Paying it forward, it turns out, is good for business.

Making small gestures and performing random acts of kindness can go a long way toward fostering relationships between service providers and customers. And that often leads to additional revenue through repeat visits and word-of-mouth recommendations.

So how have companies succeeded in this area, and how might you incorporate their tactics into your own business? 

1. Encourage Random Acts of Kindness
Some companies believe this can yield enough of a return on an investment to warrant instituting new programs around the practice.

You Move Me, which provides moving services in more than 25 cities, asks its managers to track the number of kind acts performed by movers in their communities, either inside or outside of working hours--things like raking the leaves from a stranger's yard or helping someone carry their groceries. Movers are asked to perform one so-called moving moment each day, with "kindness metrics" reviewed alongside sales calls and revenue results during weekly meetings.

"It's imperative that we encourage our employees to demonstrate compassion at all times and this mission legitimizes kindness as a company priority," reads part of You Move Me's four-page document on its new initiative. "The Moving Moments program challenges the preconceptions your customers have about movers while encouraging your team to deliver on our [brand] promise."

2. Foster a Relationship
Good service gets rewarded, maybe through something as small as a tip. But a good relationship gets remembered--and keeps patrons coming back for more.

Dan Levitan saw this play out firsthand in the early 1990s, when he first encountered a chain of fewer than 50 cafes. Back then, the company's core customers were returning, on average, 18 times a month to get their fix of java from baristas who either knew exactly what guests wanted or addressed them by name when their coffee was ready. "They had their relationship with the barista, and it was just part of their life," says Levitan, who invested in the company before it went public.

"How real was that psychological contract with the customers? I remember going to New York and people would say, 'New Yorkers will never wait in line.' Every time I see a line out the door, I smile." 

He's talking about Starbucks, of course. (Levitan later started the investment firm Maveron together with Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz.)

3. Reward the Kindness
It may not be enough to expect--or enforce--employees to be nice. An employee rewards program could help retain particularly strong performers and perpetuate further acts of kindness.

Consider the Shangri-La Hotel in Abu Dhabi, which has awarded staffers with star pendants for their uniforms, cash rewards, and even airline tickets to far-flung destinations. To win these prizes, hotel employees have offered cold towels or complimentary bottles of water to poolside guests, or had room service send in a cupcake to a visitor who's celebrating his birthday. Their acts get tracked through performance evaluations and customer surveys, and they often get inspired after reading about employee actions at other hotel locations--the details of which get posted in the staff lounge.