Kindness to Customers: Let Them Go!

A simple word of advice to businesses: when customers want to leave, let them go. A kind approach to service may just bring them back one day.

We hear the customer stories again and again–a customer attempts to cancel a subscription or service, only to face endless runaround. On a good day, a business may counter with an offer reduce price, add features, or include some other kind of premium. On a bad day, the business manipulates, threatens, and ultimately punishes the customer for leaving.

I personally experienced the bad-day scenario this week. I had a monthly subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, for incidental use of Photoshop. I realized I don’t have much need for it anymore, so I tried to cancel. I logged into my account page, which offered an explicit “Cancel” button. “Easy,” I thought. Until I tried it. The button created a popup telling me I had to contact customer service, with a link to do so. I clicked the link and got to an online form. I had to answer questions about what I wanted. I selected the option for canceling my account, and got to a dead-end, because you’re supposed to cancel accounts using the cancel feature on your account page. I went through this loop one more time, and same result. Great…

After a bit of hunting, I found a link to open a chat with customer support. The session began and I told the service rep what I needed to do. He started to explain how I can do it myself, and I told him it didn’t work. He checked and told me that the monthly account actually comes with an annual commitment.

Me: What are my options then? Are you telling me I actually can’t cancel this?
Adobe: Yes, please allow me a moment.
Adobe: If you are willing to continue your annual membership for the next year too, I can get you one month free of your annual Creative Cloud membership in order to save one months of subscription fee and you will not be charge for the next one payment.

I started hitting those keys for my next response a lot harder. He had just told me I cannot cancel my account at all, and tried to upsell me to an annual membership for an additional year. I honestly lost my cool a bit. His fumbling around through an unkind company policy triggered a bit of unkindness in me as well. Having him respond “May I know when did I say that you cannot cancel your subscription ?” put me over the limit, and I admit I got a bit nasty. I pasted his answer back at him, and added “I can cut and paste. Don’t play games.” He then shared a link describing their policies to me, pages of small print and legalese. I probably had agreed to those terms when I signed up, but using arcane, obfuscating terms to hold on to customers just creates anger.

After increasingly tense negotiation, and after I found the early termination language, I insisted that we proceed, and they fulfilled my request. But at what cost? An infuriated customer, who will never do business with them again, and who is more than happy to tell his story.

But why am I telling a story about losing my temper on a blog about kindness? I think businesses can do better, and easily. They can focus on delighting customers, not holding them captive. This is a kind approach to service and retention.

  1. Ask customers why they want to go.
  2. If you have an easy way to address that reason, offer it.
  3. If you don’t have a way to address it, ask if there’s anything you can do to keep their business.
  4. If the answer is no, let them go.

Adobe extorted a mere $15 in revenue from me, as I had only three months left to my invisible indenture to their terms. The price of that $15? A lifetime non-customer who absolutely would have resubscribed when the need arose, but who now is willing to share the story publicly and make sure others think carefully before subscribing to any of Adobe’s lock-in cloud services. A kinder approach would have created so much more value for them in the long run.

Kind Business, Kind Results: TEALarbor Stories

Jennifer Wilhoit, founder of TEALarbor stories, focuses on listening and writing as instances of kind action within an ecological mindset. By helping people learn how to find and tell their stories, she helps them unlock their self-compassion. I firmly believe that self-compassion unlocks our ability to practice kindness and greater levels with greater impact. I feel so honored to have met this fellow kindness practitioner as a co-instructor for The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. Later this year, she will teach a course entitled “Compassion: Growing Tenderness for Self and Other via Writing and Ecology.” You’ll learn more about it just by hearing her present it in her own words, and, taking a page from her wonderful thinking, after you’ve read it, promise yourself you’ll go out and take in the beauty of nature around you.

How do you see writing and listening contributing to kinder interactions between people? 

My business, TEALarbor stories, aims to compassionately support people as they discover their deepest stories; these might be in written form, spoken aloud in natural landscapes, involve difficult life transitions, or are focused around conflict. Writing offers individuals an opportunity to express themselves differently. Taking the time to journal, for example, people discover a voice that is wise and compassionate within themselves. The writing page doesn’t judge; it simply holds. Writing our truth on the page frees, opens, and heals us; this is a precursor to kindness. 

