Creating a Customer Experience Based on Values

Creating a Customer Experience Based on Values

Patrick and Dan discuss how Ariens Company’s values drive employee engagement, culture, and a superior customer experience. Dan also shares his thoughts on leading a family business and being committed to the community. Ariens Company is a leading manufacturer of outdoor power equipment for both consumer and professional use. The privately-owned and operated company is currently in its fourth generation of Ariens family leadership.


Pat: Dan Ariens, welcome to Coffee and CEOs.
Dan: How do you find an astounding experience? Very visionary because, like perfection, very hard to achieve. But if people are driven because they’re passionate, we’re going to find that.
Pat: I’d like to start off, if you could just give us a little bit of the history of Ariens Company. You guys are—you’re multi-generations, right? Your fourth generation?
Dan: I am fourth, yes. Ariens has been around since 1933. My great-grandfather was in his sixties, my grandfather in his, you know, early thirties, late twenties, my father was the third CEO generation, I’m fourth.
Pat: Okay.
Dan: And I have the kid in the business now, which is—I shouldn’t say kids, I have the young adults joining the business now.
Pat: So, you guys have had pretty explosive growth since you took over. You guys went from—I mean, you were getting to be a large company already, but you’ve done a number of acquisitions worldwide. On the people side of it, with both employees and with customers, what are some of the things that you guys do when you do an acquisition, as far as communications with them?
Dan:   I think we do a pretty good job there, and I get—I’m in front of people a lot, and I … I mean, I start with who Ariens is, and I can’t start that without talking about our core values.
Pat: Yeah.
Dan: And I’m very insistent about, you know, my expectation is that you’ll be part of this culture, and to be part of this culture at Ariens, these core values are how we live together. And I start by saying, “You’re going to expect this from me, and you’re going to get these core values and this sort of experience working with me, and I expect the same from you.” And it’s, they’re pretty simple. So, it’s “Be honest, be fair, keep our commitments, respect the individual, and encourage intellectual curiosity.”
Pat: And your brand is very important to you personally. You know, I always try to talk to CEOs about being the leader of your brand. And you really are, I mean, you really embrace it. Again your name’s on it …
Dan: Yeah. (Laughs) That’s how we spell it.
Pat: (Laughing) Exactly. Your brand story, why is it so important to you?
Dan: Oh, I think it’s the most important asset we have, because—and partly I don’t consider people an asset. I consider—
Pat: I was going to say, I agree with you on that.
Dan: You know, when people, when they say people are the most important—they’re not an asset they are—
Pat: They’re people.
Dan: They’re people, right. No, I think the brand is the most important thing that we take care of.
Pat: I think the really important thing with your brand is, you know, your brand’s not just your logo, your brand is this whole long-term set of promises that you guys make to your people, to your customers. And you guys, you guys really live it and embody it.
Dan: Yeah, we—83 years, going on 84, and we take that, you know, I take that very personally. I—it’s my very firm, number one objective to move to five generations, remain a private company, stay in a small community, do all those things. And that’s why, you know, pouring time and energy and resources into our high school to make it one of the best in the state—in the country. I think we’ve got, you know, if young people want to look at a really dynamic high school, come to Brillion, Wisconsin. I mean, we’ve got, and we’ve just—we’re building a STEM program from K through 8.
Pat: Yeah, you guys got a national award for that recently, didn’t you?
Dan: We did, we did. We were recognized by the Department of Education. The secretary of the department came two years ago to view the high school, and we’ve very proud of that. I mean, that’s one of my, you know, if I have anything I can build as legacy, it’s going to be what we do in that small community.

You know, we are a little company in a little town with a great culture, but if you look from the outside in, we are an international business that has customers that expect us to deliver at a high performance, get them product and quality and when I have a customer experience that— that’s the unique thing about the snow blower. I get amazing and interesting and sometimes disappointing letters every snowstorm. I get, there’s a big snowstorm and I get, I get a pile of letters … “Dear Mr. Ariens” or “To the President of Ariens.”

Pat: Yeah, that’s unusual, you were telling me about that.
Dan: Yeah.
Pat: So, you’re paying attention inside and outside, which is something we talk a lot about. What do you—how did that come about, and what’s the balance on that between your—
Dan: Yeah.
Pat: —your employees’ experience and your customer experience? And you seem to find both of them very valuable.
Dan: So when I came back in 1998, brought the core values and changed over the management team, I sat the new team down—or the team that was existing at the time—and said, “Look, it’s really important to set the culture now. And one of the things we don’t have is a clarity on our vision of where we’re going.”
Pat: Okay.
Dan: “And, we have these core values, this is who we are, but it’s not where we’re going.” And we spent like a day trying to come up with a vision statement, and at the end of the day it turned into “Passionate people, astounded customers.”

And we articulate the whole sentence there saying, “Look, we’re not going to be who we want to be if we don’t have great people that love being here.” And that’s the passion and, you know, whether you’re making a lawn mower and a snow blower, or you’re part of the process to design and develop that lawn mower and snow blower, or you’re taking care of the customers, we want those customers to feel a different experience, and that experience should be astounded.

So how do you find an astounding experience? Very visionary because, like perfection, very hard to achieve. But if people are driven because they’re passionate, we’re going to find that.

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