by Carl Norberg, Co-Founder Turnpike Group

I have two corporate heroes, Mr. Jan Carlzon (long-term investor in Turnpike) and Sir Richard Branson (not yet a Turnpike investor). Why are these two people so special in my world? Because they have cracked it. They have both made their lives a mission to focus on the most important asset in any service organization, the frontline staff. The unsung everyday heroes, the ones meeting the customer day in, and day out.

Both gentlemen have run airlines, and realized that the most important differentiator between airlines is not the planes or the destinations, but the people serving the people that go from A to B.

Jan Carlzon changed the mentality of SAS employees completely, saying:

”Folks, we used to fly airplanes, and we’ve done it damn well, now it’s time to learn how to fly people”.

That changed everything. The company went from red to black and his book ”Moments of Truth” is an international bestseller and a mandatory read in Ivy League and global business schools.

After decentralizing responsibilities and accountability to the frontline, and giving them the right information to act upon, employees immediately started to grow as people and ambassadors. They strongly felt the company trusted them, and even depended on them. The staff not only represents the company, they actually WERE the company. This didn’t just make SAS a successful company, it also changed the world of service. 

Sir Richard Branson is another world-famous service evangelist. His customer obsession is legendary, and he has built a brand that could enter almost any sector and be highly appreciated, thanks to the core values the Virgin brand represents. His extraordinary thought leadership has earned him a knighthood from the Queen of England and respect and admiration from employees and customers around the world.

It seems quite logical that when it’s all about great service, the people giving the service should be in focus. A classic Sir Branson quote is:

”The client does not come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”.

The pandemic has increased the acceleration to digitalization by tenfold. In the midst of the tragic consequences of Covid, there has emerged a silver lining. In the service sector - especially in retail – there has been a ’full speed ahead’ focus on customer engagement. The omni-approach is booming. Self check-out is finally rolling out on a global scale in grocery stores. Many of the more innovative retailers now offer curbside delivery, click and collect, and other customer-centric digital services.

During this massive customer transformation, it can be easy for companies to forget to focus on their biggest asset – their staff. These are the people that deliver the required and changed services, often being asked to do so with fewer resources than before. 

To me, tech innovation in this sector should be all about empowering the staff. Not tech for the sake of tech. And not to bring more tech between the staff and the customer who now want human touch more than ever. Augmented Reality (AR) is of course great, but maybe we should talk more about Augmented Humanity (AH)? That’s why Turnpike exists as a company.

"We’re a tech company, sure. But first and foremost, we’re about making co-workers grow and enabling them to always be in the know".

With modern technology like wearables, sensors and IoT, we’re giving the right staff real-time info when they need it most to give extraordinary service.

We believe this is beneficial for everyone. Employee satisfaction, customer loyalty and corporate bottom lines all increase when companies commit to providing better service. And of course, this translates into a happier and better society as a whole.

In Sweden we no longer practice knighting as they do in Sir Richard Branson’s home country of England.

I suggest that we should make an exception and re-install that noble tradition in Sweden. 

If not permanent, at least once. For one man.

Sir Jan Carlzon.