“Deep listening” is more than just presence with the auditory sense organ. It mandates a heart opening to “other.” I listen with my heart, in kindness, dropping judgment. Sometimes deep listening means sitting in silence with somebody, being a quiet presence to bear witness to and hold someone’s pain.

When we truly listen to another person, from our heart, we see how connected we are; we find our shared humanity. Listening from the wisdom of our hearts and releasing our desire to fix or change someone else are perhaps the greatest gifts we can give each other. Writing and listening are kind acts when we drop our agenda and graciously accept what’s being conveyed.

I notice many people stifle their voices because they criticize themselves so harshly. How can self-compassion help people break that silence? 

I spend the bulk of my time with my clients teaching them how to release self-judgment. One of my hallmark practices is called “scrap” – this doesn’t magically make the harsh, critical, tenacious inner voices go away forever, but it can help us to put them aside for now – at least during the (writing) session. Once clients engage this practice a few times, their natural instinct is to go to self-love, self-compassion.

I also encourage people to let go of their prescribed notion of outcome, especially when they are first beginning their writing project or healing process. It takes huge “courage” (being afraid and doing it anyway) to write a memoir, proceed with a rigorous scholarly paper, to shift something within so that we can move out of protracted conflict, to become restored to a new sense of wholeness after loss, or to open in stillness to what nature has to teach us. So I guide people to trust their own inner wisdom.

I think modeling compassion toward others is another really powerful way we can facilitate someone else’s move toward self-compassion. I often offer clients a short, positive mantra that they can repeat. Clients have come back to me and said, “I kept hearing your voice saying that loving phrase and I was reminded that I do deserve to love, be kind and gentle to, myself.” We practice compassion toward others, show how we can be compassionate with ourselves, and offer simple ways others can do the same for themselves. These are silence-breakers; people cannot not write once they’ve released themselves into the deep waters of self-compassion.

What is the role of nature and ecological thinking in your philosophy of kindness? 

We are nature.

When we look at the natural world around us – how the trees don’t complain when their leaves dry and the wind blows them off and the icy winter covers their limbs – we can see that our lives are beautifully interwoven with nature. The flora and fauna, the landscapes, the oceans, earthquakes, or volcanoes don’t hate or love. They just are. They do as their nature dictates. Trees stand rooted, soak up sunlight, shed leaves to conserve energy in winter, flower again in the springtime. That’s just what they do.

We humans also have a nature: human nature. The more we spend time in natural areas, find strength, inspiration, solitude and quiet, learn about what is around us in the outdoors, the more we find those things within ourselves. For nature mirrors us.

My work, my writing, my spiritual life, my leisure revolve around what I call “the inner/outer landscape.” We are inextricably interconnected with the natural world. And the more we can foster gratitude for our lives, our presence on this sumptuous planet, the gift of breath moving in and out of our lungs, sunlight and moonrises, the more we will replenish and be able to give of ourselves to others in love and tenderness. I believe this is what kindness is…at its most genuine core: kindness is gentle, compassionate, and natural.

Keep this thinking in mind whenever you feel you need a kindness reset, or when you want to unlock your own stories, your writing, your thoughts, or your feelings. You may find the key as close by as the nearest patch of open grass you can see or the next birdsong you can hear.

10 Principles For Kind Marketing

As a kindness practitioner and professional marketer, I think often about whether the materials and messages that I put out into the world follow kind principles. Any time we take our audiences’ time and attention, we tap into a limited resource, perhaps even more so in a world where every brand wants its customers to engage as well as to buy. We can even look at the modern marketer’s engagement imperative as an ecological problem, where we compete for, and ultimately affect, limited resources of emotion and cognition. Prospects and customers have to divide these resources in smaller and smaller slices to accommodate all the demands placed on them by brands and, more important, by their lives.

From this perspective, marketing seems inherently unkind, if we look with compassion at the cluttered lives most people lead. But the following ten principles for kind marketers can help us shift to a better way of contributing to the lives of our marketing audiences.

