Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Treating customers kindly increases loyalty, business

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Remember when a friendly greeting and a genuine smile used to be part of doing business? It may sound old-fashioned, but it wasn't all that long ago that making a customer feel special -- not the lowest price or fastest shipping -- is what won their loyalty and kept them coming back.

In these fast-paced, technology-driven times we live in, when most business transactions occur online and not in person, we seem to have lost touch with the importance of being kind to one another. And yet, none of us have lost the desire to be treated kindly, nor has technology changed the value of kindness. Without costing a penny, it is still the most effective way to build greater brand awareness, boost customer loyalty and keep employees happy.

Thankfully, businesses are finding innovative ways to bring back kindness.

One random act of kindness that went viral recently is the story of a young man from New Hampshire whose grandmother was gravely ill with cancer. While in the hospital, she told him that she was craving a bowl of clam chowder from her favourite restaurant chain, which only sold that particular variety on Fridays. The grandson called the local franchise and the manager not only made a batch of chowder especially for the grandmother, but included a complimentary box of cookies as a gift.

The young man shared his story on Facebook, which then got posted on the restaurant's fan page, generating over half a million "likes" and more than 22,000 comments of praise and appreciation. The manager's thoughtful and empathetic gesture resulted in the type of global attention, word-of-mouth advertising and a surprising boost to the company's reputation that money just can't buy.

Consumers are hungrier than ever to be shown a little kindness and compassion. We've become so accustomed to dealing with impersonal and inflexible corporations that it's little wonder that such thoughtful acts are so well received.

It is possible to embrace technology and at the same time, hold true to the belief that efficiency should not come at the expense of humanity. Companies, large or small, can find ways to incorporate kindness into their everyday actions for no other reason than giving back makes good business sense. Not only does it create a feel-good factor around your brand, it has been reported that 71 per cent of people make it a point to buy brands from companies whose values are similar to their own.

At the same time, kindness is a key factor in retaining valuable employees in a competitive environment. Keeping your people happy creates a positive and productive workforce, and even the smallest pick-me-ups, from treating staff to free ice cream to handing out free coffee mugs, can make a huge difference.

Companies can also be kind by:

-- Showing genuine interest in customers and colleagues; after all, people can see right through superficial small talk.

-- Being polite and courteous in all types of communications, both internally and externally.

-- Taking the time to listen when a customer has a problem or frustration and going out of your way to right a wrong.

-- Sharing the glory with your people when the company wins an award or meets a target goal.

-- Going the extra mile for someone when they least expect it -- even if it's not in your job description.

-- Being kind to those who aren't kind to you; understand that there's a hidden reason why they are upset and that you have the ability to disarm the situation with compassion.

-- Lending a helping hand (regardless of job title or status) and pitch in to help the team or company succeed.

-- Providing constructive feedback to an employee or to a co-worker with the intent on helping them to learn and grow.

-- Staying in touch with what people are saying about your company (and industry) in social media and using the information to reach out to customers.

In his book It Worked For Me, former U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell writes about the power of kindness, and that being kind doesn't mean being a pushover.

"You can never err by treating everyone with respect, thoughtfulness and a kind word," he says, a notion that is obviously as true in the situation room as it is in the board room. "Always show more kindness than seems necessary because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know."

 

-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai

 

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at ccoates@peoplefirsthr.com.

 

RESEARCH:

http://blogs.hbr.org/taylor/2012/08/its_more_important_to_be_kind.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/apr/13/better-business-acts-of-kindness

http://www.customerservicemanager.com/conducting-business-with-kindness.htm

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 H2

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