Do you feel like your business is drowning in a sea of other businesses offering the same things you are? You might have to look at the customer experience your business offers because believe it or not, many aspects of your business growth are rooted in this one aspect. Jesse Cole is joined by Ron Lovett, the renowned author of Outrageous Empowerment. According to Ron, the customer experience is actually driven by the experience of your employees. Together, Ron and Jesse discuss how changes to your work processes will ultimately benefit the customer experience you’re creating. Take Ron’s word for it, and you might just find your business reaching a whole new frontier.
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The Customer Experience, First And Foremost With Ron Lovett
Our guest is an industry changer and outrageous out of the box thinker who flipped the security industry on its head. With his company, Source Security, he went all-in on his people purpose and processes. His book, Outrageous Empowerment, is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read and he’s teaching it with his company, Connolly Owens. We’re going to see firsthand what business done differently looks like. The one and only, please welcome, Ron Lovett.
Thanks for having me.
Your book made a huge impact because you looked at business so much differently than anyone else did in the security business. I am fascinated by sharing how you did it, how you were able to turn around because you had a mindset. “We’re not competing at other security businesses. We’re going after the Starbucks and Southwest Airlines.” Can you give a little bit of the origin story, then we’re going to dive into what you did with your people?
Every great story has a rock bottom as the big start. The rock bottom for me was in 2011, the year after we expanded to try to take on the Olympics in Vancouver. I can get to the Copenhagen faster than in Vancouver. It’s across the country. Expanding it was the same as, “Yes, we can do it. We can do everything,” and that causes a lot of pain. We were the masters of nothing and we had no culture. We had no focus and all that cost and dollars. There’s a story in the book about I’m at rock bottom. As to speak, I’m involved with the EO or Entrepreneurs’ Organization. There was a speaker in the event and the speaker got up and he was talking about his mystery shop program that they ran for the banks. He said, “Our mystery shoppers will go to the same bank and they’d ask a whole bunch of questions.” The last question was always, “Why should I open an account here versus the fifteen banks up and down the street?” He said, “The crazy thing was the answer was always different.” Some tellers at the same bank would give different answers. “You should open a bank here. We will serve you guys our customer service. Our rates are better. We’re open on the weekends. Our line up time is shorter,” whatever it was.”
He said, “Not only the frontline staff members have different answers to that question, but it was not aligned with this CEO C-level messaging and branding that they were pushing up.” The speaker challenged us. He said, “I challenge you to go back to your companies and you ask your frontline staff why people should do business with you and see how close your answer is without going, ‘That’s going to hit big fail.’” That started me on this, “How are we getting it all wrong?” I met some staff. They came in on Sunday and they’d worked with me for 6, 7, 8 years. I asked them, “Why should people do business with us?” It wasn’t even close to the reason. I was bleeding, getting on a plane, and going into boardrooms across the country and telling the company, “There was such a disconnect on that message.” They were already in hot water, so I thought to dig a little deeper and they knew nothing about our business. That was my a-ha moment of, “I have so much work to do to align. How do I align the boardroom with the frontlines?”
There are all kinds of things that came out of that. That was the first one where I met with some people and said, “What if you had the autonomy to make your own decision if you did the hiring, firing and compliant?” They were like, “Ron, we would love if we could get on our way because this mid-level management makes all the decisions. We have nothing to do with it and we have to deal with what we think are bad decisions.” To Jim Collin’s theory, it was, how to get it right and you should fire the bullet and then the cannonball. Once we had it right, we went full board and that meant reading books because we take that for granted. I always think I’m a pretty decent guy. I always thought I had a great culture from anybody who was at arm’s length, but the question is, “How do you scale that?”
That’s the challenging thing. It says in the book that we were in more challenging industries than Starbucks or Southwest because we pay lower rates through the double client. Our employees go to our customer space. They’re under their umbrella and that’s how they knew it all the time. How do we scale culture when people are at arm’s length? As you can imagine in the security road, you get a job, you’re hired online towards the end of our business. We ship you your uniform and you’re paid directly at it. We had to work so hard to treat culture for people that we had no access to, for the most part.
