Recently, HBR posted an article entitled Why Is it So Hard to Be Kind? It’s one of those obvious posts that tells an almost apocryphal tale of a customer service situation that is so mind-numbingly obvious and so clearly wrong, that the real question might be about the sanity of some people.

It happened like this; the author, on his father’s 75th birthday, decided to treat Dad to a new Cadillac. As a long-term customer of the dealership, said father had a $1,000 loyalty-discount offer. Despite the offer having recently expired (less than 24 hours prior to their visit), Dad was told that the discount wouldn’t be honored. The justification? Same as we’ve heard a million times before “them’s the rules.” So, Dad cruised on over to a Buick dealership, told him his woes with Cadillac, and guess what? They honored the certificate without so much as a “I need to check with my manager first.”

There are some customer retention lessons to be learned from this.

#1 – As soon as you do something (or omit to do something) that ends up encouraging your customer to look elsewhere, you’ve lost most of the “stickiness” you might have had.

Given that this tale is apocryphal, it’s unsurprising that father and son decided to take a look at a Buick dealer to compare. Needless to say, the Buick dealer, despite having no obligation to honor the offer, realized that doing so was a smart customer move and agreed to take $1000 off whatever final price negotiations determined.

#2 – Customers rule your world. Investing in them is a smart move.

Seeing that the father in this story was an older person and understanding that older people take time to feel comfortable with certain decisions, the Buick dealer invited the father to take the vehicle home for the weekend to really get comfortable with it.

#3 – Making it easier for customers to make decisions is important.

In a chain of events that makes this story sound like it was scripted for a customer service post, the father was rushed to hospital on the Monday following his test-drive weekend and, worried about the car still in his garage, called the dealer. Said dealer scored 10/10 when told Dad not to worry about the car, arranged to have it picked up, and even sent a bunch of flowers the next day to the hospital.

#4 – Going out of your way for a customer is likely to lead to them going out of their way for you.

Of course the father bought the Buick (duh!) and is likely to be a lifelong customer of the dealership that sold it to him. But more important than that is the simple equation we can run. The return on investment for the Buick dealer – a bunch of flowers and a phone call in order to gain a committed customer for life is pretty darn good. But think about that ROI on a broader scale – many times a gesture of kindness may not lead to a direct positive benefit for a business. But customer service, and by extension customer retention, is a direct result of a culture and, as an old boss of mine used to say “the way we do things around here.” Customers aren’t stupid, they can sense faux-service from a mile, the only service that reaps real benefits is genuine service.

So that draws us to:

#5 – Being genuinely nice to customers as a culture rather than on occasion, will benefit your business, now and into the future.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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