can kindness be a business strategy?
One day last week I was walking down the streets of Manhattan on my way to the office, listening to a podcast from Gary Vaynerchuk (GARYVEE), and he said something that literally made me stop in the middle of the sidewalk.
“why don’t you make kindness your business strategy?”
The idea seemed so simple, but is it? It made me think about the concepts of heart/mind, left brain/right brain, love/money… how focusing on an emotion like kindness can improve your business. Like many of you, I have spent years writing strategies that provide direction to large teams, navigating the daily and weekly complexity of sales, KPI’s, talent development, the list goes on. We gravitate toward things that we can track, celebrate or fix.
When business is challenging, the softer words like” kindness" are not the first ones that come to mind in a traditional action plan. They are normally more reactive with a statistic to back it up. I would like to think that many of us lead with kindness, that we are kind in our approach, that we are kind to each other and our teams. But if we are honest with ourselves, are we just saying it or are we really doing it?
Then it clicked…. because there are businesses that are successfully doing it today.
I recently interviewed someone who worked for several years at a specialty clothing store named Richards in Greenwich, Connecticut famed for exceptional customer service. He shared fascinating stories about kindness in business, and the owner Jack Mitchell has written two books that I had read several years ago but had forgotten about, so I pulled them back off the shelf. The first one was Hug Your Customers, creating happy employees is as easy as it is revolutionary and is what he calls the “Big Secret”. The second one was Hug Your People, focusing on simple ideas such as the “customer-centric” organization.
Hugging is more of a mindset than a physical act. It’s a way of getting close to your customers and truly understanding them. Jack likes to say: “You listen, you learn, you hug.”
He thinks of hugging as getting everyone on your team to sell with passion so you develop long-term loyal relationships with your customers. Hugging involves getting so close to the customer that they become more important than anything else. Over time in a hugging culture, a unique personal and professional relationship develops between the business and customer. Their vision is that anyone that becomes a customer of their stores enters a lifetime relationship with them. That’s their motto: “once a customer, always a friend.”
Jack made kindness his business strategy.
The Hyatt Hotel chain has also implemented this approach with a program dedicated around “random acts of generosity”, encouraging the surprise element in that both the favors were unexpected and there’s no discernible pattern on how they are handed out. For example, unexpectedly picking up the tab for your hotel-bar drinks or hotel-spa massage. Would random acts lead you to increase your loyalty to a hotel? As someone who travels regularly, it would because they are rare. From a customer experience perspective, random acts of generosity should not be the defining element of the overall experience. Instead, they should fit effortlessly with the character of a brand to make them more distinctive and harder to copy.
Hyatt has made kindness a business strategy.
Much is being written about creating an “experience culture” in retail, and that the only way to survive is by creating something that cannot be found on a website. Many of us are trying to accomplish just that, realizing that it can be very vague and hard to define. The first thing we can do is put kindness first, and look for those unique and special opportunities to do something unexpected.