I don’t know about you, but every time I used to see the United Airlines ad where the executive walked around and handed out airline tickets to his people asking them to go see their customers, or the “Human Network” ads from Cisco, or more recently the one from Skype that says technology is disconnecting us from one another more than ever before, I think about really astute organizations who understand that kindness, “human branding” wins every time in the age of connected relationships! Random acts of kindness have been around for a while – from the movie “pay it forward,” to a local radio station here in Atlanta who is asking small business owners to randomly help people in need in return for plugging their business.

But what does the same random acts of kindness look like in business relationships? Let’s start by agreeing on a definition: For consumers long used to distant, inflexible and self-serving organizations, any acts of kindness by brands will be gratefully received. For brands, increasingly open communications both with and between consumers (especially online), means that it’s never been easier to surprise and delight audiences with random acts of kindness: whether sending gifts, responding to publicly expressed moods or just showing that they care!

In business relationships, the same idea applies. Given the high barometer of self-serving agendas by organizations that throw “policy” in the face of ever changing customer buying behaviors, or “no refunds” when there is a clear gap between expectations and experiences, or “competitive posturing” in the form of fear mongering, exclusivity, or more recently in the news, anticorruption practices, business relationships who lead with nice, kind, human-like demeanors are winning: mindshare, wallet share and in the process, market share!

So what are the top drivers of business relationship random acts of kindness? Here are three:

1. RELATIONSHIPS FIRST– Business consumers increasingly want to see the human side of business brands they engage, or whether even if a brand has a human side at all, making business relationship random acts of kindness more welcome than ever. Relationships are between individuals, not logos! I’ve long coached corporate clients to have an individual profile on their corporate social networking / media accounts – “Hi, my name is Jennifer and I’m our XYZ Company’s social media lead,” vs. a cold, indifferent logo with “Welcome to XYZ Company’s Twitter page!” Relationships FIRST has to become more than a mantra; brands have to demonstrate their commitments to real relationships by living the acronym:Friends – Treat them as you would a personal friend!

    1. Initiate OMV – Objectives, Measures, Value; what do they need?
    2. Recognize their relationship preference – Transactional or transformational?
    3. Stimulate value-add – Engage them w/ value-perceived, received, applied and impacted to drive participation and advocacy.
    4. Transform their condition – How are they better off because of you?

Relationships FIRST appeal to an ever-growing number of business product, service, and information consumers who are fed up with big, arrogant, sloppy and out of touch institutions. Global buyers of products and services are increasingly expecting businesses to be socially, ethically and environmentally responsible. They are fed up with old-school business priorities and formalities. With sharing, creating, discussing and collaborating for many becoming a way of life, on- and offline, business relationships want and expect interactions to be authentic, in the moment, unfiltered and enjoyable. And yes, that includes interactions with brands. Brands who reach out to business relationships with compassion, humanity, and a personality – random acts of kindness, win more than a transaction; they gain repute as one worthy of a long-term relationship.

2. UNCOMMON CANDOR – Business buyers are starting to share publically, their preferences, tastes, likes, and dislikes in their current relationships. Never before in such an open manner, has a buyer’s decision process, perceived sources of credibility, and buying habits been visible. Beyond traditional demographics, astute organization can use psychographics – a buyer’s digital footprint – to better understand random acts of business relationship kindness most impactful for the recipient.

All this highly relevant information increasingly enables organizations to actually know what’s happening in consumers’ days, both challenges and opportunities. It has never been easier for organizations of all sizes in a broad array of industries to listen louder, and react more intently and proactively to existing, perceived, and impending customer needs with highly innovative and personalized / customized manner. Uncommon candor in that exchange is real-time and if organizations can engage their customers at the edge of where business happens, they’re both much more likely to create business relationship random acts of kindness, but also to make them considerably more impactful.

3. RELATIONSHIP MARKETING – A great deal of literature currently points to the fact that an estimated 75 percent of an organization’s marketing and advertising isn’t believed by its target audience! You know whom they do believe? Their peers! Candid comments about individual experiences from friends and colleagues alike that have interacted with a specific organization. They’re looking to share their challenges and have it NOT be used against them. They want to compare experiences, discuss proof of concepts, share best practices and discuss often-painful lessons learned. They don’t want “vendors” to insert themselves in the middle of a conversation they’re not invited to, or are often welcomed in, unless they’re going to a) lower their self-interest, and b) add value to the discussion, interaction, conversation, or the outcome the recipient of the information is seeking!

Business relationship random acts of kindness here is all about lending a hand, sharing insights, pointing people to the right direction, inviting others to the conversation which could be helpful to the outcome, or probably the greatest gift of all: admitting that something just isn’t the right fit! “Sorry, but based on the needs you’ve described, I’m not sure our (product, service, offering, whatever) isn’t the right fit.” But don’t stop there – “Here are three other sources that you may find of interest or value.” Even if those sources are potential competitors, you may lose that transaction, but you’ll gain an advocate – someone who will carry your organization’s brand flag. Someone who will share with their friends and colleagues about how you “made the impossible, possible.” Someone who will blog, tweet, pin, and comment on their walls about their experience. Someone who will often remember you the next time their need or one of a friend or colleague comes up.

In this or any other economy, can you really afford not to integrate business relationship random acts of kindness in your culture, strategy, or growth objectives?

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