This blog post was submitted to us by our lovely Director of Customer Success, Lisa Markuson! This is her take on how being kind can take you a long way in business and in life.
Smart companies take advantage of public opportunities to be nice by building goodwill with the public, keep customers satisfied, and help employees feel appreciated. Huge corporations throw millions at fluffy CSR projects and feel-good PR campaigns.
But what is real kindness in business? Does it count as kindness if you stand to gain from the interaction? Do you have to experience physical pain for an action to be selfless, or can it be a win-win situation?
For my purposes, “kindness in business” can be any helpful, generous action with a primary goal of assisting another. If you get something out of it, that’s fine by me, and probably just means you are apt to do more kindnesses in the future. Maybe, one kindness really can beget another.
Kindness In Praxis In Business Today
Doug Sandler is a guy who really knows how to be nice. He also knows how to gently, kindly, and compassionately remind other people who to tap into their inner nice guy, for their own benefit and the benefit of everyone.
Have you ever needed a reminder? His belief: "Nice guys finish first, not last." Personal success and helping others need not be mutually exclusive. According to Doug, “the best way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. It’s not just nice, it’s the right thing to do.” This seems so simple, but it is a truism that I rarely see implemented.
As a person who spends the majority of my time running a SaaS company’s Customer Success department, however, I know it to be true. I want my customers to have the finest experience, and see the results they need. I want good retention numbers and happy customer case studies.
What’s the best way to get those? Do everything I possibly can to empower them and build their capacity to tell their stories and improve their businesses with social media tools. Easy. Or is it?
One way my team and I work to set ourselves apart? Expressing to our customers the genuine interest we take in their accounts, and in their businesses overall. To this effect, Sandler boldly states, “your customer’s money will spend quickly. But the customer experience can last a lifetime. Show you care.”
Again, easier said than done, but easier done, as part of your business and the way you treat every customer, than offering too little too late when a good customer is on their way out the door. Genuine kindness builds strong relationships, and strong relationships are crucial for everyone attempting to stay in business. So what’s holding us back? And why do businesses so often fail at just being nice?
When you’re representing a business and dealing with a customer, or speaking with a skeptical public, coming across as genuinely helpful can be tricky. How do you care, without coming off like a shiny politician kissing babies on the campaign trail? The solution may lie in staying small.
Peter Day said on his BBC podcast, “when a big company embraces the idea of kindness it is utterly false, utterly ingenuine, it’s trying to put a human face on something which innately is not.” These harsh words seem damning for corporate kindness efforts, until we realize that big companies are made of wonderful small units called human beings.
The smaller your company is, the easier it is to remember that simple fact and maximize human potential. When you are bringing real human kindness into the world of business, keep it real, and keep it human. You might change the way that business is done.
Henrietta Lovell is doing just that: stacking small kindnesses upon one another to build a business model that is more than just profitable, it is personal. Her company, Rare Tea Company, approaches the growing high-end tea industry with intimate care and stringent standards about the way she treats the individual farmers with whom she works. She makes sure her customers understand and appreciate that too.
She explains, “if you can make friends with your customer, then you have a relationship and then you can really build something on that... If you have something that is believable and that you really believe in, then they will too, and so it goes. They won’t be able to not help you, because it’s a lovely thing to do.”
Put in those terms, I wonder why more people don’t pursue this path. Maybe the reason is that there is no template, no system, and no obvious path. Kindness is a subtle, slippery thing that doesn’t exactly have a clear ROI metric.
But we’re still searching for the alternatives, and calling them out. Alexander McCall Smith is a world-famous author and 12 time honorary doctorate recipient who celebrates kindness and good cheer with endless energy.
He believes “it’s possible to do business in a way that isn’t red in tooth and claw. That probably is a very successful way of doing business, if you pay attention to people’s feelings. I think probably there is room for more of this; People now are aware of the consequences of having everything concentrated in too few hands. I think this is going to be quite a big movement in the 21st century.”
So, at least in his eyes, kindness in business is directly connected to small, intimate enterprise. Our individual humanity has to rise to the surface so it can be amplified.
Another entrepreneur who is amplifying kind voices, along with his own, is Ryan Anderson Bell.
He contributes, curates, shares, helps, highlights, and encourages everyone he can, giving freely to anyone who asks. Ryan has made his business boosting the voices of do-gooders across the country, most currently pairing up with Jamie Grumet to encourage thoughtful communication about modern parenthood.
