NPS Blog

Can a company pay it forward?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

We’ve all heard of “paying it forward”—the idea that one thoughtful act on someone’s part can touch off a chain reaction of good deeds. I’ve posted before about how companies can get into the act through intelligent acts of kindness. These are simple, inexpensive gestures that brighten a customer’s day and generate loyalty.

But some commenters on my post questioned whether companies can ever be expected to act in a generous spirit. Others wondered whether a company can really hope to engender this kind of behavior in their employees.

My answer to all such questions is a resounding yes. Companies can and should contribute to positive experiences in the world, and it’s good business practice to do so. The trickier question is how to foster a culture that achieves these aims without seeming cloying or artificial. We all know the Golden Rule—treat others as you would want to be treated. But what does it take to get your employees to consistently live up to this
standard and genuinely care about your customers?

The first step is to eliminate bad profits—profits earned by deceiving or mistreating customers. Bad profits come from hidden fees, outrageous charges for simple services (such as filling up a rental car’s tank), misleading advertising, bait-and-switch sales techniques, and other dubious business practices. When companies quit treating people badly, they’ll find their employees more willing to go that extra mile to create happier, more loyal customers.

The second step is to set different standards for success. If you want your employees to act generously toward customers, you have to trust their judgment, listen to their feedback, and reward them when they contribute to the company’s growth by building loyalty. You may also need to retool your standards. A call-center employee will find it hard to get to the root cause of a customer’s issue and really solve it when she knows she’s being measured by how quickly she gets the customer off the phone. Measuring an employee that way encourages superficial solutions. It’s easier for her to act generously if your standard of success is creating great customer experiences.

The third step is to measure your progress and reward positive behavior. Let’s face it: You’re more likely to move in the right direction when you track your performance. Even something as abstract as customer delight can be gauged when a company has a robust system for collecting regular feedback and turning it into organizational improvements. Evaluating your performance—and making the evaluations public—shows your employees and customers that you take service seriously. It starts with hiring people with positive, “can-do” attitudes and then providing coaching and training opportunities that empower them to go the extra mile for customers.

People long for sincerity in this era of automated calls and faceless bureaucracies. When companies treat customers as fellow humans, they help fill that void—and maybe they inspire similar behavior, creating a pay-it-forward chain reaction. Loyalty is the happy byproduct. Who knows, maybe the customer whose insurance claim was handled quickly and in a friendly manner will be more likely to give up his seat to a weary passenger on the train ride home.

Comments are closed.