Archive | February, 2013

Business is personal. Exploring the 4 Hs : Humility, Humanity, Humour and Honesty

27 Feb

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The bigger the business, the more freedom is curtailed as governance, processes and procedures take over.

This is just one of the points made in a fascinating slideshare presentation from a few years ago on the culture at Netflix. And the upshot of all this? It becomes harder to be ‘human and the threat to freedom means you end up losing great people.

Which is ironic, really, considering that companies are mostly just collections of people. In the same way that without customers, there is no business, without workers there is no business too. And, when businesses try to put straight-jackets on great people, businesses ultimately fail. 

Introducing the four ‘H’s

So, treat people well, give them the freedom to be themselves and customers will feel the difference, and everybody wins. It may be a cliché, but it’s no less true for all that, that people buy from people, whatever the business. How then, can businesses be more like people?

Consider then the 4 Hs. Done well, they reveal real – and therefore engaging – personality and help humanise the company, for customers

HUMILITY

This is about how great companies fess up to highly visible problems and failures. Put simply, there’s the old way – hide behind Ts and Cs, never admit anything, push failure behind the scenes and starve it of the oxygen of publicity – and there’s the new human and personal way, that involves someone very senior – typically the CEO – saying sorry and meaning it, and broadcasting the mea culpa too. 

For example, check out two classic (and well handled) cases from the airline industry:  

Here is an email and website message from the Singapore Airlines CEO, following a botched website launch in 2011. (See it here). It’s well written, personal and honest, and signed by the CEO. Job done! 

In 2007, when bad weather disrupted air travel, flight delays and communications SNAFUs at Jet Blue caused a public outcry against the company. Soon after, the then-CEO issued an apology and also went onto Youtube, with “Our Promise To You”. This is the film, a very public and humble apology from the top. And the best quote? “We’ll be a better company, for the very difficult things our customers have had to endure”.

Admitting you’ve screwed up can be good for business. “Doing a Domino’s” became part of the language 3 years ago after Domino’s acknowledged that its pizzas “tasted like cardboard” and promised to do better. Read more about this classic and creative apology here at the CEB. The lesson? As the author says, “Humanize your apology. Domino’s had its CEO apologize and commit to making changes on TV commercials.  By personalizing the mistake, it seems more human, and consumers are more likely to be forgiving”.

HUMANITY

This is about a brand seeking to show its generosity and kindness to brighten up peoples’ days, in the normal course of business.

I’ve written about this before in my post on Random Acts of Kindness, and profiled the good work from Virgin Media and BUPA International. To give a couple of other good examples, my previous company, Aviva, in the US used to give away Aviva umbrellas on rainy days. They would simply head out to the city, and hand out brollies to those that needed them (and regardless, of course, as to whether the lucky recipients were customers or not). Trendwatching.com reports that Interflora did a similar thing, via social media, by sending bouquets of flowers to people in need to cheering up. For more examples, and some useful guidance on RAK 101, check out the briefing from trendwatching.

HUMOUR

It’s fascinating how social media in particular (but why only here?) gives switched-on organisations an opportunity to show their personal side in a service context (usually when it goes wrong). O2 in the UK are a past master. Consider the skill they showed in handling the anger they experienced at service outages last year:

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This example also suggests to me there’s a (very) thin line between getting the tone right and it all going horribly wrong. It hasn’t yet though for O2, and maybe that’s the key point here, that if you at least try to be human, and inject a bit of humour (and know your audience!) then  forgiveness for when someone does step over the line is probably far more readily forthcoming.

As a Telegraph article on O2 concluded at the time, “O2 used Twitter to deliver fast, professional customer service, and still maintained their brand image by adding humour and personality to their tweets.” 

HONESTY

The above examples of Humility are public responses to very public failures. My last category, Honesty, is the flip side, visible gestures that ‘correct’ or fix something largely hidden from public view, but which speak volumes about the internal culture and what the business is unwilling to tolerate. I’ve written about this before too (about Costco’s jeans pricing policy, and Amazon’s reduced pricing on Harry Potter books in China – the link to my earlier post, which includes the Amazon film, is here), so I thought I’d end by sharing a personal example of my own from LoveFilm, now an Amazon company, and in the same business as Netflix.

Here is an email I received in December, alerting me to an over-night film despatch problem.

Now my point is, chances are most people (me included) would never realise there was a problem, and we’d have carried on blissfully unawares. A few subscribers might have suspected a problem, and some of those might then have got in touch to ask or even complain.

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Now, LoveFilm had a choice; wait and see, and deal with complaints as they occurred and offer to make up for it to those contacting them. Or, be more proactive and reach out to everyone affected, regardless of whether or not they were aware of the problem. LoveFilm chose to do the latter. Why? Because they, like other businesses building themselves around the customer, recognise the business value of a positive proactive gesture, in short, of letting the personality shine through.        

This is what characterises all the examples here of the 4 Hs; the conviction that the human touch will reap rewards. After all, businesses are only people, so let good people be good people. 

