Four Ways to Demonstrate Humanity and Deepen Trust

by Diane Berenbaum

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers recently coined the word, "trustability" in their new book Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage. Why didn't they just use "trustworthiness"? Because doing what you say you're going to do isn't enough anymore. They felt that they needed a single word to reflect a new standard of proactive trustworthiness.

"Trustability" means proactively watching out for others' best interests and taking actions with their needs in mind, first and foremost. It's about serving customers, even if that might mean, for instance, preventing a customer from making a mistake (even if that mistake would mean a financial gain for you).

If "trustability is the new differentiator, then how does an organization, and its associates, demonstrate that they're trustable? Peppers and Rogers stated that one of the key requirements is to "Demonstrate Humanity."

According to the Oxford dictionary, "humanity" means:
  • The condition or quality of being human
  • Humaneness; benevolence
In other words, it's about the way one human being acts toward another. There is no finer example of human kindness and compassion than the 2013 Boston Marathon. The event itself is a 26 mile celebration of human spirit. But, the tragic events that day led to a powerful display of humanity at its best. Countless runners rushed to the hospital to give blood. Instead of running away from the horror, spectators rushed toward the chaos and danger, and were some of the first responders at the scene. So many lives were saved by the genuine and generous actions of bystanders.

And, when customers experience humanity from an organization, they feel an even greater sense of connection. They may also be more tolerant and forgiving when a company does something that upsets them.

How do you demonstrate humanity so you can take your organization to a higher level of trustability? Here are four key ways:

1. Let Your Humanness Shine

Being human means acknowledging that human beings are, well, "human," and at times, imperfect or fallible. It's also about acknowledging wrong-doings, and being open to feedback, even if it's not what you want to hear or do. Despite the temptation to excuse or defend, organizations will create far more connected and long-time customers, if their associates start by really listening, without judgment.

Equally important, humanness is about openly sharing perspectives, opinions and discoveries. It means not being afraid to admit weakness and failure, and it’s about acknowledging wrong-doings and admitting mistakes. It’s not the types of mistakes you make; it is about how you as a person, and the organization as a whole, handle those mistakes.

Consider what Domino's Pizza did in national TV ads. Known primarily for speedy delivery, Domino's took to the airwaves with a different message. Their CEO, Patrick Doyle, acknowledged that its pizza was "terrible." In their ads, they flashed quotes from customers like "Domino's pizza crust is like cardboard" and "I think Domino's pizza should start over."

They took their customer feedback to heart and went one step further. They reconfigured its product, after testing a multitude of cheeses, sauces, and crust seasonings...and then asked people to give them another try.

Actions like these are what really communicate who you are and what's important.

2. Model Genuine Empathy

From a business standpoint, this means considering the customer's perspective first:  "what" they are expressing and "why" it is important to matter his concern and how vehemently he expresses it. And, no matter what or how much he buys. It's also about really listening, acknowledging his feelings, and showing good intentions to each and every customer.

To express genuine empathy requires remembering that everyone you come in contact with—whether it's a doorman, salesperson, installer, executive or an upset customer—may respond differently to seemingly similar situations. Empathy requires that you really listen, beyond the words themselves, so you can "hear" the feelings behind them. It's about taking the time to reflect, then recognize and acknowledge their feeling, whether a situation was disappointing or delightful. It is the human thing to do—even if the interaction is less than two minutes long. It may be remembered for much longer.

Empathy is not just the "nice" thing to makes business sense. A study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership revealed that:
  • Empathy is positively related to job performance. Managers who show more empathy toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses.
And, empathic leaders are also rewarded with "greater employee loyalty and longevity and, more importantly, (they) are viewed as just splendid human beings overall," according to  E. Carol Webster, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist.

3. Show Gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful way to show customers that you appreciate them, yet it is often overlooked. A simple thank you, a note or even a smile will go a long way, as people strive to fit more and more in each 24-hour day. Show gratitude to anyone who demonstrates humanity to you. 

That includes your associates. According to a recent Hay Group survey, only 57% of employees report that their contributions are recognized when they perform well.

Mark Goulston, business psychiatrist, for the Harvard Business Review, recently commented that some executives treat their associates as "appliances;" on the job to perform a certain function. But, clearly associate are not machines—they are human. And, humans do their best work if they feel connected and appreciated. Goulston shared three ways to share your appreciation and gratitude to employees:

  • Be precise: Thank the person specifically for their exceptional actions; tell them what they're doing is awesome.
  • Acknowledge the effort: Note the personal cost of their getting it done. If they work through the weekend, appreciate the social and family costs.
  • Share your stakeholdership: Make a point of how their great work helps your work; show how you're in this together.

4. Express Respect and Humility

All customers want to be treated with respect, no matter how much they spend or how long they've known you. They expect respect in each and every interaction...from the very first to the last.

Truly respecting your customers means showing kindness, understanding and humility.

Humility is about being self-aware and non-judging in relation to others. It's not about ego. In fact, it's egolessness; acknowledgment that you don't have all the answers, being open to learn more. Humility also happens to be the surest sign of authenticity.

Humble, authentic leaders put the organization and their associates above themselves. Dave Balter, CEO and founder of the marketing company, BzzAgent, wanted to draw attention to the need for greater humility in leadership. His contention:  "leaders who treat their employees with kindness and are willing to be wrong" are the most effective and successful. Here are just a few of the lessons he learned along the way:      

  • Know you can learn from every single interaction—no matter the person's credentials. 
  • Understand that your competitors are smart—perhaps (gasp!) even smarter than you.
  • Your reputation isn't forever golden.

He also started the web project "100 Days of Humility." Balter encourages contributions of all types, quotes, stories and ideas, on the topic of humility. Here are just a few:

"Nothing derails a leader, a business initiative, a relationship or even a noble cause faster than ego."
"Every person is a lesson and I am a lesson to every person."
"People with humility do not think less of themselves; they just think of themselves less." (attributed to Ken Blanchard)
As we become more digitally connected, it seems that humanity can easily get lost in the process.

What can you do to become of model of humanity and trustability? What can your organization do?
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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