Lessons in “Goodwill” and the power of people

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Maya Angelou

Image Credit: Pinterest.com

Customer experience continues to be a hot topic in retail. It is intriguing how much debate continues to focus on what customer experience is, and how to achieve it. From a process point of view, technology can certainly take the “pain out” and streamline interactions for customers. Yet, when you talk with customers, there is something more. Something much deeper. Customers often describe their best experiences in terms of how they “felt”. More specifically, they often describe how people make them feel comfortable and supported. We remember experiences based on a foundation of “goodwill” creating positive feelings.

Why this is important: Goodwill is more than intent. Goodwill is an outcome of a culture focused on benevolence and support. Goodwill is the foundation of customer experience that affects satisfaction, loyalty and ultimately revenue.

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Goodwill has the power transform attitudes in any setting

While I enjoy working abroad, one of my most dreaded experiences is clearing passport control upon arrival. In a recent journey, I waited in cue 2 hours at Heathrow airport with hundreds of other Non-EU citizens. I especially felt the pain of non-English speakers. When they tried to ask questions most staff merely pointed to signs, which course were in English. The best description of the experience was feeling like “cattle in a chute”. Nor is Heathrow the only airport with this dreadful, dehumanizing experience. Unfortunately, some of the US airports are much like Heathrow, with long lines and staff who are “just doing their jobs”.

However, on my recent international arrival at Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, experiencing the “goodwill” from the staff was unique and dramatic. Staff did not wait for passengers to cue. They went down the hall greeting and welcoming them to the USA! For anyone looking confused, staff approached and even walked them over to where they needed to be. The passport control officers made the time to greet you by name and ask you something about your journey.

Instead of feeling like a number in line, the staff created “goodwill” that completely changed everyone’s attitudes. I even heard a passenger comment – “Well that was different … very refreshing”. I do not know who is responsible, but the goodwill at Atlanta passport control was not an accident. It clearly was by design that made all the difference in creating a positive experience for all passengers after a 16-hour flight from Johannesburg.

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Power of the people and goodwill at Goodwill Stores

Most in the USA know Goodwill Industries for their “stores”. Goodwill is a non-profit that takes in donations to resell second hand merchandise at bargain prices. Their locations are both stores selling merchandise and receiving centers for donations.

As I downsize my life, I have made many recent trips to my local Goodwill to donate items no longer needed. Frankly, it used to be a “pain” where you had to carry your stuff in yourself. Goodwill now has an unloading drive-up where staff greet you and help unload your items. Staff make you feel welcome. They have thanked me every trip for making the time to donate. The staff eschew the essence of Goodwill by making you feel positive about your donations and making a difference.

A recent FierceRetail article highlighted the “power of people” in Goodwill stores. Goodwill of Southeastern Wisconsin revamped its approach to staffing, placing more associates during peak periods to make them available for assistance. The staff on the floor became more than shelf stockers. They changed the customer experience and sales rose over 3%. A “culture” of making customers feel differently about their experience changes attitudes and results.

Goodwill insights for all retailers and any organization

Goodwill is not a process or event. It is not dependent upon technology. Goodwill is not a program or training specifically focused on sales, or even customer satisfaction. Goodwill is a relationship foundation built on positive feelings directed at helping customers. In essence, it boils down to staff treating customers as they would want to be treated – with genuine kindness and positive support.

Goodwill is both a catalyst and outcome of customer experience. To be lasting requires:

  • Leadership – Goodwill flows from the top leaders as a way of doing business
  • Culture – Goodwill is not a formula, but rather embedded in organization values
  • Customer Centric – Focused on genuine customer relationships and support

Goodwill is quite literally the cultural foundation of positively interacting with customers in ways where they will remember how they felt when personally served and respected. Maybe so many retailers are still struggling with “customer experience” because they are trying to prescribe it rather than live it.

When and where is the last time you had an extraordinary experience? In the words of Maya Angelou, you may not remember what they said or all the things they did, but you will most definitely remember goodwill and how it felt. And, you will most likely return again because of how you felt.

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