I want to dive into that scaling culture. When I read that part of the mystery shop, I was like, “We have part-time concession workers, part-time sellers.” I was like, “There was no chance. How do you say it over and over again that great leaders are repeatable?” For us, we’ve developed the Perfect Fan Testimonial, our PFT, and it’s the most fun you’ve ever had at a baseball game. It’s like a circus in a baseball game breaks out. If we could get everyone saying that, then they know what they’re coming for, but that’s teaching. I want to know what were the first steps you did to scale? It was a challenge.
I’ll go back to the values. I think that’s in the book where I’m reading the book about Herb Kelleher telling everybody they’re at war with Delta Airlines and the next day, people came to work from baggage handlers to the pilots. I’m like, “No way.” Part of my family is in New York and went home and I had to book behind my back. I talked to a young guy at the counter of Southwest Airlines. I walked to him and I said, “I have a question for you.” He said, “What’s your question?” I said, “Do you like the company you work for?” He said, “What, pardon me?” I said, “Do you like the company you work for?” He said, “I don’t know if you’re looking for a job, but this is the best place to work on a planet.”
“Were you hired? Are you staged? How did you get in that position?”
They’re getting a return on investment. This guy loves the company this much. This is ROI on fire. That inspired me to start going out. We created our values and then started to question in various ways from themes across the country. We do major things where people would live our values to me writing cards to multiple employees every month, to a video text message to show someone who lived our value that we ran an employee and be like, “The CEO in Halifax texted me how proud he is because I live the value of teamwork.” I was sending through video, lots of social media, but we found out quickly that we had to rewind even further. We were back to scaling because these were things that we implemented when we report, but we were too late.
What I mean by that is we went back to the drawing board on the process of finding staff. The security industry is a very security-driven hierarchy, so we went back to the drawing board on two sides, Jesse. One was, what are the outcomes that we and the client are looking for in a role? I’ll keep this very simple. The major outcome they want, which is similar to you is excellent customer service. That’s the outcome that the client wants. It doesn’t have anywhere in the security business. That’s what they want, excellent customer service. We reconstructed that and said, “If it’s excellent customer service, what trait or characteristic drives excellent customer service?” That is empathy. We then would separate those characteristics and say, “Is empathy a DNA trait or is it trainable?”
From our perspective, you cannot train empathy. It’s DNA. You’re empathetic or you’re not. We started to build questions in our application process that would screen for empathy. We broke down the other characteristics that drove outcomes that we were looking for based on the client and that aligns with our culture, continuous improvement and curiosity. You can’t train curiosity. If you’re not curious, we can’t train you for being curious. You’re dead to us. It sounds harsh, but we would build questions around those. What we did is we looked at our staff members and said, “Can we ask something?” We weren’t psychologists and we were just doing our thing but we would test out those questions and question banks on what I’ll call A, B and C-players.
The C-players that we know, wouldn’t be hired. A-players, we can’t be without, B-players do a decent job. We wanted to make sure that the A-players enjoyed the questions and experience of this and the C-players could not pass. That’s how we validate it. “We got the right questions.” The second piece was onboarding. It sounds like you are great at telling your story. I’m passionate. I love telling the story from where we started and where we’re going with our values. I started by pulling my hair out and being frustrated because it became something on a manager’s to-do list. I decided to take ownership of that process and say, “If I can’t get that consistent message, I’ll send that message myself.” All this that I’m talking about with comes down to your technology, which we use for our customers. Not only were they hired and screened and then interviewed, but then onboarded with the same messaging, “Let me tell you how this company started.” I got to send the message and then any message that my managers or our people would have, HR, site-level coordinator, that was an icing on the cake. That was their version of the story.
The founder shares this story first. You share why it’s started, share what it is about. I think that’s important. A lot of time that gets delegated to HR people and they’re not hearing from the source on what it’s all about. Your book is about empowerment with employees, but it still starts with a customer focus and that’s the same thing for us. You start your focus on your fans and then once you get that, it goes all-in on the employees to give back. I think you talked about the Customer Bill of Rights. I know John DiJulius very well. We spoke about The Customer Service Revolution. I love what they’re doing. What was your Customer Bill of Rights? Did you come up with that yourself? How did that come about?
