Unleashing greatness in the workplace with Frances Frei

March 1, 2023

Unleashing greatness in the workplace with Frances Frei

Dr. Frances Frei

Technologies and Operations Management Professor at Harvard Business School

In a lively discussion, Dr. Frances Frei and Willy Walker explore how to reliably delight customers and motivate employees.

Dr. Frances Frei is a Technologies and Operations Management Professor at Harvard Business School. She is one of the foremost experts in the fields of leadership, strategy, and operations management. In her tenure at Harvard Business School, she developed one of the most popular classes, exploring the ways that businesses reliably delight customers.

She has worked as the first Senior Vice President of Leadership and Strategy at Uber. While working at Uber, she helped the company navigate through one of its worst public leadership and culture crises. I recently had the chance to have a chat with her and discuss how businesses reliably delight customers, as well as how to build effective management structures and teams.

How to reliably delight customers

Although it may sound counterintuitive, Dr. Frei believes that to reliably delight your customers, you also have to reliably disappoint them as well. With everything in life, including business, there are tradeoffs for every decision made. To delight customers with a specific aspect of your product, you’ll have to disappoint them with another. If you’re not willing to make these tradeoffs, your product will be doomed to mediocrity in all aspects.

Is there a way to reliably delight customers with a service-based business model?

It is much easier to reliably delight your customers with a product-based business model, as there is a physical item that you can touch, feel, and compare to another product. Services, on the other hand, are very intangible and hard to compare to one another. However, companies with a service-based business model can still reliably delight their customers.They can do so by committing to being best-in-class in one specific area.

For example, a doctor’s office that reliably delights customers may promise that patients only deal with world-class doctors. They may have to wait for care, but they will get the best care possible. That office could also go the route of getting patients in to see a doctor as soon as possible. While patients may not get the best-in-class care using this model, they will get the help they need quickly. Frei believes that finding the right trade-offs and choosing the right areas of focus are the keys to reliably delighting customers, no matter what your business is.

What do customer-focused companies actually do?

Oftentimes, companies will either give free services to their customers and use that to claim that they are customer-focused. However, at the end of the day, a business has to generate revenue, which can’t be done by giving things away to customers for free. Instead, a business must produce a great product or service for which people are willing and eager to pay.

There are businesses that try to give great service to customers off the back of great employees, claiming that their workers will go above and beyond for the customer. However, this practice is not sustainable, as it requires an endless reserve of extraordinary employees. To be truly customer-focused, you need to reliably produce great results from average employees.

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