  1. Tell your truth: Before anything else, to practice kind marketing, you must believe in the value of what you are promoting. You cannot compromise on authenticity. If you work in an internal marketing department for a company you don’t believe in, then leave. If you work in an agency, take only the projects that align to your truth. If the product, service, or messages you promote do not increase the well-being of the world and of people in it, allow yourself the courage of moving on. While it may seem scary, it ultimately plays out to your benefit. The income comes back as you make yourself a stronger, truer marketer. I have left lucrative employers and then later clients, at the risk of short term pain, but not once do I look back and regret it.
  2. Seek first to enrich, and only then to engage: The marketing collateral you produce, from a simple tweet to a website, brochure, or video, should bring something more to your audiences than just a call-to-action. Kind marketers stand behind collateral that genuinely makes lives better. Stir up the audience’s kindness, appeal to their best emotions and selves, entertain them, or educate them. For example, in my recent work with a healthcare company, we directed all of our efforts to helping patients focus on wellness. While we do intend to increase business through use of the services we market, we put wellness first, then create experiences that allow patients to engage more directly in their own healthcare. Only then, do we guide them to the care and services they need.
  3. Put empathy first in your marketing plans: All good design thinking begins with activities that focus on empathizing with the customer. As a kind marketer, put yourselves in those customers’ shoes to understand how they use your products and services, and what matters most to them. That empathy should drive the content of your marketing and set the priorities for your marketing plan. In addition, you can empathize with your audience beyond their role as customers. If one of your audience segments is working single mothers, for example, think mindfully of the pressures on their time and attention before you start making demands on it. Not only does this reflect kindness, but also it increases your chances to connect with them on the basis of something they will need and buy.
  4. Give customers just what they need, and no more: The low cost and relative ease of email marketing offers many temptations to marketers. Speaking from my own experience, I can think of several companies from whom I’ve made an initial purchase, only to regret giving them my business. Why? I enjoyed the product, but I did not expect multiple emails a day about every promotion and offer they might have. Much better to allow shoppers to opt in, at the time of purchase, and to specify their desired frequency of communication. To give a more positive example, one of my favorite online apparel companies sends me a discount or free shipping promotion along with anything they ship to me. I only see the one promotion, at the moment when I am opening a package and I am most excited about being their customer. That’s kind AND smart.
  5. Release only the best collateral: We all work within limited budgets, but we can create quality collateral even at low cost when we drive ourselves to produce the best. When cost matters, dozens of sites now exist where we can acquire good stock photography, video, or audio. We can hire professional voice or on-camera talent for individual jobs. We can always make sure that our copy does not contain grammatical errors, logical errors, or inelegant style. When cost matters less, we can really push ourselves to meet the standards of an artist rather than a hack. Neither style nor substance depend on budgeting, if you put the full force of your commitment to quality to the collateral that you release into the world.
  6. Open a dialogue: You may not directly interact with your audience, unless your efforts include social media, but kind marketers always find ways to treat marketing as a conversation. Tactics can include well-known tools such as Voice of the Customer surveys, focus groups, or Net Promoter. But tools alone may not suffice. As a marketer, you can make a mental shift by treating everything you do as part of the possible conversation between yourself, your product, and your audiences. You can listen to the way your friends and family talk about similar products, or how they react to various ads and promotions. You can watch what people do on social media, even how they move through stores, interact with products, and make buying decisions. As a kind marketer, you find the entire world becoming part of your conversation.
  7. Work with others: Going it alone can result in unfortunate missteps. I know this from my own experiences, at the beginning of my career, where my passion for writing and my background of a recently completed PhD could very easily sway me into arrogance. It only takes a few sessions with product teams or with end consumers to realize that you do no one any favors by talking over their heads or speaking in an essentially private language. I also vividly remember, when in the role of a team director, I had to break the bad news to a web designer. “Those are swastikas,” I pointed out. Having creative talent may feel that talent gives us permission to go rogue, but we ultimately must remember that we don’t see our own blind spots. A team of trusted colleagues and stakeholders helps us make the shift from arrogance, or even offensiveness, to kindness.
  8. Own what you produce: Even as part of an extended team of peers, stakeholders, customers, the more you connect with the products and services you market, and the more you take ownership of the work you do, the more you can imbue them with your own deepest commitments to the world at large, including kindness. When I speak about ownership, I mean the feeling of finding and committing to what matters most, rather than keeping things to yourself. That feeling keeps you from slipping into alienation, where you begin to make compromises because “it’s ‘just’ my job,” or “it’s ‘just’ the client.” Alienation, in turn, leads through inauthenticity even as far as to lies and ethical lapses. When you remain mindful that “I am doing this” and “I am saying this,” even though it’s on behalf of something else, you escape that negative loop and enter a positive loop of marketing kindness instead.
  9. Promote sane consumption: As marketers, we don’t do our work in isolation. We operate against a background of constant consumerism, where brands push people to seek “bigger, better, and more.” Marketers can go a long way by triggering acquisitiveness and status anxiety, but that long way is the wrong way. “The overall effect of advertising is to stimulate the craving for consumption,” as Erich Fromm describes it in his masterful To Have or To Be (essential reading for kind marketers with a philosophical bent). In a world of limited natural resources and in the face of a distressed environment, we can focus our messaging on giving people choices to actualize themselves and increase their well-being, rather than buying and wasting more. For example, in the case of an educational product, rather than focusing on the anxieties of potential students, we focused on unlocking potential and on long-term life outcomes, with much better results than a fear-and-doubt based consumerism.
  10. Improve the world: Finally, without inflating the importance of marketing in the grand scheme of the world, we still must realize that what we do pervades almost everything in the modern world. Researchers place the number of brand exposures we experience each day in the thousands (including not just commercial but ambient messaging in the streets, on store shelves, online, etc.). By acting as kindness practitioners, by reflecting that kindness in the content of the collateral we put into this mix of constant brand exposures, and by actively promoting the connection between what we market and our customers’ richer, more deeply engaged and compassionate lives, we can change the underlying tone of this branded economic environment. We can do this with the images we choose, the attributes we highlight, and the stories we tell or ask others to tell about our brands. While marketing still focuses on the immediate choice of our product or service within the marketplace, it can also focus on the broader choice of how people consume and how they choose to be in the world, and that focus becomes the ultimate kindness we have to offer to those whose attention we call upon.

