by Shashi Bellamkonda
I have been in the people business for many decades. First in the hospitality industry and now in the small business technology space. Some of the companies I love are for their ability to make every employee of theirs “human.” I find it odd that I have to use the term “human” to describe living things that are already human. Such is the cost of the pressures of economy, technology and pressures of the world we live in.
We hear that mobile is the next big thing. Of course the effect of it is that a pair of otherwise loving human beings now take walks and instead of holding hands, hold their phone feverishly typing as they walk. Family dinner outings become shorter, with dad’s addiction to checking in to every possible location app and show the virtual world that he is alive and well while kids and spouse lovingly tolerate crazy dad ( Guilty here!)
How does this apply to business?
Rule No 1: The Human in front of you is better than a Byte
When I worked for the hotel industry we learned to give preference to the “Human” who was in front of us rather than the one on the phone. Are we now driving away “humans” and making them communicate with us virtually? I don’t know if you agree or not but face to face is still the best way of communication unless you are talking about a couple breaking up.Â Train your employees in thinking of customers as humans and communicating with the same friendliness that they would expect. Assign clear rules to follow when faced with situations where your staff may be faced with a face to face customer versus one on email or the phone.
Rule No 2:Â The Human needs help not your computer
This is an incident closer to heart when a few months ago my 10 year old niece was flying back from India and was travelling 3 legs of the journey on different airlines. In Bombay she is told by Swiss Airlines that the computer shows that she has already flown the flight which has yet to take off. How ridiculous does this sound? Luckily she was with her parents, but they were forced to buy a ticket for that part of the journey even though they had already paid for it. So in this case this was a total failure of making the situation human.
An experience that was nice was when I was flying back to DC on SouthWest and realized that I had made a mistake and my return flight was to Dulles instead of Baltimore where I had parked my car to take the flight in. Thinking about the horror of trying to get to Baltimore from the Washington Dulles Airport and the time I would waste making the journey, I approached the SouthWest counterÂ and the lady listened to my story, called a supervisor and changed my booking to Baltimore and did not charge me for it. I will always remember SouthWest fondly. I could give you countless examples – the ticket counter at Silja Line in Helsinki where to my horror I had booked a cruise the next day and had no hotel and they changed the booking without any fuss. The lady at the London Eye in the UK who agreed to let us take an earlier ride.
Humans have a good memory for both good and bad experiences. The importantÂ thing to remember for companies when things happen is to “humanize” the situation immediately. Worry about the Human in front of you and how to help them rather than your computer that gives you an impossible answer.
Rule No 3: How to retain your customer even if you disagree with them.
A conversation with a customer should never be carried to an extreme. I fought my insurance company all the way to the State Attorney’s office and I lost. YetÂ I still am a customer and think they provide the best customer service insurance companies can provide. I disagreed on a rate increase that I thought was not justified and the company stood its ground but always kept me in the loop, listened to me patiently looked for other ways to help me reduce my bill. All this comes from a inbuilt spirit within companies to help the customer and not engaging in a conflict that leaves the customer unsatisfied.
As your business grows , think about your customers as members of your friendly neighborhood. Think of them as humans first and not as 140 characters or bytes in an email. Your business will flourish when you “humanize” it.
What do you think? Do you have any tips for businesses to humanize themselves?