I got that concept from John. He was very helpful. We instill ten Bill of Rights. That doesn’t apply to the economy that much because it’s not a B2C necessarily. Our Customer Bill of Rights, we have ten Bill of Rights and they were simple things. A lot more things that John talked about, don’t tell the customer what they can’t do without telling what they can do. Don’t point, just show. There are very simple things that we could measure, but I was talking about. If you haven’t read that book Maverick, it’s a great book.
I have it right here. My wife and I named our son, Maverick. We’re going to everything that has Maverick on it by Ricardo Semler.How do you scale culture when people aren't at arm's length? Click To Tweet
I love that book. That encouraged me to get rid of the policies and procedures because I was trying to figure out, back to the low point, how do we get people to bring back in the autonomy? They say, “For engagement, you need autonomy.” I think that that is true. The fear is, how do you process that? You want to have a length. What is the length? How do you give a target? I don’t remember if this came from John or that book, but we implemented this decision-making process. You would have heard about that in the book. That was the pivotal thing that changed my company.
Let’s dive into the decision-making process that you set up.
The decision-making process for me, I was thinking about this during the time I was reading that book. Carlos had thrown out the policy book. I can’t remember who, but somebody gave me this idea of the decision-making process. There’s something to this. Something as simple as asking a few questions, I can scale that to a million people, but I can’t scale this policy procedure. I was having this idea and I knew we could reach our people through onboarding. It was all happening and we were seeing great results, but we created this bottleneck because of the policies or procedures. If someone needed to do something, they still needed approval and that wasn’t working. I couldn’t scale out because I was knocking on a level management. I wanted a process.
The decision-making process for us was three-pronged and simple. If you’re about to do something, I don’t care if you’re the CFO or a part-time concierge, concession version, security guard, parking attendant which we would have in Vancouver, ask yourself three simple questions. This was done through the onboarding. Question number one, is what you were about to do the right thing for the customer? Yes or no. Black and white. Question number two, does it align with our purpose of changing the industry and our three distinct core values? Question number three and most importantly, are you willing to be accountable? I can walk you through scenarios where there are a lot of people to give them the brain back. The neat thing, which I don’t talk about in the book, which there were two unexpected outcomes of this because people are scared. We talked about that obviously in their book.
I talked about asking some frontline staff and they said, “We would love that.” Part of the ways would have been my senior HR manager of Savannah Bananas. The two unexpected outcomes were these. If some people would make decisions that we didn’t necessarily agree with, we use that for an instantaneous coaching moment to talk to that individual and say, “Let’s talk about that decision. By the way, thank you for using that. Walk us through, did you use the decision-making process?” “Yes, I did.” “Let’s talk about that decision because this is not black and white. We’re into gray. Walk us through and we say, “Let’s have a discussion about how you got to that. I understand how your brain works.” We’d have a coaching moment. Then we would use that coaching moment to educate the entire company on what happened and the best practice around that.
It gets out in a video. If you get like, “This is what happened,” it gets shared out to the whole staff?
Yes. Outcome number two. Most of the time, people made better decisions than I could have made myself. Right away, we would stop what we’re doing, celebrate what that person had done to inspire everybody else. We also use that as a time to share and enter a new standard for the company. When this happened, this would be awesome. This is what we like to see happen in these situations. These two unexpected outcomes inspired both, gave them their brain back, and I remember asking clients, “How is this affecting our work?” They said, “Your people can move fast. They can make decisions. They can move. They don’t need approval anymore. I’ve never seen this nimbleness and speed.” We share it to everybody and we threw up the policy procedure. I will say there’s no doubt that we had a backstop, which means yes, if we were at a hospital or a postsecondary education facility, they had their own policies and they would have to follow them. Why do we have to complicate it with our own? I threw it all out.
We developed the same thing. In every decision, for us, is it fans first? That part about accountability, “Are you willing to be accountable?” is so crucial. Can you give an example, something that stands out of a decision that was like, “That’s crazy?” People were saying, “How do you let a frontline person make all the decisions everywhere that had mid-level managers?” This is a dramatically different thing. Give me an example.
