Remember the 80s? The time of Gordon Gekko, the time of greed being good, and the time of eating your young, if it meant getting ahead? It wasn't about the customer, it wasn't about listening, it wasn't even about caring. It was simply about making a profit, no matter who you had to take down in the process.
The problem is, that way no longer works. And those who have yet to realize that are on their way to being eliminated.
Today, the advent of mobile technology and 24-hour-connectivity means that if your company isn't "nice" from the top down, not only will your profits suffer, but you'll actually spend more money on marketing than you have to. Greed is good? Try greed is gone.
Think about it. When do people post? When do they tweet? The answer? All the time. Whether they're happy or sad, thrilled or angry, they're posting online. So wouldn't logic suggest that if they're always posting, it's in your best interest to give them something positive to post about?
Let's face it, 25 years ago, if someone had a bad experience, they could only tell the friends they were closest to. Today, they can tell the world.
And by the way, before you think of this as just another "rah! rah! Social media!" article, know that it's not. Social media won't save you. Just because you can fight fires with social media doesn't mean that you need to let those fires start in the first place – a mistake way too many companies are making.
As a society, we expect horrible customer service. We expect to be treated like crap. We expect the fast food company to get our order wrong. We expect the dry cleaners not to have our clothing when they say they will. The bar has been set so low in recent years, it's actually below-ground.
What does all this mean for your business? It means that it's never been easy to gain the admiration of current customers and let that admiration get you all the new customers you'll ever want. All you have to do is revamp your customer service to be one level above horrible.
This sounds like a bad joke, I'm sure. But it's the truth. One level above horrible. It's not that hard. It really isn't. Essentially, you're training your customer service team to be empowered to do create small little moments of awe. Nothing major, nothing life-changing, but small little moments of awe.
Examples abound – The front desk clerk who notices the customer who was on a delayed flight, arriving at the hotel three hours late, worrying if the room will still be there. In addition to the room still being there, imagine if the clerk offered a hot towel to wipe their face, because they were exhausted.
The restaurant maître d' who is empowered to ask a couple if they're celebrating anything, then offer a free dessert - just because.
The coffee barista who is empowered to drop a 50 cent discount onto the receipt with the notation of "nice smile."
These things take five seconds to do, cost virtually nothing, and result in thousands and thousands of dollars in additional revenue, as well as new customers. We get higher quality new customers based on the customers we have, not from advertising. People trust personal recommendations far more than they do someone shouting "Yeah, I'm awesome".
It takes so little time, and returns so much. Not only are you generating new revenue, but you're reducing your marketing costs as well.
Here's a first-hand example. When a hotel in Dubai noticed I was running out of toothpaste, they went out of their way to buy me a new tube - just because. I posted a photo of the new tube of toothpaste on Facebook, and two days later, upon checking out, the head of PR of the hotel stopped me to let me know that my one post had brought in three new reservations One thirty-nine cent tube of toothpaste plus the empowerment of a hotel maid to give it to me? Thousands of dollars in new reservations.
That is TRUE marketing, and even more important, it's BELIEVABLE marketing. It comes from a place of trust - which is worth more than any media buy or any PR firm hit you could ever hope to get.
This approach works in any industry, whether B2B or B2C. Face it, in B2B, companies don't buy; someone at that company does. That's the person to whom you want to be nice.
Being nice is not about sucking up. It's about treating customers with a level of respect they don't expect. It's about training your employees from top down why and how to be nice. Most important, it's about empowering your front-line employees: explaining to them that you're giving them the power to make the company better, to do little things that go a long way - whether it's topping off an order with a little something extra at no charge, or upgrading a room to a bigger one because it's available.
And know this: The ROI you'll get from this approach will almost always be higher than the margins on the profit you'd make by not doing it. The call to the enlightened CEO is this: The old "kill your young" way of doing business is over. Without joining this new movement of "niceness," your business will simply fade away.
More than ever, consumers have the ability to choose with whom they want to do business. And with those choices being made more and more from the recommendations of those within our personal networks, the chances of maintaining the old school "they'll get it the way we like it" mentality and still keeping your customers is growing slimmer by the day.
The new age of being nice starts with your CEO, and it goes down the chain to the front-line employees. The last two years of research for my book have proved it: Nice companies really DO finish first.