‘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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2 Responses to “‘Always give more’. Kindness and humanity in business.”

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