I’m going to give you two because I want to go to both sides. One is it was a protection mechanism for the company, a positive one as an example. There was someone in a postsecondary education facility. A student locked their keys in the car. She was a mother and she had to get to her family. She picked her daughter up from daycare. The security guard said, “I made a decision to call the tow truck. It cost $75. I paid the bill and I expect the company to come to me. Let me walk you through how I got there.” We’re trying to change the security industry. Nobody would ever do that for a customer. I think that helps. It was the right thing for the customer. We’re trying to change the industry guidelines and I’m willing to be accountable for that decision. I think that this company will back me up. I said, “That’s absolutely right. All day long, you went over and above what the industry would do that aligns with our purpose. It was the right thing for the customer every day, all day.” I’m going to the other side. We also used this to our managers because of the accountability.
In businesses like ours, in a lot of businesses, it is also a protection because when you onboard someone with, “Ask yourself these three questions,” it kept us out of hot water from labor standards. What I mean by that is we would get a call from our client, saying, “Your security guard was watching a movie and fell asleep. They fell asleep and then two people came through the door.” That is not good. The client is not happy. I would sit down and say, “Jesse, let’s talk about your decision that you made to watch the movie and then you fell asleep. Was that the right thing for the customer?” “No.” “Black and white. That was not the right thing to do. Does that align with us changing our mission and our value?” “No.” You have to be accountable for that decision. You made the decision to exit from the company. I can tell you, Jesse, that that was also an unexpected benefit. We never went to the labor board. Once we had empowered people, we always go back to, “If you made the decision, you control your destiny. You’re gone. You made that decision and it protected us.” For the last several years, we had zero labor claims, which in our industry is shocking.
Ron, I haven’t told you, but we do some games. We bounce around a little bit, so get mentally prepared for that, but number one, I love what you said, “Dare to be bad.” You said, you’re going to go back to the drawing board, review and then dare to be bad at things. You’ve got this, Uncommon Service by Frances Frei. What did you dare to be bad at? It’s something that we’re constantly saying, “Can we be bad at this and still be the best at this?” Even you talk about, which we haven’t talked much about your new company Vida as well. What is Vida?
Vida is a company that is revolutionizing affordable communities. We know there’s an affordable housing crisis globally. This industry to me was the toilet industry, like the security guard industry. I went back to the drawing board and wanted to create a company that owns that industry that is super focused on that 10% of the real estate industry. We can crush the competition and be innovative and value these customers. Long story short, through piling various things, we figured out that the challenges from a customer standpoint, that living and having an affordable place to live. We know there’s not enough inventory about either one. They do have an important place to live. There’s a lack of safe, secure places to live that are clean, that provided any sense of community and have an opportunity for those individuals. We piloted these concepts. It was working. We created this brand, Vida Living. We have 350 units looking to go with 1,000 in two years, 10,000 in seven years in Canada and the US.
We went through that exercise because I do want to say, from my experience, it’s a top exercise for startups because you don’t know what you don’t know. You came in too quickly. You have to be careful about exercise. I think we were only ready for two years and we ran the exercise. We know our business. Even my other business may be changing too quickly. It will be too soon around that exercise. We go through that exercise and we know that to Frances Frei’s point, you can’t be the best at everything. You have to choose what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. My assistant and I had this conversation because we also run an exercise. “Here’s what we do and here’s what we don’t do.” It is a very important exercise, but that exercise is more in that, “Here’s what we do category, but here’s what we do well and here’s what we don’t do well.” It’s not what you don’t do. Some people sometimes get confused about that.
We went through this exercise because there are some things that we don’t do well. I’ll give you an example of what we do well. When it comes to security, cleanliness and opportunity, we need to own that. That is where the sense of urgency, that’s what we have to crush the competition, innovating those spaces, and look for the customers that care about those things. Those things are important to them as long as they are having affordable space. Here’s what we don’t do well. We don’t do well with having buildings that are noisy. What I mean by that is all our buildings are from 12 to 40 units. There’s steel frame, wood frame, but not concrete. We allow families. We allow pets. These are noisy spaces. We have buildings. There’s noise and we don’t do well in quiet spaces. We also tie that back to our application process and make it very clear. Don’t come in and expect this to be a very quiet place because it’s not quiet. We have refugee families and local families and kids. They’re not quiet and they’re not going to be. We’re not going to fix that problem. We’re not going to spend money and resources trying to fix it. We are going to be transparent that we are not in quiet place to live.If some people make decisions you don't agree with, use that as a coaching moment. Click To Tweet
It’s very clear. Anything else?