Kind Business, Kind Results: Margaret Meloni

Later this year, I will be teaching a course called “Becoming an Agent of Kindness in the Workplace” under the auspices of The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. One of my fellow instructors, Margaret Meloni, will be teaching a course called “Leading with Compassion: How YOU can be a Compassionate Leader.” I reached out to Margaret to learn more about the work she does. She focuses on conflict resolution strategies, emotional intelligence, dealing with difficult people, and effective communication, all of which help to build successful working relationships and keep the peace. According to Margaret, “a peaceful team is a high performing team.”

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

You describe your consulting and coaching process as a path to peace. How do you help people and organizations become more peaceful environments?

The idea of having a path to peace in the workplace originated from watching how one harsh word or thoughtless behavior could negatively impact a colleague for an extended period of time. With this came the realization that in any difficult situation, what you and I can control is our own emotions and reactions.

Initially, I provided coaching to individuals who were experiencing difficulties at work. Typically these difficulties stemmed from a challenging professional relationship or working in a corporate environment that was not a good fit. What this has evolved into is providing individuals or groups with tools that help them to strengthen their own skills in dealing with difficult people and difficult situations. The approach is really that peace comes from within, so why not become aware of how you behave while in conflict, how you communicate and how you lead? Work on yourself, because that is where you will make the biggest impact and the greatest contribution. You cannot force others to change. But your own behaviors and your response to their behaviors may in fact lead to positive changes. Then you can model peace at work, and you can set the tone for bringing kindness to the workplace.

How can kind project management approaches lead to better results (in teamwork, outcomes, etc.)?

Quite a bit of work has been done around the negative impact of stress in the workplace. High stress environments contribute to low morale, absenteeism and poor quality of work. A common cause of stress in the workplace comes from poor working relationships. Poor working relationships often stem from unresolved conflict and feelings of being disrespected and unappreciated.

Social support among employees helps to combat stress. In one laboratory study participants were exposed to equivalent levels of stressors.  Researchers leading the study found that members of cohesive groups reported the least amounts of stress. Although employees can develop strong social support structures without their leaders, it is even better when a leader sets the tone by creating a culture of kindness.

It may sound trite, but it is true that a happy team is a productive team. A happy team is better able to work together to solve problems and overcome obstacles. The result is the highly sought after high performing team.

