Now that is client-orientation! I just have to write a little blogpost on what I just found in the mail some minutes ago, waiting for my plane to Brussels to board. This is a great example that client-orientation does not have to be mission impossible. It is all about attitude. And culture leads attitude.
Welcome in start-up Estonia
Before I disclose the positive experience of some minutes ago, let me introduce you to Lift99, a trendy co-working place and entrepreneurial community in Tallinn (Estonia, Europe). Lift99 is in an abandoned industrial building on a former Russian industrial site called Teliskivi, close to the old town of Tallinn. It is an initiative of some of the first start-up entrepreneurs in digital Estonia. Some people also call them the Estonian start-up maffia, although they have no guns – as far as I know. But they have been featuring in every Estonian newspaper and television show, so they are famous within their own community, and among their peers.
So when I tell that I am co-working in Lift99 whenever I am in Tallinn, I get reactions like “Oh, you are in the heart of the Estonian start-up community.” To be honest, I first thought that kind of feedback on Lift99 was a little bit over-exaggerated. Okay, it is a cool place to work. And yes, it is trendy – definitely hipster-compatible and warmly accomodating without-a-tie-business-people-who-do-not-mind-working-in-slippers. But hey, there are more places like that in Europe. The former tobacco factory in Ljubljana (Slovenia, Europe) e.g. is even cooler, because of its huge open space, and a cool balcony view on a recently deserted construction site that was abandoned because it suffered of real maffia issues.
More than just renting out a place …
So, what is it that makes the difference at Lift99? Now that I am co-working in Lift99, I feel they are more than an office and flex desk provider. They are creating a community around start-up entrepreneurship that I tend to like a lot. At the coffee machine, you meet colleagues, VCs, designers, … That is why they prefer to continue queuing for a coffee, than to buy a new – faster – coffee machine. They organize events on various startup topics, and are pretty busy doing so. Since Estonia is a small country – as small as Belgium – with a small population (1/10 of Belgium), that gets you easily around, and everyone seems to know everyone pretty much. So if you speak about Lift99, the inner-circle of entrepreneurial Estonia of course, knows about it.
Being famous however, can also be a burden, when you are as famous as the Estonian start-up maffia. As success comes in, in many organizations arrogance also sneaks in – often unnoticed – and that ruins client-orientation, which kills success on the long term – or faster.
Customer-facing people create client value
The point is that they have been able to attract hosts that go the extra mile for clients. Krislin and Marie are eating, drinking, and breathing start-ups. I never felt any question was too much. From the basic meeting room bookings to trying to get me in touch with some people that could hint me a topic for a speech next May, they tried their best at getting my things done. It already surprised me as they gave me a first tour some weeks ago. What Krislin then said was not “here is a place you can rent, and that is our price”. She explained me about the community and its purpose. And Marie told me to take a smaller package of their services, when she understood that I was not going to be in Tallinn very often. She could have just thought something like “stupid client, pay the bill of what you ordered – and then that adds to my bonus next month”. On the contrary, she tried to step in my position, and understood what it means to start a business and co-create a digital project.
It also did strike me this week, while they were on-boarding their new Ukrainian colleague for the next Lift99 site in Kiev (Ukraine, Europe). Same smile on her face. Same passion about the mission of Lift99. Same openness towards clients. All three gathering around the ping pong table, which they use as their personal desk, right in the midst of the co-working space.
And today, I got a reaction that has proven me that they indeed know what a client is.
Why? Well, I happen to have another blog, on which I write about a very personal passion – making the planet a more silent place. In that blog, I was as positive about Lift99 as I am in this blog post. I also wrote about the mutual respect I experienced amongst the co-workers, who try to be as silent as possible, in order for everyone to be able to concentrate on their work. And yes, I gave a little critique on the yesterday noise from the adjacent construction site. I let you read the blogpost here, if you like. But the most important point, is the mail I received from Krislin this morning, in reply to that blogpost.
It summarizes as “thanks for the great publicity, and I try to get in touch with the neighbors, so that we know more in advance about their planned works and help everyone find a quiet working space.”
Now that is client orientation! It’s a small minor action, in the midst of a growing success story, and while trying to cope with the daily storm of requests for service. It is these small minor actions from people that are on the floor facing customers every day, that build success. And it’s the absence of those small minor actions, that kills success.
Success comes on foot … and it leaves in a fast car, doesn’t it.