Lessons in goodwill and the power of feelings

Photo: Getty Images
May 23, 2018
Chris Petersen, PhD.

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the IMS Results Count blog.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Customer experience continues to be a hot topic in retail. But when you talk with customers, there is something more. Something much deeper.

Customers often describe their best experiences in terms of how they “felt.” More specifically, they often describe how people make them feel comfortable and supported. We remember experiences based on a foundation of goodwill creating positive feelings.

While I enjoy working abroad, one of my most dreaded experiences was clearing passport control upon arrival. In a recent journey, a two-hour cue at Heathrow airport left me feeling like a “cattle in a chute” with hundreds of other non-EU citizens. Unfortunately, some of the U.S. airports are much like Heathrow with long lines and staff who are “just doing their jobs.”

However, on my recent arrival to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport from a 16-hour flight from Johannesburg, staff did not wait for passengers to cue. They went down the hall, greeting and welcoming them to the USA. Staff approached anyone looking confused and even walked them over to where they needed to be. Passport control officers greeted passengers by name and asked something about their journey.

Instead of feeling like a number in line, the staff created goodwill that completely changed everyone’s attitudes. I do not know who is responsible, but the goodwill at Atlanta passport control was not an accident.

Goodwill is both a catalyst and outcome of customer experience. For goodwill to be lasting requires:

  • Leadership – Goodwill flows from the top leaders as a way of doing business;
  • Culture – Goodwill is not a formula, but rather embedded in organization values;
  • Customer Centric – Focused on genuine customer relationships and support.

Goodwill is quite literally the cultural foundation of positively interacting with customers in ways in which they will remember how they felt when personally served and respected. Maybe so many retailers are still struggling with “customer experience” because they are trying to prescribe it rather than live it.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is engendering goodwill largely about excellent customer service or does it go beyond that? What tips do you have for building goodwill? Are they different for small versus larger organizations?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Making people feel good when they are at your store is positive for business and human connection is something the Internet cannot compete with."
"Teaching someone goodwill is like trying to show someone how to love."
"Everyone wants to feel welcome. If a consumer is going to make a trip to a store, they want to know they are wanted and welcome."

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19 Comments on "Lessons in goodwill and the power of feelings"

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Charles Dimov

Excellent customer service is where customers see it in action. But goodwill goes deeper than just that. It is about cultivating a retail culture that promotes goodwill with its own employees. Take the opposite — a company culture that ONLY cares about the increased sales, bottom line, market share and cost cutting. These are super important to a business, but it has to be blended with a culture and corporate attitude that legitimately cares for its people. Doing this ensures that customers get that same sense of goodwill.

First step, focus on your culture. This will be conveyed to your customers. Second, support treating your customers EXACTLY as you treat your employees. Managers — anything you want to change now?

Lee Peterson

One of the things we found in a recent study was that customer experience was directly related to customer service, good and bad — and I believe goodwill is involved in that connection as well. The challenge is, customer service today is much more than a smile and going that extra mile in person; it’s fast delivery, good returns, a person on the phone — it could even be the best AI. It’s a whole new HR book. Emotions are built from experience but, in retail, experience means service. And in retail 2030, service is a whole new, complex science that only a few have really managed to master.

Carol Spieckerman

I like Chris’ distillation down to “goodwill.” I wish more brand marketers and retailers thought this way instead of hammering on irrelevant net promoter scores. NPS scores seem to address feelings when in fact they assume customers will always take an additional action (make a recommendation) after having a positive experience. You can’t go wrong if you focus on “the feels.”

Art Suriano
Teaching someone goodwill is like trying to show someone how to love. Where goodwill comes from is when a company has the right culture, the right people, and the proper training all working together. For example, you can request for the employee to smile and greet the customer, explain how they have to engage with the customer and that’s fine. But they learn these skills from watching others and of course their own experience. It is true that more than anything the customer remembers how they felt because we as humans all have feelings and we like to feel good about what we do. When a store associate takes the time to make us feel like a wanted and valuable customer, with an appreciation for shopping their store, that goes a long way. Can you teach that? Not really but a company like Apple, for example, has the right culture. The moment you walk into an Apple store, you become part of a positive and engaging environment not because of the products but because of… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

Some of my thoughts on customer service: Don’t let it be the first thing you cut in stores to lower labor costs. Get more productive in the inventory management space, first. Lead by example, as the store management team. Be genuine in how you offer assistance to shoppers. Make them feel like you would like to feel. Be compassionate when things aren’t going well in the store. This genuine compassion will typically translate to goodwill and will create a lasting good impression and ultimately drive true loyalty. Keep it simple.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Building goodwill through improved customer experience can get lost as retailers put their structures of operation in place. By expressing values and attitudes that aim to best serve the customer, and acting on these with behaviors, goodwill is engendered. Relationship and loyalty become the basis of interaction, regardless of the size of the organization.

Cathy Hotka

This is a key topic at Store Operations Council meetings. Participants talk about how important it is for store associates to greet customers, smile at them, and ask how they can help. Look at Walmart’s removing Scan and Go — customers will choose interaction with a person over a machine.