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‘Always give more’. Kindness and humanity in business.

6 Feb

There’s a great new post from Seth Godin on the 11 things organisations can learn from how airports screw up the customer experience. It strikes at the heart of how many organisations lose the plot in their relentless pursuit of revenue at all costs. Godin’s conclusion is that “in pursuit of reliable, predictable outcomes, these organizations dehumanise everything”.Slide1

I want to pick up on three of his 11 points, which seem to me to help identify how this ‘dehumanisation’ occurs:

  • Firstly, when no one in the organisation seems to be having any fun
  • Secondly, when delighting customers is stripped out of the system, and replaced by the desire to simply satisfy the ‘mass’, as opposed to the individuals that make up the mass  
  • Thirdly, when ad hoc action and behaviour is forbidden

In short, basic humanity becomes a hindrance, something not factored into the ‘business model’. But routine and predictable do not make for memorable and engaging customer experiences. In the world of customer metrics, it’s the difference between a customer’s being on the one hand, merely ‘satisfied’, and on the other, being so delighted that they remember, they recommend and they stay longer and buy more. 

Show the humanity

How then do organisations seek to bring back the humanity? Cue what are often called Random Acts of Kindness or Frugal Wows (ugh – ugly terminology but interesting ideas). I want to share a few good examples of these and to draw a distinction between:

  • ‘Random’ acts, which are individual responses to ‘in bound’ customer situations, and which rely on empowering the front line (and beyond) to use their judgement and bring their humanity to work, and …..
  • …the other sort of acts of kindness or generosity I see and admire, which are more ‘proactive’ in the sense that they are enshrined in the organisational culture (how we do things around here) and affect – for the good – all customers.

Random Acts of Kindness:

Virgin Media in the UK (who it is announced today are being sold) operate a RAK programme, where staff are encouraged to deliver an act of kindness when they feel it’s the right thing to do. And, of course as the slide says, the nature of the Virgin brand allows perhaps more creativity and quirkiness in what exactly IS the right thing. And that’s why they can be so memorable and heart-warming. A good example is how, on hearing that on settling down to watch the Transformers film with his grandchildren the granddad’s 24 hour hire limit on the download had expired (this was about the 4th time he’d watched it!), Virgin then sent him a DVD of the film so he could watch it anytime with the grandchildren, plus a transformers toy, to try to make up for the disappointment.Slide1

In another example, BUPA International has a scheme for all staff, whereby they have a small amount of money each year they can use to delight the customer, however they see fit. The only condition is, you cannot use it to ‘buy off’ an unhappy complaining customer. The same theme runs through how Virgin use RAKs, they are NOT to say sorry, or apologise for an error.  

The power of both of these examples is that they are a great mechanism to force the member of staff to think about how to delight the customer and to bring their humanity to work (how would I feel, what would delight me?). Indeed, the word from Sean Risebrow at Virgin Media is that the real value of the scheme lies in the internal message it sends to the whole workforce about how serious the organisation is in dealing with the customer.

Planned Acts of Kindness:

In contrast to random and occasional individual acts, there are also what I call Planned acts, that give an insight into the corporate culture, because they forcibly demonstrate its values and how it seeks to behave all the time.  Here are two examples of organisations proactively choosing to do the right thing, where the alternative is not to act, but to wait and see if anyone out there notices and then complains! 

Watch this short film, from 2010, which illustrates one of Amazon’s values, “customer obsession” with a fascinating story about delivering a retrospective and unexpected benefit back to customers. So, a proactive move to benefit all customers affected, simply because ‘that’s how we do things round here”. And, as with all of these examples, there ought to be a positive impact on the bottom line. It is interesting that in the speaker’s view, it was the best marketing activity they did that year.

Another good example comes from Evelyn Clark’s article, Around the Corporate Campfire, where Jim Sinegal of Costco tells a story about pricing jeans, which again highlights the tension between short term profits, and doing the right thing by the customer:

“We were selling Calvin Klein jeans for $29.99, and we were selling every pair we could get our hands on. One competitor matched our price, but they had only four or five pairs in each store, and we had 500 or 600 pairs on the shelf. We all of a sudden got our hands on several million pairs of Calvin Klein jeans … at a very good price. It meant that, within the constraints of our markup, which is limited to 14% on any item, we had to sell them for $22.99”. Now, they could have sold all 4 million pairs for that higher price almost as quickly as they sold them at $22.99, says Sinegal, “but there was no question that we would mark them at $22.99 because that’s our philosophy”.

Both of these Planned examples are fascinating because they demonstrate an organisation proactively choosing to act to benefit customers when it could just as easily have chosen NOT to do so, and to maybe wait to see if anyone noticed and complained. Instead, they referred to their founding principles, or brand values, call them what you will, but their accepted rules drove the ‘right’ behaviour.

Sure, it’s a leap of faith, but the financial benefit from giving more (in order to get more in return later) surely makes sense.

What would your organisation do in these situations?

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