In that business, we are also not good at repairing things that you can repair for yourself. What I mean by that is if there’s a baseboard that needs to be painted, you could probably paint yourself. Anything that doesn’t require no skill, we are not good at fixing those things. If it’s a plumbing issue and it needs very specific technical skills, we outsource that. We use it or tap the community, but we’re not good at doing things, which people can fix themselves. We’re not good at that and we’re never going to be good at that. We don’t run with that because those small maintenance costs also drive costs, which we have to pass it onto the tenant. It hurts affordability. We always tie it back to the business. Those are two examples of things that we’re not going to be great at. We’re not going to pretend we’re great at them.
We have a 1926 ballpark, Ron. The oldest ballpark. Babe Ruth played here, Hank Aaron, you name it. We have no technology. We have no top of the level suites. Some of the paint is falling off. It’s an older ballpark. We will never have the nicest stadium in the world and you’re going to make sure we put on a show every single night. We won’t have steak houses and top of the line food because the meal in every single ticket is all-inclusive. I love this exercise because people come for that one main thing. Every company should do that. It provides clarity not only for the top but clarity for the frontline people and I think this is what this is all about.
This is what we’re the best at. We know this is what we’re targeting. I was inspired by your book and the part when you had Paul and he said, “This is my company and this is my family.” You’re building that and for all of us, sometimes we have the front office, the full-time people that are here. They’re part of it after many years, but those people that start, what have you seen? With Vida, with Source, those frontline people that are starting to turn into a Paul that says, “This is my family. This is my company.” Anything that we can take out and say, “This is how you get the ownership?”
If you’re not screening for alignment at the gates, you’re taking a big risk. In any event, it’s never going to be perfect. If you’re screening for your values, if part of your screening process doesn’t say, “To join this company, you need to be super passionate.” Being okay with that too, having these upfront conversations, and using some of that language to filter out people that may or may not align with your values, with your vision. Trying to convince someone once they join is a lot of work. Marcus Buckingham has been talking a lot about it. If you read Nine Lies About Work, it’s phenomenal. It is a great book. You can’t motivate people. People are motivated or they’re not. I believe that with getting someone who’s engaged. In my experience, I would say there’s a button because I feel that if someone’s being onboard, I’m then talking about our purpose is to teach or I might as well go to the casino. It starts from out of the gate and checkpoints. Does that resonate with you? How do you feel about that? Talk to the individual, how do they feel? What feelings come about when you talk about revolutionize? “I want to help. I don’t want to get behind.” These are all very good signs.
You have such a big fight and you’re trying to revolutionize now affordable housings. Everything gets revolutionized that you get people that are ready to pick a fight that is ready to go after, which is powerful. You also mentioned sacrifice, willing to go through some tough times to get there. That’s what entrepreneurs go through every day. You mentioned something else about the brand promise scorecard. Are you still doing that? Is that still part of the Source? Tell me about that one a little bit.
We implemented that at Connolly Owens because we’re a B2B. We do have a brand promise scorecard and Source that was good because that’s the nuts and bolts of the brand promise scorecard and that came from Verne Harnish. Have you spoken to him about this thing too before?
No, I haven’t, but I know, Verne very well. I know everything he’s done.
