The Two Little Words That Will Make Or Break Your Sharing Economy Business

If you're thinking about starting your own sharing economy business, check out these tips for making your customers and employees happy.

The sharing economy has not only revolutionized the consumer experience, it’s revolutionized the way people work.

The qualities that make this innovative new generation of businesses a hit with consumers are the same that energize and motivate employees, a win-win for any business owner.

The secret is in two little words: trust and autonomy.

By investing trust in your employees and giving them the freedom to build their own reputations, set their own hours, and put their personal mark on projects, you’re also investing in customer service, company culture, and employee satisfaction.

How the sharing economy works

The sharing economy is simple in principle. In the midst of the Great Recession cash-strapped people all over the country found innovative new ways to make a little money with what they already had, from spare rooms to spare cars to spare time.

Now, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and startups like Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber, help people monetize their resources. In the process, these companies are making a real difference—from raising $10 million to produce a smartwatch to disrupting the hospitality and transportation industries.

The reason the sharing economy is great for consumers is that they get a higher level of service and convenience, often for less money.

But the deeper reason consumers love the sharing economy is that it’s more authentic. There are real relationships at work, relationships built on trust.

The beauty of trust and autonomy

One company that has quietly built momentum for the last two years is Chattanooga-based startup Bellhops.

They use a web platform to mobilize college students all over the country, pairing them up with people who need moving services. They operate in 121 college cities across the country, employ over 8,000 student Bellhops from 62 Universities, and have the ability to execute hundreds of moves per day in each of their current operating cities.

But their most impressive statistic is the 97% customer satisfaction rate on thousands of individual jobs.

What sets their model apart from traditional moving services is the level of autonomy their employees have. The same is true for Airbnb hosts and Uber drivers.

In the sharing economy, you don’t take a job you don’t want. You decide when you want to rent your home or pick up someone in need of a ride. Bellhops decide what jobs they want to take, a rare benefit for most college students accustomed to service industry jobs with set hours, low pay, and little responsibility.

Bellhops’ trust in its employees to meet demand and provide great service pays off. They have found that autonomy encourages their student employees to work harder and go the extra mile for customers.

"Sometimes it’s just the small touches," says Bellhops co-founder Cameron Doody explains. "Staying five minutes after and taking excess trash and packing materials to the dumpster makes a huge impact."

Happy employees = happy customers

Anyone who’s stayed at an Airbnb with a good host knows what a big difference the little things make, like a cheese plate and chilled wine when you check in, or a hand-made guide to the area with a list of locals’ favorite restaurants, bars, and attractions off the beaten, touristy path.

Engaged employees, whether they’re moving couches or playing hostess, see their work as meaningful and a natural extension of their authentic selves, and consumers can feel the difference. Happy employees mean happy customers.

Tech often gets a bad rap for making us distracted, disconnected, lonely, and inauthentic, always snapping selfies and humble-bragging to make our lives seem cooler than they really are.

But in the sharing economy, tech is what allows companies like Lyft to mobilize this huge, willing workforce eager to please. Doody admitted, "Sometimes it can be hard to give that level of personalized service and consideration online." That is, unless your business model blends online and offline to create an amazing real-world experience for customers you find and connect with online.

Give your employees the tools they need to succeed, and trust that they’ll get it done. You’ll be surprised how much motivation goes up when your employees rely on self-motivation to get paid and advance in their careers. You’ll also be surprised by just how thrilled customers are with the treatment they get from genuinely enthusiastic, hard-working employees eager to hustle and impress.

Whether you are at a Fortune 500 company, a small local business, or a fledgling startup, you can apply some of the sharing economy’s principles to your business and reap the benefits for both your customers and employees.

Shelley Prevost is a mentor and early stage investor at Lamp Post Group—where she hacks into the psychological and emotional side of starting and running a business. She is also a co-founding partner of the JumpFund, an angel fund investing in female-led startups with high growth potential. Follow her on Twitter @shelleyprevost.

[Image: Flickr user Valerie Everett]

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  • Liz Miller

    Taxi companies protesting against Uber is akin to telegraph companies protesting against email. Evolve or perish. Go to http://www.lyftvsuber.com/ to try out Uber or Lyft for yourself! The website compares the two most popular ride-sharing services. $30 of FREE ride credit for new passengers and $500 sign-up BONUS for new drivers!! Drivers can make as much as $40/hr! Hope you can see what all the hype is about :) Thanks!!