3 lessons I learnt at Stanford

Last month, I was lucky enough to travel to the US to attend the executive program for growing companies at Stanford University.

Running an IT Business is hard work, and it was great to get the experience of different business owners and getting insight from leading business researchers and educators. I thought it would be good to share the key takeaways I got out of the course with our readers.


Takeaway #1: The biggest customer satisfaction lever you have in your business is YOUR company culture.

Let’s face it the word ‘culture’ is something that we all give a lot of lip service to but do you invest in it, and really make it at the core of your business? At Stanford our lecturer Charles O’Reilly said culture is “Social Control”. That really triggered something with me. That ‘culture’ is really a way to pre-define the behavior you expect from your staff, where there are no existing procedures in place.

So if you can improve your company culture, and align it with a set of values that center around customer satisfaction then you will in turn have happier customers. Seems like a lot of fluff doesn’t it? That’s what I thought too.

And then we went into case study after case study of companies such as Kimberley Clarke and JetBlue in highly competitive, boring markets where single business units were outperforming the rest of the group in terms of profitability and customer satisfaction. Upon surveying their employees the one key difference was the culture the manager had created.

If you’re like me, you probably hear from time to time talk about people doing things such as having “in office massages”, or calling employees “team members” – the truth is, that on their own these things seem “gimmicky”, but together they align the behavior of your staff and reinforce your values and culture.

So that’s it, chances are if you’re like me you need to spend more time focused on creating the type of culture you want.

See also: 6 Customer Satisfaction Metrics you need to be measuring


Takeaway #2: You need to continue to innovate, and listen to your what your customers are telling you

Did you know the average age of an S&P 500 company is only 12 years? The main reason why these hyper-successful companies die is often due to a lack of innovation. This ultimately stems from creating a certain type of culture and listening to what your customers actually want. The truth is, this is harder when you are actually already good at something. If I’m great at selling say Microsoft software, am I really going to want to change my business focus to start selling Google’s cloud suite? The truth is, the better I am at it, the more resistance and inertia there will be with changing our product offerings.

So how do we stop our businesses from following the same fate? We need to continue to listen to our customers as the industry changes. We need to embrace these industry changes not stick our heads in the sand and make up reasons why things will always be the way they are now. We ultimately need to accept that market changes are a natural part of business and that we need to innovate keeping the customer’s changing desires and needs at our heart.

See also: Listen to your customers by conducting a customer feedback questionnaire or try Client Heartbeat.


Takeaway #3: You can always think bigger

The final big takeaway for me was just that successful people seem to think on a “bigger” level. I don’t mean higher, I mean they think about things bigger. They create things to scale, and act like the size they WANT to be, not the size they are. If you’ve been absorbed in small business for a long period of time, you should take a few hours to re-evaluate what you believe is possible with your business. The size of your business is often restricted by the size of your business in your mind.

Simply being around these types of people was a privilege. Many of my classmates were a testament to what is really achievable. One person had grown his IT services business from 2 to 150 staff in 6 years – that’s a pretty impressive effort! Another has grown his business from 0 to $100m in 3 years!!

So that’s it. The three big takeaways from my Stanford University Experience. If you have the time, I would thoroughly recommend it. If you don’t have the time, hopefully these three key points will help you improve your customer satisfaction, and your profits!

Photo credit: Stanford

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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