I’m not sure whether our customer-centric culture started on purpose or just evolved over a period of time. While I’d like to take credit for the idea and its evolution, the culture at Link is undoubtedly the result of a tremendous effort from many players on our team. When you think about our rural geographic location, it should come as no surprise that our basic value system reflects our Midwestern culture, where our word is our bond and where we take our responsibilities seriously. We believe this approach is respected and appreciated around the world, whether we’re doing business in Boston, Berlin or Beijing.
Total Quality Management: A Commitment to Our Customers
Back in the early 1990s I learned about the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement and became a big fan. The concepts fit our common-sense style. We learned that the quality goal was to meet and exceed the customer’s expectations. It wasn’t simply about a set of numbers or a formula. It wasn’t about proving how good or how right we are. The customer’s perception of quality is all that matters. (That line has been in our guiding principles for over 20 years!) The other take-away from TQM is that the definition of “customer” was expanded to include anyone whose relationship with us was important to the overall business. Suddenly, our customer wasn’t only Kenworth, Peterbilt, Navistar and trucking companies, but also included our employees, our suppliers, our owners and our community. The focus became larger and the difficulty in satisfying that many diverse customers increased, as well. But once we started paying attention to each of these audiences and trying to satisfy each one, things got better for all of us.
Building Trust and Confidence
I’m not a biblical scholar, so I’m not sure who originally penned the “Golden Rule” that states, “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” It’s such a powerful concept that most religions have used a form of it to teach an important lesson. Regardless of who gets credit for authoring these words of wisdom, we’ve taken them seriously since childhood. Perhaps the special thing we have done at Link was to build this wisdom into how we have done (and continue to do) business. Maybe that’s why a Customer-Focused Culture at Link came more easily for us.
If our focus is on the customer and our goal is to meet or exceed the customer’s expectations from their perspective and not ours, the natural result of being successful at this was earning the trust and confidence of the customer. While making a profit is just as necessary for Link as it is for any business, we decided not to make every decision about whether or not it was good for our bottom line. We were sure (and still are) that doing the right thing always pays off in the long run. The customer’s satisfaction is our goal. Why design and build a great product and then treat him or her poorly in the process? Some companies just don’t get it. We do.
Reinforcing a Customer-Focused Culture
We’ve done a lot of things to build and reinforce this culture over the years. We talk about it in our Guiding Principles and Values. Every company newsletter and every company meeting includes encouragement and reminders. We constantly ask each other, “Are we letting our customer down in any way?” It’s hard work, but our team gets it and I’m extremely proud of them for doing so.
Obviously, we’re just as human as the next. We make mistakes at times. We’re not perfect. But being driven to outperform means our continual pursuit of excellence is always built around the customer’s needs and what works best for them. The key here is to be good listeners. While the customer doesn’t always know every single technical aspect of the product that they need or want (that’s part of our job, too, as the experts) they’ll usually tell us what’s really important to them. We try not to say “no” any more than absolutely necessary. Being sincere, good listeners and being responsive and dependable builds great trust, cooperation and teamwork. It goes back to the Golden Rule. That still works, too.
Driven to Outperform
Our new positioning – Driven to Outperform – isn’t simply Link boasting about how good we are. The line came as a result of third party folks talking (and listening!) to our customers. They like how well we work with their people and how committed we are to deliver what they want, when they want, and where they need it, every time. In an industry dominated by giants, small and medium-sized companies still have the opportunity to shine on a global scale when it comes to being flexible, quick and never becoming so self-centered that our “personality” detracts from our focus on satisfying the customer.
It’s all about people. Our people (my customers) serving Link customers (also my customers). I love and appreciate them all.