He’s on our board and he is a great guy. On the brand promise scorecard, it was to hold a company accountable to what the promise of the brand was. Our brand promise is we’ll serve you better than anybody else. How we back that up was in two ways. One, we would be vulnerable and open and say, “Jesse, we’re taking this contract on, but we want to be upfront that we’re a people business and so we’re going to have challenges.” What we mean by that is someone might not show up on time. Some may be late. Some may be rude because they’ve had a rocky road, some may not have their shirt tucked in. We would be so transparent about this business, which was a breath of fresh air to the customer because over promise, under deliver, and we would say, “We want to be open about these things.” At some point, these things are going to happen or multiple, but because we serve you better than anybody else, that’s our brand promise. What we can guarantee you is we’ll fix those issues faster than anybody you’ve ever dealt with within this industry. We were always going back to that and say, “The guard didn’t have his shirt tucked in or whatever happened. Can we deal with it quickly? We want to make sure we align with our brand promise. We would fix that issue very fast.”
Are you interacting with the customer on this?
Yes. This was the customer.
The brand promise scorecard isn’t used as much with the team members.
No, the only thing we would do is two things. That was the high-level brand promise. We would always have KPIs like slip and fall or whatever the thing that was very important to the customer. We would negotiate, put that in the contract, check in on that quarterly. Always be transparent about that brand promise scorecard to the team so they knew exactly what the metrics were and how they were measured.
Ron, I want to do a little bit of debatable here. I know which way you’re going with this, but I’m going to give you a counter-argument. Back in the day, David Stern, the commissioner of the NBA, he was known to say, “Micromanagement is dramatically underrated.” He believes so much in micromanagement that you need to tell people, you need to be over there, and make sure they’re doing what you need them to do. Micromanagement versus empowerment. I know your thought process about empowering. If the people say, “You need to micromanage. You need to get in there and tell them what they need to do to lead them in the direction.” Debate that. You’re debating for empowerment.
I had a conversation with a potential customer in Manila. He’s a micromanager and a great guy. He wants everybody to send a list of the items that they’ve done that day. He can play, “I’m busy I can’t keep up. If I am this manager, this information is coming, knocking all the time and I don’t even have time to review it.” You created your own worst nightmare. You think about that amount of time it takes to review these things all the time to execute, review, execute, review, because garbage in, garbage out.
If I said, “Jesse, do this and this,” and I haven’t checked up on every little item, I’ve wasted your time and my time anyways. I believe it is not scalable because in a normal business, this is what happens. With a micromanager, there’s too much coming at us, as a leader, and we say, “This is too much. I need to hire somebody to report in between me and all these details,” and you micromanage it. I killed the margin. I created my first big bottleneck. I created bureaucracy and starting to kill the entrepreneurial spirit. I’ll go back to what I said. Autonomy can be dangerous without process and guidance. I like to have a high level, “This is our purpose and this is where we’re going. Here’s what you need to know about this customer and here’s a guideline of information to get you there.” I’ll give three questions because then, you’re on your own. The questions, at least there has to be and we talked with this, I like some accountability. I’ll call it self accountability.
How do you keep that in touch? How do you check to make sure that they are still doing it?
Every business is different from our business in the security space. It was quite easy because the customer would let us know if they weren’t happy. We were proactively checking. It is very simple and there has to be some trust. I’ll go back to John and he says all the time, “If you want to have policy, procedures, micromanagement, that’s only for children. If you want your employees to act like children, then go ahead and do it.” I believe in that and it’s never going to be perfect. I think that some moments for me where people were making mistakes. They would have made those same mistakes for their policy, procedure and micromanagement. I kept pushing forward and it changed my life because I went from firefighting, micromanagement, putting out fires and following up with everybody, not having that time 24/7. I even had no office. I’m talking to you with two businesses. I’m in the library.
There is an inner debate, I’m going to share with you. Inside our office, we have our front office, our full-time. We have each concession stand, merchandise, all-around 150 part-time staff. A lot of people were saying, “We need a manager or a leader for each stand, each part of the ballpark.” That’s one thought process. Then there’s another thought process, “No, we don’t need that.” You’re running the company. I know what you think, but what would you tell the people that think, “We need to have a manager at each stand?” That’s the leader that they all look up to.
Let me ask you a few clarifying questions. Walk me through what is this one, the beer concessionary.
Yes, there’s the main concession stand. There are a couple of beer stands. There’s food, service, merchandise, and beer all around, all different stations around the ballpark.
Who schedules these people? Who leads on what’s happening on the back end?
Employee experience coordinator.