Ed Rosenbaum
Yes, we all want to feel good after our experience with the person assisting us. The Atlanta airport experience clearly describes the effort put in to making the new arrivals feel wanted and respected. That should not be that difficult. The problem is getting the right people in the right positions who want to make the customer/visitor feel wanted. They have to assume ownership. That is one of the biggest problems: getting the employee empowered to take ownership. I reflect back to the “greeters,” and I use that term loosely, at the big box retailers. There is so much more that they could do to make us feel wanted. But they stand there really doing nothing more than looking at you and the bag you might be bringing in. That brings us to hiring the right people, training them appropriately and paying a salary that makes them want to be a part of your team. Here is where it falls apart. And on all three points. We are not hiring the right people. We are… Read more »
Andrew Blatherwick
There is no doubt that making people feel good when they are at your store is positive for business and that human connection is something the Internet cannot compete with, which gives retailers the opportunity to build a really strong connection with their customer base. Some online retailers are already opening shops to enable them to connect to their customers. Getting the right and best people on the shop floor when the most customers are in the store is very important. Companies like Storeforce have created value-added solutions that do not just schedule people but monitor people’s performance and ensure that you schedule the very best people on the shop floor at the busiest times. They also have programs to drive good customer-centric behavior to ensure that all store staff are focused on customer service. Staff members are one of our most important assets so let’s use them wisely and not just expect that they will all perform the same, there are great customer service employees and some not so good so get the right… Read more »
Sky Rota
2 years 4 months ago

I believe you treat everyone the way you want to be treated. I know my mom didn’t make that saying up. Sadly we just experienced this poor treatment at one of my favorite stores, Best Buy. The TV sales guy said to the man standing next to me that the TV he was purchasing is a really low end quality and asked if he was he sure he wanted to buy such a low bottom-of-the-line TV. I felt so badly for the man it was so embarrassing to watch. I can’t believe the sales person would say those things. The man was actually OK, he said, it’s for my office so the quality is fine.

Large or small, every company must treat everyone with respect! If I were that man who was insulted I would never return to that store!

Neil Saunders

Goodwill is about treating customers fairly and as human beings. It is saying sorry when you mess up. It is correcting errors quickly. It is having the flexibility to go beyond the systems and rules when needed. It is, in essence, making customers feel good and have goodwill towards the brand.

The U.K. retailer John Lewis has an accounting and register code 904. This goes to a department called Goodwill. It is used to do things like give questionable refunds, give customers who have been inconvenienced vouchers or gifts like flowers or chocolate, refund parking or travel where a customer has had to come back to the store because of a company error, and so forth.

The view has always been that this is not a cost. It is a marketing expense that helps people to feel good about the brand. And by and large, it works!

Evan Snively

Very interesting example Neil! I wish that more brands held that same “it’s a marketing expense” viewpoint for elevating their customer service experience.

Shelley E. Kohan

Authenticity is a great way to show goodwill in the shopping experience which stems from the three Cs of an engaging culture; caring, civility and curated products/services. Interactions with customers should demonstrate the brand genuinely cares about them and their needs. Civility towards all shoppers build an atmosphere of openness and goodwill. When brands curate product and service, they are demonstrating to the customers they care about their time and understand their needs. A great example of this is a recent visit to STORY in New York, where the store met all of these criteria. I left store filled with “goodwill” and continue to reflect on my experience two weeks later.

Mike Osorio

Delivering exceptional experiences and engendering goodwill is not complicated, but it is HARD. The larger the organization, the harder it gets. Patrick Lencione’s brilliant series of books, summarized in his latest, “The Advantage” lays it out clearly and simply. Organizational health is necessary to drive service and goodwill for employees, customers and stakeholders. Unfortunately, we complicate the simplicity of engendering real human experiences by allowing the reality of financial requirements to be the driver rather than the outcome of organizational health. It starts with the CEO and their demonstrated priorities, and then accountability of the entire team to live to the values of employee and customer-centric prioritization.

I love hearing about the Atlanta airport experience, which proves that even in the most challenging environments a leader and an engaged workforce can produce experiential excellence.

Rich Kizer
It is incredibly challenging to operate a retail store. I don’t think that focusing on creating goodwill, or better yet, having a focus on outstanding customer relationships, is high on the priority lists of most retailers, but it certainly should be! Every retailer admits they want that performance, but from associate training standards, most retailers do not conduct ongoing training and discussions on these issues. Everyone has to remember that each associate has their own definition of what “being nice” is. I’m all in favor of being yourself, but perhaps defining “nice” could start with how they greet a friend that comes to their front door, and then turning that concept into use for customers. That certainly can change the emotional state of any customer who does come into the store. And that’s the beginning of creating positive perceptions. The amazing impact of this is, it changes the associate. And when that change occurs, it tends to improve the associates perception of how they can create a better environment of “nice.” But it doesn’t”t work… Read more »
Lee Kent

Everyone wants to feel welcome. If a consumer is going to make a trip to a store, they want to know they are wanted and welcome. I will never forget my PIRCH experience. You walk into their store and immediately offered a latte or other drink and they ask if you’d like them to show you around the store. Sales associates know that more than 90 percent of the guests in their store will not be making a purchase that day. As with many big ticket items, you want to shop the features and see what is out there first. You want to dream. So the PIRCH store is set up for dreamers. Sales associates show you features and help you think about how you would like to live. How cool is that? And that’s my 2 cents.

Cynthia Holcomb

Faux goodwill is a turn-off no matter the size of the organization. We all know fake sincerity, we can feel it a mile away. A direct barometer of how leadership treats their employees? Possibly. In either case, smile or no smile, knowledgeable employees who care and connect create great customer experiences.

Ray Riley

Spot on Chris. There are some retail establishments you do feel more positive walking into — whether that’s Apple, Whole Foods (well … we’ll see how long that lasts), Suitsupply, etc. I think it’s quite clear that this is a top-down approach driven and demonstrated daily by leadership at every level and function.

Christopher P. Ramey

Providing goodwill begins with the employees you select to employ. Service as a differentiator is dead; it’s a cost of business.

Personally, I like the term goodwill; it’s more personal to your colleagues.

"Making people feel good when they are at your store is positive for business and human connection is something the Internet cannot compete with."
"Teaching someone goodwill is like trying to show someone how to love."
"Everyone wants to feel welcome. If a consumer is going to make a trip to a store, they want to know they are wanted and welcome."

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