In your new book “The Art of Compassionate Business” you talk a lot about compassion in business, why is compassion so important for business activities?
This is a very interesting question. Let’s briefly discuss an example to clarify this topic. For instance, when an employee working for a company adopts a compassionate attitude toward a customer who complains about a product she bought from the company. In this example, the employee will aim to understand how this customer thinks (what is called cognitive empathy). In that sense, the employee might realise that the customer might have worrying thoughts about the product. For instance, the employee will aim to comprehend how this customer feels (what is called emotional empathy) regarding this specific situation. For example, the customer might feel regretful, guilty, or angry. In addition to this, an employee with a compassionate attitude will try to support this customer in different ways, for example, allowing the customer to return the product, obtain a refund, or get a free upgraded version of the product. When the employee is acting compassionately with the customer, the relationship with this stakeholder is strengthened over time.
Thanks for the example. Why do think that some companies do not act in a compassionate way?
The answer is quite simple, but not so obvious to many organisations. Some companies fail to adopt a compassionate attitude toward their stakeholders because these organisations are fully focussed on their economic results (e.g., profits, market share, etc.). These organisations only aim to focus on quantitative aspects of business: what can be measured or counted. These aspects are the so-called Key Performance Indicators (productivity, profitability, etc.). Oftentimes, these companies are not interested in focussing on the qualitative aspects of business (empathy, care, support, commitment, etc.). These aspects cannot be measured in a precise manner, as compared with quantitative aspects. When a company fosters these qualitative aspects of business (empathy, care, etc.), its relationships with its stakeholders are strengthened over time. Instead, when a company focusses only on quantitative aspects of business (e.g., profits, market share, etc.), this organisation is more prone to achieve these economic parameters by any means possible. In many cases, a company will aim to be profitable even when causing damage to the relationships with its stakeholders, for example, by exploiting employees, or deceiving customers.
You clearly highlighted the importance of robust relationships with the main stakeholders. Many business leaders will say that in business what is important is profit, not relationships. What do you have to say to them?
I want to say to these leaders that a company’s relationships with different stakeholders are the most important asset that a company has. The most important asset of a company is not technology, funds, or information, as many would think. The most relevant asset for any organisation is long lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with its stakeholders. Think about this for a minute: no company can succeed without customers, suppliers, employees, or community members. Therefore, when a company treats its stakeholders with respect, care, and support them in a compassionate manner, these stakeholders are more than willing to support the company in return. Instead, when a company treats its stakeholders in an uncaring and unsupportive manner, these stakeholders will not be willing to contribute to the company’s objectives. In some cases, these very stakeholders might act against the company. For instance, if the company adopts a compassionate attitude toward its customers, and offers them products which add real value to their lives, these customers are more prone to leave positive reviews online regarding these very products. These customers will often suggest the company’s products to other potential customers.
How can a company adopt a more compassionate attitude toward customers?
A company can adopt a more compassionate attitude toward customers by clearly understanding the unique needs of each customer. Many companies try to force customers into buying products they do not really need. Instead, compassionate companies treat customers in a kind and caring manner. these organisations try to unearth the distinctive needs of each customer in order to add value to their lives, with products which make a real difference for them. These companies are inquisitive regarding customer needs, and do not make any assumptions about them. These companies also adopt a grateful attitude; they kindly thank customers for their purchases. Even when customers do not purchase any product from the company, these companies are thankful for the time customers spent on assessing the company’s products. In addition to this, these companies try to always offer customers more than they expect. These organisations purposely try to surprise customers in a positive way. These companies are not pleased with satisfying customer needs because any company can do this. These organisations want to exceed customer needs; they try to delight customers. For instance, in a coffee shop, if a customer asks for a cappuccino, the waiter can bring a piece of cake (free of charge) to the table alongside this drink free.
Lastly, what is your last reflection on the topic compassion and business?
The most important factor in business is the human being. Behind any stakeholders (suppliers, customers, suppliers, etc.) there are human beings. It is important for companies to foster strong relationships with its main stakeholders, by adopting a more compassionate, generous, caring, and grateful attitude. Companies should regularly ask these questions:
- How can we add more value to this stakeholder?
- How can we strengthen the relationship with this stakeholder?
- How can we more supportive, caring, and compassionate with this stakeholder?
- How can we be more generous and grateful with this stakeholder?
- How can we exceed this stakeholder’s needs?
About the Interviewee
Dr. Bruno Roque Cignacco (PhD) is an international business consultant, international speaker and business coach. For over 20 years, he has advised and trained hundreds of companies on international trade activities and international marketing. He is a university lecturer. He is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA – UK). He is also the author of business and personal development books published in different languages. His new book “The Art of Compassionate Business: Main Principles for the Human-Oriented Enterprise” (2019, Routledge). Link to the book: www.bit.ly/2MAkr4k
His websites are www.humanorientedenterprise.com and www.brunocignacco.com