Why your brand needs a heart.

For years I’ve been fascinated at how communication can effect organizations, inside and out. Consider the last time you went to an establishment where you were purchasing a product or using a service. How were you greeted? Did you feel a sense of belonging, did associates make you feel welcome and/or comfortable?

Photograph: jess-sanson/Flickr/CC
Photograph: jess-sanson/Flickr/CC

Our family went bowling recently. We had never been to this bowling alley, so I had zero expectations. We walked in and up to the counter where two gentlemen were waiting, and I said hello. The older gentleman followed with a solemn hello and proceeded to gaze at us with a “well, what will it be?” stare. Needless to say, the feelings of “welcome” or “comfort”, were not at the top of the list.

{Sidebar: Okay, so I need to give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean he’s managing a rotating used shoe stand on a Saturday afternoon…}

This experience happened on the heels of an article I read titled, “It’s Time To Get Real: Humanize Your Brand“. In the article one of the terms used was “Brand Humanization”. This is a term used to define how a brand can develop more “human” characteristics.

Um, am I missing something here? When did organizations start implementing the “Tin Man” strategy? Like the woodsman, it seems we have forgotten to give our associates a heart.

“I can barely hear my heart beating!” – Tin Man

Let me put your mind at ease. I don’t believe this challenge requires a new fandagled “brand humanization” process. It simply takes leaders, managers and individuals who are willing to get emotional. So let’s press the reset button and highlight just a few ways we can help the Tin Man find his heart.

Emotion is a competitive advantage: There was an article written by Olivia McIvor in a medical tech journal many years ago titled “The Business of Kindness – Building Leadership Character Traits”. In it Olivia describes a simple concept that could transform our businesses;

“Kindness in business is simple. Always remember before you speak or take any action, ask yourself three imperative questions; Is it truthful? Is it necessary? And above all, is it kind?” – Olivia McIvor

Business is a funny thing. We develop strategies to effectively operationalize our workflows, we implement processes to optimize our go to market goals. But so many leaders leave out the most important part of running them; that people are what bring it all to life. And what better way to impact your associates and customers, than to understand how “they” operate. The Tin Man needed oil to keep moving, we need emotion.

Photograph: © Wizard of Oz/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Photograph: © Wizard of Oz/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Associates are not made of metal: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible organizations over the last 15 years. Fortune 100 and 500 companies alike. Every business that desires growth, develops continuity. The goal is to ensure that each customer has the very same experience with the business, products and/or services. But creating systems and processes can leave your associates feeling lifeless. If we replaced the “10 steps to delivering great customers service”, with the vision of “delighting the customer”, I think we’d be well on our way to having more human interactions. This approach requires trust to be sure, but with the proper guidance, enabling your associates to have their hands on the drivers of change will empower them to make decisions that come from the heart.

Relationships are human: Relationship is key to the business model. For years, conducting business has been relegated to performing “transactions”. This is where many businesses miss out on a huge opportunity. Organizations are made up of people. Customers are people. So where has the relationship gone? A transaction is the act of buying or selling. But a relationship is a “connection”. It has meaning and purpose. It is a bond that goes beyond a product or service. When we remove the emotional nature of business from our interactions, we take away one of the most important elements of business. The relationship.

“When we remove the emotional nature of business from our interactions, we take away one of the most important elements of business. The relationship.”

But this relationship goes both ways doesn’t it? As customers, we are an equal part to the equation. I firmly believe it is our responsibility to not simply request service that is full of heart, but to reciprocate it. In the face of a difficult customer experience, what is our response? Do we diffuse the situation or fan the flame? It’s a two way street.

The good news is that our bowling alley experience didn’t end at the front counter. We had planned on ordering a pizza but when I asked the kind woman behind the counter how long it would take, realized that it would not be ready in time for us to eat it. Five minutes later, the same woman came to our lane with a pizza that had not been prepared correctly for another customer and they were going to toss it. She offered it to us, and we gladly accepted.

At that moment the bowling alley became “human”. Instead of following a procedure or process, the woman acted on an human instinct and created an incredible impression on our experience, and stomachs.

Homework: I’d like to offer the challenge posed by Olivia in her article. “…in the next 48 hours, stand up for an ideal, and send forth a tiny ripple of hope. Commit an act of kindness and participate in transforming the world…” by being human.

What do you think? What are some other ways we can add heart back to into our brand experiences? Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter.

We all need each other.

There has been so much coverage about the Ebola outbreak that I doubt one more blog post will provide any additional clarity or answers, but I think this needs to be said.

We all need each other.

Just this week, we’ve read stories about two nurses who have come down with the virus, and the outcry from many has been everything from the lack of protocol that was followed, or how they did not take necessary precautions, etc. And while I think we all agree that processes need to be in place to ensure that everyone is protected from a pandemic, we have a tendency to rush to judgement and forget that we are talking about people.

Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

NEWS FLASH: We are not infallible, we are human. It’s because of this very fact that we need each other. This is true in every aspect of life. Sports teams don’t win without teammates, businesses don’t deliver without coworkers and communities don’t stay healthy without healthcare workers.

For what it’s worth, I wanted to take a moment for us to consider a few ways we can talk about the issues that concern us in a manner that respects everyone involved.

• Public condemnation doesn’t solve problems. Solutions do. Listen. I get it. We all make mistakes, and some can be pretty colossal. But instead of resorting to public ridicule, we should offer solutions that will move us all forward. It’s easy to criticize from the sideline, it’s much harder to be in the game. We should be grateful our “I need a do-over” moments don’t end up as trending topics on Twitter for the entire world to see. We really need to see more of this;

• Remember The Golden Rule. Have we forgotten this little gem? “Treat others as you would like to be treated”. It’s such a simple and powerful reminder for how we should engage one another. Our rants are not likely to make the kind of impact that change political policy. We’ve all seen this friendly reminder;

• If we care, let’s say it. At the end of the day, we’re providing our commentary because we care. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t. Right? However, when we show that we “care”, the very word should invoke a sense of treating others with a certain concern or protection. Some would call that empathy. What does that look like? Exhibit A;

• Wrap your criticism. Some of the best critiques I ever experienced in college were the ones that included criticism wrapped in positive comments. It’s been referred to as the “feedback sandwich”. If we truly have something constructive to say, let’s wrap those pearls of wisdom with some positive, encouraging words. Trust me, if it’s authentic, it works.

• Realize we all have a heartbeat. Our lives are, and will continue to be, intertwined with people. We will continue to work with, play sports with and live life with…people. Let’s try extending grace to those we don’t understand, encourage those who’ve made mistakes and ultimately be the kind of culture that builds bridges instead of burning them.

What would it look like if we put these into practice? Let’s do it. Let’s see what happens. I guarantee you will see positive results. Did someone make a mistake? Encourage them. See a problem that needs fixed? Offer a solution. Have a critique? Wrap it with some TLC.

And to Nina Pham and Amber Vinson? You are the very nurses we should all want taking care of us. You think of others before yourself, exemplifying qualities that we should all be representing to each other everyday. We’re praying for your quick recovery.

Have some thoughts on the matter? Comments are free of charge.