The history of the boomerang isn't exactly clear, but this ancient weapon has one important lesson that holds true to this day to anyone who is in business.

That lesson was perhaps articulated best by Irish businessman Feargal Quinn, who founded the Superquinn grocery chain in Ireland. Quinn, who recently passed away, was famous in his native Ireland for always wearing a boomerang pin and getting his employees to wear one, too.

Mostly associated with Australian Aborigines, the most well known type of boomerang is of the returning variety and that is what Quinn took from it and applied to his grocery store business.

"Everybody in our company wears the boomerang principle, which is that the objective of everything you do in business is to get the customer to come back again," Quinn told the TV show Slightly Personal in 1996. That show airs on Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), which is the national media service of Ireland. The quote was recently featured in an RTÉ obituary of the late businessman, who also served as a senator in the Irish government.

Quinn developed his boomerang philosophy of doing business when he was a child growing up and working at his father's business, an all-inclusive resort on Red Island in Skerries, Dublin. When people arrived at the resort, his father would say that since they've already paid, they would not have to put their hands in their pockets again to pay for anything.

That type of service kept people coming back, which Quinn likened to the famous ancient weapon and hunting tool from Australia. He put it into practice when, at 23, he opened his first grocery store and kept that same philosophy right up until he sold the 21-store chain in 2005.

I personally agree with Quinn's boomerang philosophy. Everything you do in business should be focused on bringing customers back, especially when you consider that attracting new customers is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer and increasing customer retention rates by five percent can increase profits from 25 to 95 percent, according to the Harvard Business Review.

To turn your customers into boomerangs and have them keep coming back, follow these four tips.

1. Happy employees make happy customers.

Everything starts with people, including the products and services you use and sell to your customers. In our company, we have a motto that might sound cheesy to some when they first hear it. It is in our email signatures on our website and even painted on our walls: People Over Profit.

It's not that we don't like profit, we've just learned that when you choose to put people first, profit will follow. When team members know this is part of your corporate fabric, they are happier and they will treat customers better and those customers will appreciate the genuine kindness they are shown. At least that's been our experience.

2. Ingrain listening and empathy into your culture.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of being understood. We probably all have at least one memory of having an extremely specific problem with a company and finding that one customer service rep who listened to us and helped solve that problem. What if every customer who needed help got one of those memories every single time they dealt with your company?

This kind of understanding starts with management listening to their team members and addressing any concerns they have. It also helps to have empathy training as part of your customer service training. If management does not listen to or show empathy with employees, how can those employees be expected to pass that along to customers?

3. Empower your team to do something for customers.

In our initial onboarding, we tell all new team members that they will almost certainly be faced with a circumstance where a customer has a situation and the customer service rep isn't sure if they have the responsibility or the authority to handle it.

When those situations inevitably pop up, we tell them to go ahead and do what they can to try and make the customer happy. It is so much better to do something and make a mistake, than to do nothing because they are not sure. We'd rather keep the customer than have the employee follow some rigid set of rules.

This is important for the boomerang philosophy because it will only work when customer service reps go that extra mile, not when everyone follows some arbitrary guidelines that tells them what they can and can't do when trying to solve customer problems.  

4. Use your yous

Make sure all your communication, creative assets and advertising has a lot more instances of "you" than "we." This can sound like an unimportant detail, but focusing on using you in every customer touch point will make your company a lot more customer-centric.

Published on: Apr 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.