How human is your business?

The past few month have not been the best in Britain, have they? We’ve had terrorist attacks, an indecisive election exposing significant divisions in our society, and now the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire. Yet amongst all the problems, one thing has shone through. Whether it was in Manchester, or Borough Market or the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, people set aside their political, religious and racial divisions to instantly support one another. The deeply set instinct to help your fellow human is so ingrained in your psyche that when a disaster happens, we forget our differences and care for each other. 

Not only do we like caring for others. We want others to care for us. It all boils down to growing up. When you arrived in this world, you had nothing. You had no idea the world existed until you were born. You didn’t know you needed food or drink. You had no idea what language was. All you knew was that someone cuddled you and made you feel warm and secure. As you grew and developed over the coming weeks and months, that was all you knew. In other words, your entire being is based upon being cared for. That’s why it is such a powerful instinct.

Several years ago I was working at a conference in Singapore where one of the speakers was a psychologist from Columbia University, New York. He had spent a couple of decades looking at the influence of the concept of care in business communications. We sat down together, and he explained to me how the psychology of communications depended upon the caring instinct. 

Later, I took his research and used it in the development of something I taught for many years known as the “credibility pyramid”. The credibility pyramid is designed to show how we trust people who are talking to us and it works like this. At the foundation of the pyramid are knowledge and expertise. We cannot believe what someone says unless they know what they are talking about, after all. They also need to focus on what they are delivering to us and not meander around the subject or go off on tangents. So the second layer or the pyramid is about sticking to the point, focus. The third layer of bricks in the pyramid are those built from enthusiasm. We tend not to connect well with people who are boring or dispassionate; we want someone with some passion, excitement or enthusiasm. Finally, at the top of the pyramid is the whole notion of care. Does the person talking to you show that they have your interests at heart? 

What is important, though, is the depth of each of these layers. The research indicates that expertise, knowledge, and professionalism are not that important at all. It turns out that these only represent 10% of trust. Importantly, it appears from the studies that over 50% of the pyramid is the “care” level. In other words, if all you do is show someone that you have their interests at heart they will trust you, even if you don’t know what you are talking about. It’s all because of that care instinct that develops from birth.

So, let’s turn this around and look at businesses from this pyramid perspective. What do you see on many websites? Yes, professionalism, expertise, focus. What don’t you see? Passion, liveliness and human caring. 

Recently, a large manufacturing company asked me for some advice on their “About Us” page. I told them it was boring. It had pictures of staff on it, but, they didn’t look human because they were the proverbial “mugshots”. Plus the information about each person was like a local paper obituary – lifeless. I suggested they got some professional and fun images of individuals and allowed people to show quirky bits of information about themselves and bring their little biographies alive. I showed them a couple of examples of websites that do this. At first, the company was wary, and they thought they would be laughed at. “What’s the worse that could happen?” I asked. We agreed that the worse thing would be that the “About Us” page would get fewer visits than it was already achieving. But as that level of visiting was near the floor anyway, they actually had nothing to lose. So they changed the About Us page and became human – even though they thought it was wacky. The result? A significant increase in views, more positive engagements, and people calling up the company to say how much they liked it. That happened because they were showing they were human. Their page had enthusiasm, from the pyramid, and caring too. Before, all it had was knowledge and expertise. By switching the company to showing some care for their visitors, they dramatically increased that human connection with them.

Far too often we see businesses being “professional” and “business-like”, which is only the foundation of my pyramid.  What matters more is showing you are human. Show your customers and potential customers that you care about them as human beings. Write in a human way rather than boring business-speak. Put your arm around them metaphorically by demonstrating in everything you do that your only interest is them. Behave all the time as you would when disaster strikes. Just show your customers you truly care. In other words, be human – personally and on your website and in your emails. 

Unless that is, your name is Theresa May when it appears you want to retain a professional distance. This week, the Prime Minister came in for massive criticism on social media and significant loud voices in mainstream media for apparently ignoring the people in Kensington. True, she had security concerns. True, she has plenty of other important things on her mind. True, no Prime Minister has had to face such an issue, so there is no “rule book”. But the people down near the charred Grenfell Tower just wanted a metaphorical hug. That would have gone more than 50% of the way to Mrs May being trusted. All that was happening in that deep-seated instinct was the people of London putting their arms up and saying “Mummy”; but Mrs May didn’t metaphorically pick them up and give them a cuddle. Jeremy Corbyn did – indeed he gave physical cuddles. Whatever your political views, this is a stark demonstration of the difference that feeling cared for can make. Mr Corbyn has no power to do anything for the people of Kensington. Mrs May has complete power to do whatever she wants. Yet the person with the knowledge, the expertise and the status is the one derided. The one who gave the cuddles has become, on social media at least, the one who is loved.

Caring is so fundamental it runs through everything – and I mean everything – we do. Showing we care for others and receiving care ourselves is the basis of success in every aspect of life. We do it for our families, we do it for friends and neighbours, and when the chips are down we do it for people we don’t even know. That caring instinct is alive and well in the hearts of everyone, even those seemingly self-centred business leaders more focused, it seems, on making money than caring for staff or customers. The problem is, someone, somewhere, has told them that they should overpower their instincts and be business-like and professional. Yet the evidence clearly points the other way. Being human, caring for customers and staff, is the real winner.

Do we do it enough in our own business?

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