Does it for everybody?
It does for all the part-time.
Some people said, “We should have a manager?” Was there the fact that people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing?
I think the argument is someone that they respond to that watches what they’re doing to make sure. It’s probably an accountability need.When you create bureaucracy, you kill the entrepreneurial spirit. Click To Tweet
Here’s what we did in our past life and we’re doing with Vida because we’ve got more people. We assigned experts. If you are an expert at something, if you are a fan experienced expert, some of you may already have that or if you are a beer pouring expert, you are the person where people would go to. That person was a coach. They were good at what they knew that they would coach other individuals on it. I’ll call it coaching moments. “Let’s start with how the beer was poured. Let me coach you on that.” Real-time coaching and experts to support anybody or questions around that functionality. We did design experts. That was a key piece of our business because we went from fourteen mid-level managers to seven managers. We were a $10 million business in the end and we were $3.5 million. We’re almost 21 mid-levels at one point. We had to have people that are experts in certain rides. They would be an expert. They would have people that share their knowledge base in training, stepped out to help coach. Those are key pieces and in our business, that helps.
No one wants to be a boss. They want mentors and coaches. No one wants training. They want to be educated. They want to be a coach. What did you call these people? Do you call them experts or were they called managers?
No, we call them the experts. We have occupational health and safety experts. They were the people who deal with that. We have customer service experts. We employ veteran experts. We just had many people that, “My day to day job is this, but I’m good at and passionate about this one subject matter. I want to help the company with that.”
It gets people to look up to and say, “Are you going to go to them?” As opposed to they’re watching what you’re doing. You’ve got it. You should go to them.
Own your own experience. Go to the expert if you need help. The expert is also a coach. Someone who aligns something or whatever it is, they can be a real-time coach. They can chat people, I saw that. “I’d love to coach you if you’re open to it.” That is accountability, I’ll say in a roundabout way.
The question is, “Who are the experts in your company? Who are the people that you can go to?” We had a young man, Alex, who knew everything about electrical, technology. Everyone knew if there were any issues, go to Alex. He was 23 or 24 years old, but everyone looked up to him. I think even though we’re looked upon as a boss, that’s powerful. I want to go to some rapid-fire questions. Let’s have some fun. Let’s go to tool time. What is the most important tool that you have in your business toolbox?
For me, it’s a strong purpose. The reason I say that is because I’m guilty of the shiny object syndrome. I’ll go back to Vida. Our purpose is to revolutionize affordable communities. I can check and balance my organization and use it as a recruiting tool. They show that I only invested in a condominium project because it doesn’t align with that or I sold all my commercial property because it didn’t align with that. It keeps me focused. Having a purpose also keeps the founder accountable to staying awake. That’s my best tool.
Flip the script. You are the host of Business Done Differently and you get one question to ask me.
What was the shift for you? I’m going to assume you came from a different place too. You had a rock bottom. What was that one shift that you said, “I locked the million dollars?”
Years ago, my wife and I, we were sleeping on an air bed and we had to sell our house down to our last dollar. We looked at each other and she said, “We have to treat this like every game is someone’s first game. Every single game we have to create moments that people will never forget.” That’s when we came up with the fans’ first mentality of developing “you wouldn’t believe moments.” Every person that comes to the ballpark you wouldn’t believe. We went all-in and so at that moment, we said, “We’re going to go all-in on the brand.” From when they first come to the stadium, how they’re greeted by Parking Penguins, parking their car to pep bands to banana-shaped tickets. We hired a professional high fiver. Their whole job is to high five people. We tried to create a whole experience like that and we went from marketing and doing things like everyone else to we spend $0 marketing. Our customers, our fans are telling everyone, “You wouldn’t believe what happened at the ballpark tonight.” That was a good question. Let’s go to what I call service. What was the best service experience that you’ve had or something that stands out that you were like, “This was special?”
