, for one, failed to foresee the need for a human-centric operating system for its smartphones that led to its loss of market leadership in that sector. With the increase in globalization and competitiveness, companies that does not transform themselves to meet consumers’ expectations would only be displaced sooner or later by new upstarts. In the US hypermarket industry, K-Mart was displaced by Target, while in the automobile sector, the Korean brands are slowly displacing middle-market brands by offering better value and stylish designs that meets customers’ needs better.
It is not just the consumers that makes a company profitable. How a company treats its employees is reflective of the way it treats its customers, because an unhappy employee is not likely to interact with the customer in such a way that will make the experience worthwhile. On the other hand a happy and motivated employee is more likely to handle complaints with an optimistic and dynamic perspective. Treating employees well also brings side benefits like loyalty for the firm, and if one ever visits the offices of Bloomberg, McKinsey & Co., UBS or any other prestigious Fortune 500 firms, the workplace ambience and well-stocked pantry sure makes it feel like a place one could spend the day in. These are pull factors that attracts talents to work for a company, enhancing its ability to differentiate itself. It is also the culture of putting people first that could only create that magical connection or bond to link customers with companies and brands.