Business Fear: Afraid of Being a Loving Business?
Long ago I embraced an idea that has had a profound positive effect on my business and, in turn, has helped me be more effective in the way I guide customer experience and leadership efforts on behalf my clients. It is a simple distinction found in a variety of faith traditions including Buddhism, Christianity, and even secular spirituality (e.g., A Course in Miracles).
The idea is that there are two diametrically opposed forces continually at play in our personal and business lives. Those forces are love and fear.
What’s Love Got to Do With Business
Before you question what love has to do with business and more specifically what it has to do with customer centricity and customer experience. Let me defer to a definition of love provided by an esteemed business academician, Peter Senge (author of the landmark book The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization and a professor of business at MIT). From Senge’s perspective, love is demonstrated “concern for the growth and development” of those you serve. In essence, customer love equals an abiding commitment (shown through action) to helping customers meet their wants, needs, and desires. I abbreviate this further to:
Customer Love Means Helping Customers Achieve Success
The beauty of this definition is that it applies equally to companies that serve other businesses (B2B) as well as those that serve consumers (B2C).
Abundance or Shortage
Loving businesses operate from the perspective of abundance. Leaders in these companies assume fundamental good in others and promote the idea that “value creation begets reciprocal if not greater value.” Contrast this to fear-based businesses which assume that people typically can’t be trusted and that “inputs and outputs must be vigilantly monitored to assure profits are not lost.”
Like all distinctions, extremes on the continuum are typically ill-advised. Being loving toward customers who overtly and repeatedly abuse your efforts is unwise. Fortunately, in my experience, those types of customers are relatively few in comparison to those who appreciate efforts to help them meet and exceed their needs.
Over the years, I’ve watched the transformative power of loving on customers as opposed to fearing them.
In my book Leading the Starbucks Way, I gave an example of what happens when you love customers through actions taken to assure their success. You are likely aware Starbucks has come to guarantee happiness every time a drink is prepared. That guarantee is referred to as the barista (coffee preparer in Starbucks parlance) promise. The barista promise goes like this:
“We want you to be completely satisfied. If for any reason you are not satisfied with your purchase, you may return it for a replacement or refund of the purchase price.”
If you are a fear-based business, you wouldn’t dare offer such a promise because invariably it will be abused by customers and result in unnecessary losses. If you are love-driven, you care about customer success. In this case, you want to make sure the beverage delivered to the customer is exactly what they hoped for when they decided to steer their car toward your business.
In my book, I share a story of how the barista promise was “abused.” Then again was it?
John Hargrave, founder of the humor site zug.com and author of Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual, decided to put the Starbucks promise to the test. John writes, “But would Starbucks really replace anything? To find out, I decided to buy the most perishable item on the menu, keep it in my garage for several weeks, then attempt to exchange it.”
While I will spare you the details concerning the condition of the cup at the point when John elected to return it, suffice it to say that John had to place the residual components of the cup in a plastic container. John adds, “I entered the Starbucks, feeling faint from the smell, and handed the Tupperware container to the barista. ‘Could I get a replacement?’ I asked, ‘I think this one has turned.’”
According to John, after the barista got past his confusion as to what he had been handed, the barista said, “‘All right, man. No problem.’ He tossed the drink in the trash, then added, ‘But . . . aaaahhhhhhhh!!’ He moaned, his eyes watering, as the Starbucks filled with the stink of the drink. Another barista quickly ran over to bag the trash, then carried it outside, retching…But I have to say: they didn’t even ask to see the receipt. They made me up a new Steamy Creamy, and served it with a smile.
I suspect the way you view the outcome of the John Hargrave story depends largely on your love/abundance vs. fear/shortage perspective. On the one hand, the story proves exactly why someone should distrust customers. On the other hand, it demonstrates the amazing publicity one gets when businesses do the right thing even in unexpected situations. Getting back to not adhering to extremism, I assume that if John Hargrave made a habit of returning drinks to Starbucks in similar conditions, a less loving response would ultimately need to be taken.
It’s Your Choice
Whether it is generous return policies crafted at companies I’ve worked with and written about like Zappos (The Zappos Experience) or extra mile service at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company (the source for my book The New Gold Standard), I believe in abundance and customer love! For me, it’s better to assume the best in customers and manage for the exceptions than to run a business that operates inversely – how about for you?
If you would like to take some time to talk about developing opportunities like the barista promise to demonstrate your concern for the growth and development of your customers, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and she will set-up a time for us to chat.
Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.
Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli
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