To Run a Successful Business, All You Need Is Love
I first met author and motivational speaker Steve Farber at an entrepreneurial conference. By coincidence, we’d each written separate articles for different publications with the same headline: “The 7 'Can’t-Miss' Conferences for Entrepreneurs.” When I asked Farber, “What’s your business?” he quipped, “Stealing headlines, apparently,” in response. We laughed and became instant friends, and I’ve followed his work ever since, including the release of his eighth and latest book, Love is Just Damn Good Business.
On his newest topic, I believe most of today’s leaders would agree that demonstrating love for employees, customers, a company’s products and even winning is important. But assigning a measurement and an ROI to the mix? Now we’re talking. According to Farber, whom I caught up with recently for this story, love is not a loss leader. It’s an investment that produces both short- and long-term returns. Yes, there are times that love as a business strategy poses risks (such as dramatic culture shifts and people accustomed to playing political systems feeling thwarted and leaving). But unlike other risk-related strategies, he maintains, love never fails. It always produces positive results and, over time, it makes every other business best practice exponentially better.
Do What You Love in Service of People
To paraphrase the "about the book" synopsis for Love Is Just Damn Good Business, when love is part of an organization’s framework, employees and customers feel genuinely valued and are more loyal, innovative, creative and inspired. Then a virtuous cycle occures. Companies are more likely to produce products, services and experiences their customers will love. Customers will, in turn, reciprocate with their loyalty, referrals and, of course, their money. In other words, healthy employee relationships and customer retention, combined with the growth and abundance that aligns with love-based decisions, makes for a healthy and successful business.
Farber is eager to relay an anecdote about Rosella, a bank teller he encountered shortly before a speaking engagement. “Rosella, can you do me a favor?” Farber recalls asking her. “Would you mind telling me, how do you like working at Sovereign Bank?”
There was no hesitation, he says. Her face lit up, and she said, “I love it!” Then she told him about the other banks she’d worked at and how different they were from the supportive culture she enjoyed now. She talked about how great her customers were and how they sometimes stopped in just to say hello, even when they didn’t have any business to conduct.
“I love my customers,” she said, “And I get great pleasure from serving them, so I’m happy.”
Farber emphasizes that Rosella was describing the cyclical effect of love, or more pointedly, "When I love them, it’s easy for me to take care of them, which makes me happy. The happier I am, the better I can take care of them, which, of course, they love." And on and on it goes.
He then asked Rosella if he could quote her at his upcoming presentation to Sovereign leaders. “Would you like me to notarize it?” she said, before taking out a business card, flipping it over, writing, “I love my customers,” and then stamping it, signed it and pushing it across the counter. Farber took a picture of it with his iPhone and indeed included it in his presentation.
“Hey, check this out,” he said to the execs. “Look what you have going on right across the street. This is Rosella, the tellah” (in his best Boston accent). “She’s awesome.” Rosella’s boss was so blown away he left the meeting and went across the street to her branch location and personally thanked her. Can you imagine how she reacted, and how this accelerated the cyclical power of love even more?
We may refer to love in business with words like “passion” or “enthusiasm,” but the bottom line, Farber says, is that it’s a "human-to-human" connection. It is love.
Practice “Anticapitulation” Leadership
Farber is quick to acknowledge the customer is not always right. There’s a difference between lovingly serving their needs and always giving them exactly what they say that they want. In fact, sometimes what they need or want is very different from the thing they demand. In the case of an angry customer, sometimes the thing they really want is to be recognized and heard.
When it comes to products and services, companies like Apple have made an artform out of figuring out what we, the customers, really want long before we know that we want it. They're adept at making the thing we didn’t know existed into the newest thing we can’t live without. But Farber warns that customers are also prone to wanting things that aren't really good for them. Movement Mortgage, for instance, emerged in 2008 in the midst of the recession because its founders believed the industry wasn’t “loving borrowers” by providing loans that people couldn’t really afford. So their form of love was to help customers understand what they could really afford.
There is also a danger that giving customers what they want would put you out of business if you give it to them, which means you’d no longer be around to give them what they need. Farber points to Kirk Thompson, the former CEO of trucking and logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport, who created a new pricing structure that significantly raised the company’s rates. The company had become a market leader due to the size of its trucking fleet, its commitment to excellent customer service and its dependability. But low-cost competitors were turning the services into commodities, and Thompson recognized the company couldn’t survive much longer without raising its rates or lowering its quality.
The new pricing initially cost the company some business, but it was up front about why it needed the change. Because the lower-cost carriers weren’t able to deliver as promised, most customers who left eventually came back and willingly paid for the value of the services. In this case, the hard decision to increase prices was the company’s means of conducting its business with love.
And Now for the Proof....
Infusing your business with love produces a return on your investment, Farber says, but begins with another type of ROI -"reciprocity on investment." In other words, when you do what you love in the service of people, most of them will love what you do and give that love right back to you and your business.
But what about those who don’t? Well, you don’t need them. You love them enough to help them find a different job or a different product. It’s what’s best for them, which means that at least some of the time they’ll love you for it later. But more importantly, it’s also what’s best for you and what’s best for your business.
How do you measure classic ROI for increasing the amount of love in your business? There are the simple metrics of increased revenue, employee retention and customer retention over time, or NPS (Net Promoter Score), which can give you an indication of customer satisfaction.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is really listening to and evaluating the feedback of your most precious resource -- your employees. Ask them independently and deeply what they love most about working in your business. Ask them just as deeply what they would like to see you improve. Perhaps this exercise will produce a list of 44 things they really love and 10 things they’d want to see you improve. You should measure the level of increased satisfaction over time, but you should also show that you care about the suggestions for improvement by responding to them directly. If the suggestion can’t be met or can’t be met currently, let the employees know why. They will love you for your honesty.
But if you commit to a suggestion, be certain that you follow it through. For example, Farber recollects one CEO who agreed to get a new ice machine, only to notice several weeks later there was still no machine. He took the responsibility upon himself to procure the machine and live up to his word.
In all, Farber says, we should never stop striving to love and there should be no quid pro quo when it comes to loving. We should love our family members and our neighbors unconditionally. We should even love our enemies unconditionally. It may be astonishing how much we can learn and the additional satisfaction we can add to our lives. The full ROI we receive by adding more love into business may be beyond comprehension.