What can project managers do to maintain authentic and compassionate relationships with project stakeholders, especially when the project hits bumps in the road?

Here is a list of behaviors that a project manager can use to bring compassion to his or her stakeholders.

  1. Encourage the productive resolution of conflict.
  2. Discourage pent up negativity.
  3. Practice forgiveness.
  4. Reach out to team members who are going through a difficult time and express your concern and let them know you are sorry they are suffering.
  5. Stop thinking about ME and start thinking about WE – when you stop focusing on your own status and ego, so will your team and this fosters a culture of kindness.
  6. Allow your team to question you and even to occasionally debate with you – without fear of repercussion.
  7. Allow your team to experience failure and then use the situation to teach and to help them grow, not to punish and admonish them.
  8. Don’t think that being compassionate makes you weak.
  9. Encourage employees to interact with one another, it is these interactions which create the bonds which help us to think about others besides ourselves.

Margaret’s ideas about intentional peace in the workplace create a healthy, stable foundation for kindness between colleagues as well as fertile ground for solid business results.

Kind Business, Kind Results: (Re) Engage Consulting

In Kindness Communication’s latest Kind Business, Kind Results discussion, I spoke with Jennifer Hooten, Founder & Principal at (Re) Engage Consulting. I have the great privilege of working with Jennifer on a team of instructors offering online courses with the support of The Charter for Compassion Education Institute. I was struck by her vision for helping organizations and wanted to discuss it with her more.

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

What is your overall vision for (Re) Engage Consulting?

(Re) Engage Consulting exists to unlock the power of people.

Our work begins with a single premise: People are the single most powerful lever for organizational change.  Human potential is a critical but often neglected component of an organizational strategy. The desire to make meaningful contribution exists in everyone, but if employees aren’t plugged into their work – if they don’t think and feel that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves – then organizations aren’t getting the best from them and employees themselves feel unsatisfied.

(Re) engage means “to establish or re-establish a meaningful connection with; to take part in or participate again.”  Helping organizations participate again in a meaningful connection with their people is the most effective way to achieve lasting transformation.  This is the (Re) Engage vision and is our specialty.

When companies face big change or difficult decisions, how does kindness play a role in enabling change and moving forward?

Bringing kindness and compassion into the workplace is a critical factor in an organization’s ability to navigate change constructively – for both the individual and the company.

But before we can give any attention or energy to pursuits beyond basic survival mode (physical needs like food, water, air, etc.), we must first feel safe.

Jim Haudan says it well in his book, The Art of Engagement:

“Ranking just above [physical] needs is the most basic psychological need: the need to feel safe…When we’re afraid, we’re guarded, cautious, and restrained, and we do everything we can do regain a feeling of security.”

Most jobs today require some degree of creativity, problem-solving, awareness of self and others, openness to collaboration, etc.  Yet many workplaces are driven by manipulation, greed, and unethical decisions, which keeps people operating in survival mode and unable to make the contributions they most desire and that companies most need. Capacity for collaboration, creativity, innovation, and curiosity diminishes when one’s professional, psychological and/or emotional safety is in question.

Leaders who allow their people to spend an extended period in this survival mode can cause significant damage to themselves and those around them. This is where compassion comes in. Genuine compassion relaxes fear, increasing access to the workers’ ability to make unique and meaningful contributions.

Can you describe the before and after of a business situation where more kindness led to better outcomes?

I was hired by a real estate entity to assist them with a major restructuring.  They had recently reduced their holdings by 40 percent as well as their staff, creating an immediate need for strategic change management as well as an opportunity to re-assess the functional effectiveness of the existing organizational structure. Our goal was to address both the short and longer term needs with special emphasis on building capacity through staff development.

Those who survived the lay-offs were understandably paralyzed by fear. They were balancing a mountain of new work and the constant weight of anxiety about their job security. People began to protect departmental “turf,” trying to remain relevant and necessary. Skepticism became the norm; the large rift between those at the top and those at the bottom had grown wider.  With such low morale, how could they move forward to determine just how the work was going to get done?

We began with human needs first.  I conducted confidential, one-on-one sessions with everyone who was laid off and everyone remaining in the organization.  I listened.  I empathized.  I extended kindness and goodwill to people in the throes of threatening change. There were tears, hugs, and many awkward silences, and no easy answers.

