When you make decisions that respect and honor customers, you will earn their admiration and, eventually, their love. Then customers will begin to grow your business for you.
When customers love you, they'll not merely turn to you when a particular product or service is needed, but they'll turn to you first, regardless of the competition. They will tell your story, forming an army of cheerleaders by urging friends, neighbors, colleagues, even strangers.
At Yelp, Facebook, Epinions, Twitter, chat rooms, and hundreds of other websites that give customers a forum for their opinions on their experience with companies, people are not bashful about describing how they feel when they are treated well.
Customers who love you won't be able to stop raving about you. But you need to earn the right to their story first.
Rather than giving a one-size-fits-all solution (because there isn't one), my goal is to encourage you to evaluate how you make decisions in five categories.
That evaluation will help you understand what you are telling customers every day—via the actions that come from your decisions—about who you are and what you value. And it will help you correct your course, if it needs correction.
Here are the five decisions that beloved companies make that set them apart and earn them the right to their customers' stories, as well as business growth and prosperity.
Decision 1: Beloved companies decide to believe
"We trust our customers. We trust those who serve them."
Within beloved companies, the people there decide to believe. By deciding to trust customers, they are freed from extra rules, policies, and layers of bureaucracy that create a barrier between them and their customers.
And they decide to believe that employees can and will do the right thing. Second-guessing, reviewing every action, and diminishing the ability of employees to think on their feet is replaced with shared energy and a desire to stick around.
In my book I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad (Portfolio Hardcover, 2009), 45 case studies examine, in-depth, how those decisions are made within beloved companies. After each case study is a series of questions to help you evaluate how you make the same type of decision inside your organization.
Here are a few of the questions to evaluate how you decide to believe:
Decision 2: Beloved companies decide with clarity of purpose
"Our ironclad integrity and clarity guides the direction of our decisions."
Beloved companies take the time to be clear about what their unique promise is for their customers' lives. When making decisions, they align to this purpose, to this promise.
Clarity of purpose guides choices and unites the organization. It elevates people from executing tasks to delivering experiences that customers will want to repeat and tell others about.
Here are a few questions to help you evaluate how clarity of purpose guides your decisions:
Decision 3: Beloved companies decide to be real
"We have a spirited soul, humanity in our touch, and personality that's all ours."
Beloved companies shed their fancy packaging and break down the barriers between "big company, little customer." The relationship is between people who share the same values and revel in each others' foibles, quirks, and spirit.
Only companies that really know what they are and what they stand for can be "real." They decide to create a safe place where the personality and creativity of people come through. They are beloved by customers who gravitate to their particular brand of personality.
Here are a few questions to help you evaluate how being real guides your decisions:
Decision 4: Beloved companies decide to be there
"We must earn the right to our continued relationship with customers."
It's an everyday charge up the hill to be there for customers in the ways that are important to them. And it takes its toll, because deciding to be there requires more resources and more work.
Beloved companies gladly do the hard work. They're in the scrimmage every day to constantly earn the right to their continued relationships with customers. They work every day to defend their decisions because they know that with each experience they must earn the right for the customer to return. That starts with deciding to be there when customers need them, on customers' terms.
Decision 5: Beloved companies decide to say sorry
"We act with humility when things go wrong. We will make it right."
How a company reacts to adversity reflects an organization's humanity and shows its true colors more than almost any situation it might encounter.
Grace and wisdom guide decisions to accept accountability when things go wrong. Apologizing well and repairing the emotional connection with customers is a hallmark of companies we love. In fact, it makes us love them more.
How a company makes decisions to explain, react, remove the pain, and take accountability for actions loudly and clearly gives an indication to the collective "heart" of the organization.
For beloved companies, making decisions is how they enable "wow" moments in a "vanilla" world of customer experience. What draws us to people in our lives are the commonalities that we have with one another, or "Golden Rule behaviors," as Colleen Barrett, president emeritus of Southwest Airlines, calls them.
Are customers telling your story?
What story is emerging about who you are and what you value?
Beloved companies work hard every day to resist the pull of "normal" business practices to create a powerful human connection with their customers.
Love is irrational. Customer love is a reward for what some consider irrational business behavior. Companies that grow because of their bonds with customers do so because they aren't always looking over their shoulder at what each decision will get them.
In a world where products and services are available in hundreds of variations, such companies get a disproportionate piece of the pie because of how they decide to treat their customers and employees.
When you make decisions that honor your employees and customers, they will tell your story for you. They will grow your business for you.
So make a choice. Decide. With each shipment, with each sales call and support contact, decide how you want to be described in the marketplace. Then decide to take the actions to earn that rave.
Earn your customers' business by deciding how you will run yours.