The role that love plays in your businessThese days, as human beings, we are glued to our phones to the point where we pay much less attention to those depending on us. In my mind, the latest popular psychological malady, “attention deficit disorder,” is more about the lack of attention shown the child, not how little attention the child is paying to his or her surroundings. Children (and adults, as well) get disappointed and bored when the person who should be paying focused, caring attention to them is otherwise distracted. One of the first things an infant learns in life is who cares and who doesn’t. Which adults are making him more comfortable, attending to his needs? Which are making her less comfortable, either by ignoring her or actually harming her? By the time we become purchasing adults, this ability to sense who is “for” and who is “against” us is finely tuned, regardless of our overall level of sophistication. Customers, employees, partners, and vendors know perfectly well if you care about them or if you don’t. Millions of companies have tried to fake caring. It never works. Companies don’t care if:
- The leader of the business is only in it for the money
- The company has become so large that no one really cares about anything but their political status
- The core mission of the company has nothing to do with caring for people. I remember one entrepreneur in Silicon Valley whose main motivation for starting his company was to show all the other more-famous silicon chip engineers that he was smarter than they were. His company failed.
Love and technology: The danger of automating relationshipsAs businesspeople, we are in love with tech. We use it all day, every day. I have nothing against tech; I have personally been fascinated with and was deeply involved in tech long before tech was cool. But I have also always been obsessed with how buyers buy and how sellers manage their interactions with customers and employees. I think we are asking too much of the automation, like expecting a vacuum cleaner to babysit our two-year-old. We’ve fallen so in love with tech that we are ignoring the absolute reality that human beings know when they are being cared for and when they are not. We are fooling ourselves, but we are not fooling them. Looking at this another way, what is the difference between someone stealing money from you versus you willing to pay for something? In the former case, you’re just a mark; the thief doesn’t care who you are or what you need. He is simply after your money. You know it, and after he steals it from you, you feel violated. In the latter case, a successful business owner has figured out what you want and need, and is doing everything possible to provide it. You know that, and you respond positively. “Thank you, that’s perfect. Here’s my money.” No sense of violation at all; in fact, you have a sense of satisfaction in money well spent. Two familiar examples of letting automation come between us and our customers:
- Not answering the phone. If someone has a question, why can’t we build a structure that allows a real person to answer that question? Why do we force people to “press one for this and two for that?” Why do we wag our fingers at them, telling them that they must “listen very carefully, as our menu options have changed?” (Which, by the way, is usually a lie.) Long gone are the days when some nice person answers the phone on the second ring and says, “Oh, you need to talk to Bob. Hang on, I’ll get him for you.” When this happens now, it is almost surprising, and memorable. Freshbooks does that; when you call support, someone answers right away, figures out what you need quickly, and helps you out.
- Having robots call our customers pretending to be real people. There is nothing more insulting than a recorded voice pretending to be listening and attempting to have a conversation with you. This is automated alienation.
Love and logic: A powerful combinationWhen we are both loving and logical, we succeed. It is actually quite logical: if you want to succeed, simply be loving. Employees come to work for you because they want to make a difference, to help others, to feel that what they are doing is meaningful. Partners decide to partner with you because they can tell that you take care of customers and you will take care of them, as well. Customers buy more from you because they know you care. Even if your product or service isn’t “perfect,” they will cut you a little slack because you care. But love without logic is not enough, not only in personal relationships, but in business as well. There are realities to face and decisions to be made. People depending on you need you to be logical. They know they can depend on you if you make sense. So loving and logic go hand-in-hand.
What does it take to be more caring?
- Take really good care of those who work for you. You would think I’d mention customers first, but your employees, partners, and vendors are your first customers. If they are happy, they will be happy to work with you, to help your customers, and to refer others to the company. I swore off flying on United Airlines years ago, even thought I had 100,000 frequent flier miles in my account. I was tired of surly, snarling flight attendants. Years later a friend, who used to be a flight attendant for United, revealed why the United employees were so unhappy. They were treated very poorly by management, in ways that made them think that management didn’t care (and that management wasn’t logical). Unhappy employees create unhappy customers. Unhappy customers leave and never return. I started flying Southwest and have never looked back.
- Stop treating your customers like a mark. If you’re trying to take something from someone rather than first figuring out exactly what they need, you’re treating them like a mark. That’s what happens when a salesperson reaches out to you without doing their research first. That’s what happens when you try to market and sell to people you’ve never interviewed. That’s what happens when your site is all about selling and there’s nothing there to help them understand, make an informed buying decision, or simply be educated on the subject.
- Pay attention to subtleties. In the thousands of customer interviews I’ve conducted, I’ve always been struck by the importance of subtleties. When you are the customer, you know perfectly well when someone has a deep understanding of your problem. You know exactly what you want. There are even gating factors – it has to have this one thing, or you aren’t interested. You search and search, because too many companies invent and produce products without inviting customers to participate – and reveal their gating factors and subtle preferences.
- Be organized and process-obsessive. If your employees or partners want to help your customers, but they can’t do it efficiently because your systems and processes are too difficult and too time-consuming, they will get frustrated and surly. They will also leave, so they can work for someone less disorganized.
- Forget yourself. How many of us have worked for bosses who treated their employees like a captive audience? They complained, ranted, and confided things that they really shouldn’t have brought to the marketplace. It’s fine to share those important things – medical situations that affect work; graduations, marriages, christenings; and other significant changes in one’s life—but only when needed and only briefly, in order to inform rather than illicit sympathy.
- Practice tough love when necessary. It is always better to release a poorly performing or disruptive employee sooner rather than later, or to even walk away from a client or customer who is making life unpleasant for everyone. The good people will always sigh with relief, because their ability to get their job done is always negatively affected. Keeping the company free from unnecessary negativity is one of the most important functions of a company’s leader.
- Use technology to get closer, not to alienate. I’ve said all this above. But it’s a good idea to look at the different ways you interact with customers and ask yourself if the technology is a roadblock.