He has always been the gregarious, funny, vocal type. When I asked him why he is the man to solve the problems and shed light on the issues he’s tackling (sexual abuse, drug and alcohol dependency, fatherhood, manliness, and many others) he said simply and confidently, “because I can.”
What if we all helped more, gave more, and amplified the good more, just because we can?
I asked our CEO, Dave Kerpen, to tell me a story about a notable giving moment he either perpetrated or witnessed. Dave always has a good story to tell, and he did not disappoint in this case.
The first time that Likeable Media hosted a conference, Dave wanted Cary Chessick (founder of restaurant.com and a groundbreaking social media and positivity entrepreneur) to speak, but Chessick had one caveat to his agreement to speak: he wanted to do something creative. What kind of creative? Chessick decided he wanted to give away $20,000 during his speech, in increments of $500 to 40 different people.
The catch? You could only have the money if you agreed to give at least some portion of it away, a #payitforward gesture to help the generosity of that moment reverberate and expand outside of that moment, and replicate itself outside of that space.
Surely the people that saw witnessed that talk, and received the cash, must have been moved. Also, the people who received the subsequent gifts. But I would venture to say that Dave himself was the most affected, and he has been living and sharing that #tweetitforward philosophy ever since. As he finished telling that story, he said that the gesture had earned Chessick at least one lifelong friend, through that astonishing generosity.
Let's be so generous that we astonish everyone.
I lead a team of empathetic, extremely generous people: Likeable Local’s Customer Success Department. Every day we work directly with our 900+ small business and entrepreneur customers to help them navigate the world of digital marketing and make it as accessible and beneficial to them as possible.
Sometimes, we get to do fun, spur-of-the-moment gestures to surprise and delight customers, and those moments always shine. Even more rewarding though, is when we get to witness (amplified through social channels) the amazing ways that small businesses manifest kindness.
Hyper talented custom - and costume - apparel designer Carla Dawn Behrle shared with us the continuing effects of one simple gesture.
Berle donated a super fierce animal skin bag to a charity raffle. This bag, won by a pair of vegans, was promptly traded to a woman who was mesmerized by it, but didn’t dare to wear it because she didn’t feel confident enough to “pull it off.”
Years later, pregnant, the woman wanted to embolden and empower her look. She changed everything about her style to accommodate the bag and make it the central focus of her new tough look. She wrote Behrle describing in intimate detail what the bag meant to her as she’s carried it through motherhood, gushing about it’s quality and aesthetic.
She ended her letter, “Thank you for donating the purse to the raffle! Not only did you help the amazing Street Vendor Project, but you really did change my life for the better. I love what you do.” If that isn’t a compelling reason to donate goods, services, and time to charitable groups that you support, then nothing is.
In my experience, social media makes it easy and fun to be generous with your time, money, skills, and appreciation. Our most successful customers are keen to be kind, and keep the kindness spreading both online and offline. It's wonderful to see the ripple effect, and the inspiration they share.
Another customer of ours who is wonderful at this is Dr. Liliana Calkins, an orthodontist in Reston, VA. Dr. Calkins’ main activity outside of supporting children's oral health is supporting children in every other way that she can as well - especially in the arts.
She sponsors arts and education programs for local kids, shares the photos on Facebook, and builds more support for the initiatives she cares about, while better telling her story as well. She is intimate, genuine, and inspiring - the keys to kindness in business, and doing business kindly.
I was lucky enough to ask Brown Paper Tickets founder and president William Scott Jordan about his perspectives on kindness in business, which is a huge part of his overall business model.
He said, “Kindness is a strength, and in business, sadly, it's becoming more and more of a differentiator.” He and his team have managed to create an event ticketing system where event producers make more money. “Ticket buyers pay less in fees, and Brown Paper Tickets makes a donation of 5% of profits to causes in a category of their ticket buyer's choice at the time of purchase. Give more, take less. That's our Not-Just-For-Profit business model.”
Maybe every business can stand to give a tiny bit more, take a tiny bit less, and everyone will be better for it.
When it comes to business, sometimes we forget that we are all human beings with simple basic needs. I’m not saying you need to become the next Mother Theresa here, but I hope that these contemporary examples of small ways to share kindness will inspire you to try something new yourself. You’ll be amazed at the work of simple kindnesses.
(And don’t forget to share them with me on social media. A little humble brag never hurt anyone.)