Be Nice. Humanize Your Brand.

BeNiceA few days ago I came across an interview with Lee Cockerell. For those of you who don’t know who he is (count me in that group until a few days ago), Lee held leadership positions at Hilton Hotels and Marriott for 17 years before joining Disney in 1990 to run worldwide Operations. When he retired from Disney in 2006, he was responsible for 40,000 cast members (that’s a LOT of Mickey ‘mice’…), 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping & entertainment village, and a sports and recreation complex.

Think this is a guy that knows something about building customer relationships?

What struck me the most about the interview was when he discussed his latest book, The Customer Rules. In writing the book, he asked his 12 year old granddaughter to tell him what the first rule of customer service should be.

Her response? “Be nice.”

He then turned to his 10 year old grandson and asked, “Want to be in my book too? You better give me a good quote. What does service mean to you?” His response? “Well, when you serve, you’re the giving one.”

It’s that simple. Even as children we know how we’d like to be treated, and how others would like to be treated. And as adults we flock to the companies that provide that experience. I don’t fly American Airlines because the service is great. In fact, the planes are terrible, the service stinks, and rarely do I speak to someone that makes me feel like a valued customer. I fly them because they’ve got me ‘trapped’ in this loyalty program. The minute some other carrier offers to honor my status and mileage history, I’m gone.

It used to be that companies who wanted to ‘humanize’ their brand would hire a spokesperson, or create one (Mr. Peanut, Jolly Green Giant, or my personal favorite, Frito Bandito). In the era of push marketing, the only way to give a big glass building a personality was to put a person or character on screen that embodied the traits you wanted the public to transfer to your brand.

In the words of Archie Bunker, “Those were the days.” But no longer. Sorry, Frito Bandito.

The amount of personal interactions between companies and their customers have increased exponentially. The primary dialogue is no longer a customer service phone call when you’re ready to buy or pissed about something. Customers will personify a brand through exchanges on the company’s Facebook wall, email, website chat, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, and the myriad other two-way communication vehicles now available.

That’s thousands of opportunities, every single day, to be nice. It also means that everyone is a brand ambassador. Each and every one of your employees has a potential role in humanizing – or dehumanizing – your brand.

Just look at Paul Shawcross, White House Chief of Science and Space’s response to the We The People site’s petition to build a Death Star. Ignoring this completely absurd request or issuing a dismissive response was certainly well within the administration’s rights. Instead, they chose to be nice and – heaven forbid – use a little humor to engage their audience. Political leanings aside, can you think of a better example of capitalizing on an opportunity to humanize the administration’s brand, while promoting their message of science and math education?

Faye Lane is a JetBlue flight attendant. She’s also a writer, performer, and regular storyteller at The Moth. At a Moth event In Portland Oregon in 2011, she told a story about her first day of training at JetBlue. Founder and then CEO David Neeleman walks into the training and says,

“Every one of you is here for a reason. And that reason is your ability to smile and be kind. We can teach you how to evacuate an airplane,… how to handle a medical emergency,… how to serve, but we cannot teach you how to smile and be kind. Your mother did that. Please thank her for me.”

This commitment to ‘smile and be kind’ hasn’t wavered in JetBlue’s 14 year history. Just do a Google search for “JetBlue customer service” and read the stories their customers are still telling. A far cry from a search for “American Airlines customer service”…

Companies who remember – no, companies who inspire their employees to remember – the simple principles we learned as children succeed in humanizing their brand and build true long-term loyalty with their customers.

Johnny Depp once said that having kids is like living with drunk midgets. Maybe there’s something those little brats in their seemingly inebriated state can remind us adults of. Something as simple as…

“Be nice.”

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