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VOL. 37 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 13, 2013

Winning by realizing what’s important – customers

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Your next biggest competitor has established a real game-changer.

He’s hired a few customer service reps who have turned his business around, and it’s got you worried. You already do customer service, but people say he does it better and you’d like to know how that can be.

In the new book “The Human Brand” by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske, you’ll learn how consumers relate to businesses like his (and yours). More importantly, you’ll learn how you can touch customers back – and keep them.

Not so long ago, it seems, businesses put their money into advertising on TV, radio, or in print and people came to buy. In retrospect, it almost seems effortless compared to what happens now.

In today’s marketing world, say the authors, businesses are judged on a more human scale – mostly in “two categories of [primitive] social perception,” warmth and competence, both of which promote human kinship.

Without those two elements, your business suffers because “humans were never mentally wired to trust and enjoy goods” made by someone with which they have no connection.

You can pretty much blame it on the internet. People can demand (and often get) service and social accountability easily today, at any time via a business’s website. Ignore that customer at your own peril; connect with them correctly with warmth and competence, and you’ll win “affiliation and loyalty.”

"The Human Brand"

by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske

c.2013, Jossey-Bass   


208 pages

That’s done by showing concern for the needs of your customers and using what the authors call the “principle of worthy intentions” to instill loyalty; i.e., show your customers that you are committed to them. Gaining customers’ trust is not done by “behaving… like a classic gold-digger,” downsizing staff, using loyalty cards or relying exclusively on coupons that generally instill no loyalty at all.

Overall, the authors say, business owners need to remember “three imperative actions:”

Become self-aware by “measuring and managing perceptions of… warmth and competence.” Know how your clients feel about your business.

Embrace change by listening to them and acting on their communication.

Shift priorities. Your new focus is on customer service, no matter what the cost.

Downsizing to save money might make shareholders happy, but it could backfire if it damages customer relations.

For the first couple dozen pages, this book is dry as a cactus garden. I was afraid that, though it’s a slender volume, it was going to be a very long book.

Happily, it gets better.

Once the authors lay their foundation, they shift to another thing humans are wired for: stories. You’ll learn by example how Virgin, Dominos, Sprint and others have put customers at the forefront, how they dealt with disasters and lagging sales, and how their experiences can be put to use at your business, too. The authors’ reasoning, and what you’ll learn, just can’t be ignored.

If your customer care is lacking or if your closest competitor offers game-changing, stellar service, put this book at the top of your to-do list. Read “The Human Brand” because the next move is yours.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.