Are you and the people on your team driven more by job descriptions, policies, and systems—or by the urge to enrich lives?
Sometimes the dogged search for efficiency can come at the expense of generosity. In pursuit of efficiency, some organizations end up annoying their customers by making them wait for service. A basic principle of generosity is sensitivity to hassles and time-wasters.
Now, generosity is not all about giving away freebies—it’s just as much about giving the customer some relief. For most of us, life is busy, hectic, and often highly stressful. What can we do to reduce, rather than add to, the customer’s stress levels?
Most of us don’t wake up each morning wondering how we can be more generous. But if we want loyal customers, that’s what we should do. The opposite question should also be on our minds: What is preventing us from being generous?
Probably the biggest barrier to generosity is fear. Being generous can be risky. Customers might want more of our time and resources than we can give and still stay in business. Team members might demand more than their contribution justifies.
But it’s our experience that customers rarely demand more than you can reasonably give. They don’t usually expect you to go to great lengths for them. In fact, a generous act can be as simple as opening a door, answering the phone on the first ring, or cutting back on the hassle of making a change. Generosity definitely needs to become the focus on the frontline. We need to know what generosity looks like—and what it doesn’t.
Lack of Generosity (or Scarcity Thinking)
In an organization, where does the scarcity mindset come from? To a great degree, it derives from management behavior. If the manager makes things like praise, recognition, rewards, training, communication, input, and feedback scarce, then fear and selfishness rule, as the team members jockey for the few crumbs available to them.
But if the manager is kind and generous with time, praise, wisdom, and input, the mindset of the team will trend toward generosity. In the end, generosity is a character issue—a mindset of abundance, rather than scarcity.
Generous leaders are always thinking of what could be done for customers that’s never been done before. They look past policies and systems to do what’s best for customers.
Any of the practices in Leading Loyalty, when overdone, can backfire and erode loyalty. Generosity is no exception, as Sandy Rogers experienced first-hand:
One day, a renter showed up at one of our car rental branches. The rep noticed that the man’s driver license had expired, so he couldn’t legally rent the car. Our rep generously took the customer to the DMV to renew his license. That was great for this customer, but terrible for the ten other customers who came into the branch while our employee was at the DMV. It led to a coaching conversation with him about “balance."
So we shouldn’t be foolish about it. Nevertheless, the general rule should always be to do what’s right for the customer. Some rules are primary—like treating people with generosity (and empathy)—and others are secondary, like requiring a receipt with a returned purchase. This is a principle that is lost on many companies and especially large ones.
We can see you throwing up your hands and saying, “So am I supposed to follow company rules or not?” Our advice to you is the same that legendary New York restaurateur Danny Meyer gave to his team: “Err on the side of generosity. Apologize and make sure the value of the redemption is worth more than the cost of the initial mistake.” If you want loyal customers, generosity comes first—everything else is secondary.
Leading Your Team
If we focus on practicing this generosity principle of loyalty, it becomes a habit and more natural to us. Here are a few tips that can help:
Ask yourself, “Am I a generous person?” Decide what kind of person you want to be. Do you have a mindset of abundance or scarcity? Do you feel comfortable sharing credit for success, or do you take the credit yourself?
Look for “relief” opportunities. Question the entire process your customers go through. Where can you make things easier for the customer and the team member? At what points can you simplify the customer experience? Where are you forcing them to wait? A powerful way to earn loyalty is to make it easy for customers to do business with you.
Err on the side of generosity. Customer-facing employees make decisions every day about whether or not to give customers the benefit of the doubt. A customer might ask to return a product when it’s not your policy to accept returns. Empower your employees to use their judgment.
Generous leaders give the best they can to their teams—sensitive feedback, training, encouragement, little surprises. Generosity doesn’t always mean handing out goodies; it often means communicating to your team that you value their ideas and contributions.
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