More than four decades ago I was in the doctoral program at Columbia Business School. My marketing courses stressed the importance of customer service.
Treat the customer well and she will come again and again and spend more on your products and services. This is good for your earnings.
She will also refer you to others she knows and this is even better for your earnings.
At that time a 'new' approach was gaining ground. This one stressed that you should treat your employees well and make sure that they felt valued and were growing in their jobs.
The reasoning was that if you treated your employees well, they would be happy and, in turn, they would treat the customer well and this would be really good for your earnings.
I thought this was a superlative idea and was all-agog at how this would change the world. Remember, I came from India which, at that time, had a 'protected' economy where rudeness to customers was the norm and it took 12 years to get a telephone connection and 8 years before a car you had bought was delivered to you.
I still think that these are capital ideas but they are not the end of the road.
It is possible to do better, much better. And the approach I am about to suggest can make a dramatic change for the better in your life.
The problem with the strategies I have described is that it demeans your interactions with customers and employees and reduces them to transactions.
You are nice to customers and employees because you expect that this will come back to you in more revenues and profits. You might be enlightened enough not to expect anything from any particular customer or employee but, in the aggregate, you are looking out for your bottom line.
Life is not a transaction.
How about treating your customers well because that brings joy into their lives and makes the world a better place? How about caring for your employees because that is the outward manifestation of the kind of person you are?
Granted you run a business and profits are the essential lifeblood of this. So you set your pricing and policies to generate healthy earnings. But, having done that, you cease to think about profits. You banish their thought from your head. They will take care of themselves.
Can this actually be done?
Ellie Burrows and Lodro Rinzler started a meditation studio in Manhattan. It is on the Lower East Side and, on the day I went, all classes were full with eager and enthusiastic millennials listening to Lodro as he advocated setting an intention for the day each morning.
Lots of young persons are grappling with working and office politics and economic uncertainty and feel overwhelmed. Meditation can definitely help but they don't know where to go. MNDFL Meditation was conceived as an oasis where they can sample different schools and methods of meditation and hang out with like-minded souls.
Ellie spoke animatedly about how they wanted to serve everyone and especially those normally ignored. She observed many coming into the studio who had difficulty with English and quickly arranged for Spanish meditation teachers.
How, I pressed her, was this different from a canny businessperson who spotted a sizable market niche and came up with a strategy to capture it?
She thought for a while and confessed that there was no difference from the outside looking in. The difference was in their intention. And that difference shows up in the atmosphere of the studio and the feeling of purpose they have each day as they try to build up their business by being of service.
Jason Leister, whose unconventional approach I have already written about, goes even further. He recommends never expecting any kind of 'payoff' from any client you are serving. Just do the very best you can for him and always give much more value than your fees. He explains why in a blog post.
When you do this, you discover that happiness creeps back into your life and you start treating people as people, not as cogs in your profit-making machine.
There is a third advantage he did not mention. When you conduct your life in this manner, your business results will pleasantly astonish you.
Many years ago I was at a Buddhist meditation retreat when the abbot gently mentioned that the purpose of washing dishes was not to get them clean. The purpose of washing dishes was to wash the dishes.
I am just beginning to grasp the profundity of that advice. When you pour all of your emotional energy into the task itself and forget about the outcome, an indescribable joy descends upon you. And, wonder of wonders, the dishes also get clean.
Now go forth and serve your customers well and treat your employees with care and compassion. Don't do this because you want to build your business.
Do it because it is the proper thing to do.