The new bottom line: Doing business with respect

Even in the sharing economy, not all businesses know how to share.

This is a time of sharing. We rideshare in other people’s cars to simplify how we get around. We share other people’s homes when we travel. We even share our stories and content from others, with the simple click of a button across social and digital platforms. It’s safe to say "sharing" is an integral part of how we function as a society.

For as much as we can trust the car, home, or unsubstantiated comments of a total stranger, there is a major struggle to share in mindful, compassionate conversations on a real and personal level. And for PR teams, this presents challenges and tremendous opportunities.

I had a conversation recently with a head of a well-known grocery chain. I visited one of his city locations and discovered the shopping carts were locked and required coins in order to use one. 

I’ve gone to this store regularly over the years, so the new coin-for-cart scenario threw me for a loop. From his perspective, this was a way to squash their problem of people taking carts, which he says costs thousands of dollars to replace. I offered him my perspective.

I don’t walk away with carts. I come to shop in a safe, clean, and quality environment. The fact that I would pay this inconvenience tax doesn’t sit well with me because I view it as a sign of how his organization values me as a customer. And with the options of having groceries delivered to my front door, or going to a competitive place, I felt strongly enough to not come back. 

I thought of other customers, who like me, aren’t interested in adding a shopping cart to their list of possessions, but, unlike me, may not have the ease of ordering groceries online or heading half a mile or more to another location. 

Being a resident of a major city my entire life, I’ve come across countless businesses in minority communities that lock down shopping carts; don’t offer access to a restroom (even to a paying customer); will only hand items through screened windows and so much more. This is a problem. And it’s an even bigger problem when people accept this as a norm. 

When a company decides to do business in any location, they go through the process of real estate, costs and risk analysis, architectural plans, and all kinds of demographic and psychographic considerations. When they proceed, they are well informed of the challenges, but confident they can make money.

If that company concludes they cannot do business in a way that respects the constituents in a community, they should reconsider doing business there. Because, if their money is worth it and their likes on Facebook are worth it, they should be worthy not only of good customer service but of shared human decency.

Everyday I work with brands on mindfulness as a business strategy. What I can tell you is these seemingly insignificant issues can turn out to be the ones that cause the most damage. My job as a strategic consultant and executive coach to organizations across the world is kind of like poking a bear and holding up a mirror. So if a company reaches out regarding a diversity issue, I will ask deeper questions about their culture and values. Is this about attracting and retaining talent? Or, is this about examining the views and rooted perspectives on how and why the talent is critical to the organization? 

The PR industry does an outstanding job of springing into action when there is a crisis. While Starbucks, Waffle House, and some others are in the spotlight, organizations everywhere should be taking hard look at their "who, what, when, where, and why" in terms of "how" they do business, from top to bottom, inside and out. 

I checked back on my city grocer. He says they found that many customers were opting past the cart for smaller baskets. Their customer visits and average checks went down. He reiterated that his intentions were never to be disrespectful, although his business decision had sent that message. They removed the coin slots. 

Are you having candid conversations with your clients or within your own organization? Are you proactively providing solutions on how to foster unity versus combating tension? I sure hope so. This industry can be a major force in helping brands understand that doing business with respect is not an expectation, it is an imperative. In fact, it’s the new bottom line. 

Rashada Whitehead is a professor, writer, and the president and chief transformation officer of KGBerry, an organization that helps conscious companies navigate big changes. Connect with her here on Twitter.

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