Once we created a sense of safety, the fears subsided just enough for deeper concerns and desires to emerge.  Interview questions adapted from Dr. Frank Rogers’s Compassion Practice helped people identify and better understand reactivity around a particular situation.

These questions form a handy acronym (FLAG) that created a different conversation than would have been possible with fear in the driver’s seat. It also provided a common language for this organization to use in the future as they communicate with one another.

FLAG questions

FLAG questions open opportunities for kind dialogue in difficult situations. Feel free to share them!

From session responses, the freshly tilled soil of common ground emerged.  I reflected back to the group the general themes that were shared, and the collective release was visible in the room. People nodded in solidarity when I voiced the prevailing fears.  They noticed each other’s sighs when hearing about each others’ burdens.  Compassion flowed…and it created the foundation for a new way forward.

After paying attention to each individual experience, creating a new workflow became more a matter of details than navigating personal angst. Because we began with a compassionate response to the human experience of change, the company attained organizational results that were more comprehensive, sustainable, and humane than moving into problem-solving mode first.

Jennifer will be offering her Charter for Compassion Education Institute course, entitled “Compassion @ Work,” later in 2016. I look forward to seeing more of her approach in action and to learning more about how it activates workplace kindness.

Kind Business, Kind Results: Story2

In Kindness Communication’s latest Kind Business, Kind Results discussion, I spoke with Carol Barash, Founder and CEO of Story2. Story2 works with students to help them tell their most authentic story as a way to achieve college admission success. Unlike most other college admission support services, Story2 focuses on helping students be their own best advocate. The company offers a mix of online tools and coaching to help students explore their own stories and transform them into authentic writing for college, work, and life. It promotes the idea that telling stories unlocks a bigger, bolder life, beyond getting into college. I deeply appreciate the way they introduce this level of empathy and kindness to the highly fraught, stressful world of students aspiring to get accepted at colleges of their choice.

Here is a transcript of the discussion:

College admissions place so much stress on students and parents. The process can seem cold, even cruel, to aspiring students. How does Story2 work to make it kinder, truer to student needs, and better in outcomes?

​The college admissions process has become very commodified and transactional. Students struggle to get top grades and test scores, as if these are ends if themselves—and in the process, they often lose sight of their own purpose and possibilities in the world. Story2 encourages students to start with who they are, what they bring to college, and what they want to achieve and contribute once they get there. When you reflect on the experiences that shaped who you are today, and imagine what type of world you want to create with your unique gifts and talents, the process becomes much more positive and there is tremendous potential for student learning and growth. Students who use Story2 storytelling tools to write their college admission and scholarship essays consistently outperform students with similar grades and test scores. When you reveal your honest and authentic character—in college admissions, job search, or any part of life—people respond and want to help you.

What do you do with communities of educators and admissions professionals to promote more kindness in the process?

​First of all we help students and counselors to organize all parts of the admissions process—and especially all the different essays—so they can spend their precious time on the parts that really matter. Students can write better essays; teachers can provide one-on-one feedback; and counselors can spend time with students who most need their help. We encourage students to approach college admissions as a team sport, and to help everyone get to the shared goal of college completion with minimal debt.

How do the values that you’ve described affect the working culture at Story2, how people work together, and how you lead the business?

​We try to make Story2 a “judgement free zone.” If something goes wrong—and of course it will; that’s life—we try to look at the situation without shame or blame and see what we can learn and do differently next time. We created an instrument for team reflection that I’m ​quite proud of. It’s call an AOLP, short for Achievements Obstacles, Learning and Priorities. We created the AOLP at first to help students look at their work, day by day, with an eye to what was working and what they were learning—and what they wanted to work on next. When we applied it to our own work, we realized how much we actually do each day, and how much we could learn and grow if we pulled out even on thing we wanted to work on—our priority—for the next day.

To learn more about Story2, visit their website at www.story2.com. You can experiment with their EssayBuilder to learn more about their step-by-step, kindness-based process for completing powerful college essays, or help out high school students and parents you know by sharing the link with them.

Kind Business, Kind Results is a monthly series of posts in which Kindness Communication interviews business leaders who strongly exemplify kindness values and practices. If you’d like to participate, please reach out.