The ROI on Kindness

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May your children die a horrible death!” screamed the disheveled passenger at the TSA agent at Chicago O’Hare airport last week.  I guess he was upset that he could not go down the TSA PreCheck line, since he…well…did not apparently register and/or qualify for the program.  The TSA agent was an older thin woman who smiled weakly, mumbled an apology then shook her head in disgust.

Angry Man!

Angry Man!



I was literally dumbstruck, as were many around me.  Before anyone could take action he stormed off to some other line to likely abuse some other hapless service worker.

Ok, we all have bad days, but these people have very difficult jobs.  Definitely not cool.

I guess we in the Customer Experience world get in the habit of talking about how we need to improve the customer experience through training, process, better technology, and so forth.   All these tools are very important to improving the customer experience, but there is another aspect we don’t talk about very much.  The customer.

The “service encounter” is in fact a relationship.  As with any relationship, there are two sides.  And as with any successful relationship there must be value exchanged for it to be sustaining.

A modern idiom of this notion can be seen in “what comes around goes around” which is, in essence, the ancient concept of karma.  Another more agrarian philosophy being “you reap what you sow” which also has very ancient roots.  There’s even scientific evidence that following this creed ensures the survival of the group or even the species.

So this appears to be a central human tenant.  Be kind to others and they will be kind to you.  What in the world does this have to do with Customer Experience?  Everything.

Perhaps we should be figuring out ways to encourage customers treat employees well?

Wild?  Perhaps.  But imagine a world where customers treated TSA workers, burger flippers, cab drivers, hotel clerks, grocery store checkers, and others in the service industry with kindness and dignity.  Do you think they will be happier at work?  Do you think they will return the favor?  Sure not always, but I think it would help a great deal.  Rather than a downward spiral of disappointment and frustration, this virtuous cycle of “paying it forward” has no upper bound.



I agree with Bob Thompson from CustomerThink  in his position that we in the CXM space are in a very human business.  So, if you buy into the virtuous cycle concept as going part of the way in improving the state of the industry, then we should think about the things we do for customers that would encourage them to treat employees better too.  Can we set up reward programs such as you see in some “spot recognition” reward programs?  Can we personalize the experience so customers are dealing with employees they know on a first name basis?  Can we go further in personalizing the experience than just printing where the agent is from on her name tag?  Can we set the tone by creating Servicescapes that encourage communication and ease of mind?  Can we even create consumer incentives to be nice by rewarding great service?  Sounds wild, but I wonder if it might do some good.  It does happen today in places.

Being nice certainly wouldn’t hurt.  So go out there and do something nice for the gal who made your latte this morning.  It won’t cost you much and you might be surprised by the return on investment.

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