What does Joe Namath, Gumby and The Container Store have in common?


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The setting was Miami in 1969

G.2.11_headline-joe-guaranteed-it_smThe NFL was to face the AFL in the Super Bowl. The New York Jets of the AFL were the underdogs against the Baltimore Colts. The Don Shula led Colts were 7 to 1 favorites and the spread was nearly three touchdowns. Few people other than Joe Namath gave the Jets a shot. Egged on by a Colts fan while giving a dinner speech, Namath went as far as guaranteeing the victory. Joe had watched Colts film all week and saw opportunity. The team hadn’t changed their defensive scheme all season. Namath realized he could read their setup before snapping the ball and adjust accordingly. He pioneered the type of reads and changing of plays that we now see every Sunday from the likes of Manning and Brady.

There is a reason why they play the game. The lowly Jets upset the Colts 16-7 in Super Bowl III. Namath was praised for his intelligent plan and adjustments. “Namath’s quickness took away our blitz,” said Colt coach Don Shula after the game. “He beat our blitz more than we beat him.” The headlines lauded Namath. One ran across two-pages:

“Famed Colt Defense Was Picked to Pieces…By Broadway Joe, Ruler of the Jet Set.”

Namath exhibited flexibility. Reading the situation in the moment and bending accordingly. It would be the shining moment of his pro career.

Enter The Container Store

A good friend relayed a story about a recent visit to The Container Store. She mentioned that she strolled into the store around noon on a Saturday. As a rule she said, “I never go to The Container Store on a weekend. I had hoped to get in their early Saturday morning, but one or two things conspired against me. Now I was kicking myself before even entering the store. I knew it would be packed.” Upon finishing her shopping she peered at the long checkout lines. More internal grumbling. Then a store associate offered to check her out. He immediately sensed her dissatisfaction. He addressed the situation and apologized about the delay. He then proactively offered to give her a 10% discount on her purchase. She walked out of the store in a better mood and as an advocate. My friend would share that story many times and even recite it in front of 40 senior level marketing executives at one of my recent talks.

Actions speak louder than words

3135069-8412017809-gumbyThe founders of The Container Store, Garrett Boone and Kip Tindell, wanted to create an environment that empowered employees and allowed them to act with their best judgement. In order to drive this home, the store has an award called The Gumby (#459 in the Green Goldfish Project). Being Gumby is doing whatever needs to be done to serve a customer, help a co-worker or complete a task. It’s not getting “bent out of shape” when a customer makes a request of you that you’d rather not do. And it’s also about bouncing back quickly after having a tough encounter with a challenging customer.

Every Container Store employee is strategically trained to think flexibly to solve customer problems. According to Myra Golden, “The company does this with an air of excitement by using the 1950?s Gumby clay-figure TV star. The company constantly reinforces the Gumby culture by having a 6 foot tall wooden Gumby in the lobby at the company’s headquarters and giving away the annual Gumby award to the employee who exemplifies flexibility.” Even the cafe at headquarters is called the Gumby Cafe.

imgres-1With great power comes great responsibility. Container Store understands they need to arm store associates with the requisite skills. The spend over 150 hours a year training each staff member. That’s nearly 20 times the industry average. Part of that training is situational awareness such as being able to read a customer. In the words of Kirk Kanzanjian in Driving Loyalty, “Those in the restaurant business refer to this as ‘having eyes for’ or ‘reading your table.’ Chains such as T.G.I. Friday’s and Romano’s Macaroni Grill have realized the importance of this and now regularly train service staff to make note of body language and off-hand remarks.”

Addressing issues immediately

When a customer has an issue or is experiencing displeasure, its important to address it immediately. A recent study by NOVO1 and ASU’s Center for Services Leadership concluded that only 21% of customers who complain are satisfied with the ultimate resolution. The onus is on the business to correct the situation. This takes employees who are attune to the feelings of a customer and who are empowered to fix it. According to Micah Solomon, “The Ritz-Carlton has for many years given staff  $2,000 of discretion (yes, this is per employee per guest) to be used to solve any customer complaint in the manner the employee feels is appropriate.”

Takeaway: Joe Namath doesn’t win the Super Bowl a.) if he isn’t trained to read the Colts Defense and b.) if his coach doesn’t give him the ability to change the play at scrimmage. The Container Store doesn’t win an advocate if a.) they don’t train their employees to be situationally aware and b.) if they don’t empower them to rectify a situation. Do you demonstrate flexibility like Joe, Container Store and Gumby?

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Here is a YouTube video of Jeanne Bliss talking about the Gumby Award:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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