For me, my wife and I spent a weekend at a place called Trout Point Lodge. In rural Nova Scotia, Canada, it’s tough to get five-star service because most business owners are trying to attack it in the community. The train is frustrating because it’s seasonal. It’s turnover and this place had gotten it right. What they did is the service was unbelievable. When you walk in and it’s like, “Mr. Lovett, we’ll take your coat. Let me take you to your room. I’ll start the fire.” It was incredible. How they solve that problem is the back end, technical things and maintenance of the lodge was all handled locally, but they had deals with five-star resorts in Calgary, Banff and Seton. These people were rotated.
A seasonal service expert showed up. You could show him where the bathroom is and stuff. They knew that service way out of the gate. They already knew mine in Copenhagen. I was blown away. I thought, “They solved this problem.” I had many friends that have had these resorts that had been like, “I can’t figure this out. We can’t keep people. We’re turning them over.” Go and get from a five-star resort. You ask the young seventeen-year-old, “What wine would you suggest?” She’s like, “I don’t drink wine. I don’t know. I’ve never had wine before.” You’re not going to get it. They solved that problem by looking at it from a different perspective and having people that already had that level of expertise and service. It was cool.
Back to the experts. Bring on experts. If you want better answers in business, you’ve got to ask better questions. What are some of the best questions you’re asking these days?
It’s all getting to the right question. The questions led me, as you’ve read along my entire journey, including selling my company. I tend to go back to these questions, knowing what we know that that person would be excited and we hire them. Knowing what we know that that customer would be excited to bring them on again. Knowing what we know with that building, would we reacquire it today? These are simple questions that gave me more of a black and white, yes or no answer that don’t lead me to more complex. Knowing what I know about the industry, would I be excited to reinvest in it? That’s why I sold my business. I wouldn’t be excited to reinvest in the private security industry. We’ll want to get answers to those questions, I’ll be fast. They’ve done me very well. In some cases, I’m not trying to figure out new complex questions. I’m going back to the question banks and reapply them to a specific situation.
It’s what questions can make you move faster. Those are the questions and everything speed, move faster, make quicker decisions. Final two here. What’s one thing that you’ve done to stand out in business or life?
I think to stand out in business is taking on challenging problems that maybe haven’t been solved before. In the security space and where we are with Vida, we have a blindfold on. I can’t call a mentor and say, “Tell me how you’ve done this before.” That doesn’t exist for me. I’m into unchartered territory, which is disruptive in my life sometimes. It’s a pain in my wife’s ass and it’s annoying to me. Sometimes you feel like crawling up in the balls and, “What am I getting myself into here?” It’s also invigorating. I love what comes out of the other side. I love taking on challenging stuff.
Final question here. How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as someone who always gave back. I was a good family person, father, husband and always gave my time back. Probably some of you who won a lottery in life and I’ve got a lot of dues to pay back and I’m happy to do it. I never want to forget where I came from. I always take time to help people who reach out to me.
I love the gratitude. I heard about your book from Bern. He was talking on a show. I can’t tell you how much it inspired me and shared it with the team and now, there’s some unbelievable wisdom, lessons. The book, Outrageous Empowerment, check it out. Where else can people find more about you? Ron, I appreciate you.
I’ve got a website, RonLovett.ca. There’s some information on there about our business, which is doing great. Connolly Owens, which is ConnollyOwens.com. It helps companies develop their application and onboarding, designed specifically for their company, that role with their culture, and then onboarding. That’s a big missed opportunity for a lot of companies. That’s what we did so well and so we package that and use it while we are doing business.
You’re making an impact. You’re making a difference. I appreciate you.
Thanks, Jesse. Thanks for having me. I appreciate this.
- Source Security
- Outrageous Empowerment
- Connolly Owens
- The Customer Service Revolution
- Uncommon Service
- Nine Lies About Work
About Ron Lovett
Ron knew from a young age he didn’t fit traditional structures. The more teachers tried to get him to adhere to the rules, the more he rebelled. With a knack for finding shortcuts and creative solutions along with zero fear of the unknown, Ron began carving his own path as an entrepreneur. From importing Thai sandals, opening restaurants to employing 1500 security guards across Canada, Ron discovered that in order to win in business, you must compete with the best – regardless of your industry. His wild and unorthodox entrepreneurial journey so far is defined by constant learning, fast action and outrageous empowerment – and inspired his first book in 2018.