I love airbnb. I've only stayed at a handful of them, but I'm very impressed by the company, the business model and most of all, the founders of the company. Their impressive sales growth can teach us several lessons - lessons that you can perhaps apply today, so you can become a more effective sales person.
But, one lesson, in particular I want to focus on today. Without being fully aware of what they were doing, the Airbnb founders practice a key element in Lean Manufacturing - the concept of Genchi Genbutsu. And, by doing so, improved the host experience and the guest experience and massively stoked sales growth for Airbnb.
What is Genchi Genbutsu?
Genchi Genbutsu is a key principle in the Toyota Production System, which also known as Lean Manufacturing outside of Japan. Let me explain it by painting a picture of 2 scenarios:
- Scenario 1: In this scenario, imagine you are in a board room. You are all looking at a PowerPoint presentation and excel data showing problems in your business. You debate about the problem, solutions, and what to do next based on the data, charts, and graphs, and clipart on the presentation. This scenario is all-too-familiar in the West. But things are different in the East.
- Scenario 2: Now imagine yourself hearing about customer problems at the same company. But this time, not in a boardroom, but from customer service. Instead of looking at charts or graphs, let's suppose you spoke with the customer. Now, let's further suppose you tried to experience the same problem the customer faced by going through the same exact steps she did. No, not to initially solve the problem but to experience what the customer experienced. Empathy is what you're after. Solving the problem is after empathy. That is Genchi Genbutsu.
So, how did the founders of Airbnb practice the concept of Genchi Genbutsu? Read on.
How Airbnb Improves the Host and Guest Experience
The January 2015 issue of Inc. Magazine featured Airbnb as the company of the year. Burt Helm, the author of the article, did an excellent job explaining the values of Airbnb and what steps they took early on that truly drove massive sales growth.
Let's begin with a few facts I didn't know that might interest you before I go into how Airbnb practices Genchi Genbutsu:
- 20 Million people have used airbnb, 10 million of them in 2014 alone.
- There are over 800,000 listings wordwide - that's more than the Hilton or InterContinental Hotels Group (PS: I love Hilton too - I'm a Diamond Member, thanks).
- Airbnb started about 7 years ago.
They seemingly came out of nowhere and now they have disrupted the massive hospitality industry; they've created additonal income streams for millions of people, and have created more places to stay for millions of people in such a short amount of time.
So, what drives Airbnb?
Airbnb's singular focus, according to Brian Chesky, Airbnb's CEO is this:
"It's about people and experiences. At the end of the day, what we're trying to do is bring the world together. You're not getting a room, you're getting a sense of belonging."
So, how did their focus on the customer experience lead to growth? The answer is simple: focusing on the customer experience forced Chesky and the other 2 co-founders to experience Airbnb from the perspective of a host and guest.
Airbnb Host Experience
Chesky and his co-founders did something very interesting at the beginning of Airbnb. As they were just starting out with just a handful of Airbnb hosts, they asked their hosts if they could send a professional photographer to take pictures of the hosts apartment.
Who were the "professional photographers?"
It was Chesky and his co-founders. They used that as a tactic to learn as much as they could about the hosts experience. In Chesky's words,
"We'd email the hosts and say, hey, we'd love to send a professional photographer . . . then we'd show up armed with a rented Nikon and many questions."
Then Chesky and team would attempt to learn everything they could about their hosts' lives and their relationship with Airbnb. And, based on what they learned, they made targeted changes to improve the Airbnb host experience.
The key: They took the time to see and experience what's it's like to be a host from their perspective.
The result? According to a Duke University professor who studies the sharing economy, Michael Munger, he claims that the tiny changes the Airbnb team made to the host experience are what led to cascades in growth.
Airbnb Guest Experience
Their innovation didn't stop at improving the host experience. The executive team at Airbnb also needed to learn what it was like to be a guest. So, what did they do?
According to the article, Chesky and team moved out of their apartment and, for the next several months, and started living in Airbnb's full time to gather insights.
Imagine that - to learn what their Airbnb guests experience, the executive team, for several months, became guests at Airbnb's themselves. Fascinating.
In the words of employee #9, Joseph Zadeh,
"It's believing that the best experience will always lead to the best outcomes . . . Putting [customer] experience over any other consideration will lead to good things"
It's Your Turn
Now, think about your customers and sales prospects. How will you apply the concept of Genchi Genbutsu, just as Airbnb has done, to land more deals and close more sales. More importantly, how will you use the concept of empathy to add value to your customers and sales prospects?