It’s amazing, really. A small dose of kindness can turn into friendship, or transaction, or whatever ‘merit’ you assign. Could it really be that simple?

Dr. Henry Cloud feels so. This best-selling author and lifelong behavioral psychologist agrees that kindness is key in personal and business relationships among bosses, employees and customers.

But is there a limit, a ‘trick’ to kindness that does not turn into being taken advantage of? Turns out, there definitely is.

The trick, Cloud says, is what the managerial among us would call “managed expectations.”

“Disappointment,” Cloud says, “is the difference between expectation and reality.”

Let that sink in.

Here are a few examples. A potential suitor represents himself as kind, devoted and honorable. (By the way, one of those traits, according to Cloud, is the most important ‘attractant’ to females.) Yet, during the relationship, meanness and dishonorable activities ensue. Disappointment sets in.

A company claims three-day delivery of your package, which has been promised to be “plug-and-play simple” with full support. It arrives seven days later with unintelligible instructions, and the on-hold time to “Customer Support” gives you time to grow a respectable beard. Disappointment accompanies reaching for the return instructions.

A fellow team member says they’ve “got your back” when confronting a missed work deadline that was out of both your control. Yet at the first opportunity, they “unblame” themselves to leave you fidgeting alone in front of the boss. Disappointment, distrust and unwillingness to cooperate follows.

All of these are examples of regular disappointments that dampen progress and put a death notch in future communication. And it’s not just the immediate repercussions — it’s also the ones carried forward.

At Hudson Ink, our most difficult sales conversion is not to the contractor who can’t afford our programs, but to the ones who’ve just gone through a miserable episode of dashed expectations with another company. We, therefore, if anything, underestimate our results in an effort to re-bolster their trust.

Ever deal with a customer recently burned by another contractor? Or one who stayed up late watching contractor sting shows? Not your fault on either, but you have to undo the damage. However, that does not mean the customer isn’t sometimes in the wrong.


The customer is not always right

The customer is sometimes an irrational, unworthy jerk who needs a slice of Cascade cake. (The ever-eloquent Cloud didn’t write that, I did.) They may not be right for you, and they may be perfect for someone else. In other words, you have my permission to fire them, but only after reasonable attempts at maintaining them. This also starts with expectations and limits.

Cloud goes on to say: “Trusting individuals are generally more kind than the average person, and thus can get ‘stepped on’ in relationships.” In this way, you set “kindness limits” and consequences.

The perfect CSR is a perfectly good listener, but when the conversation escalates with a rude loudmouth, limits must be imposed.

“Sir, I am here to help you, but another curse word and I’ll have no option but to terminate this conversation. So, you can be civil and receive help, or be uncivil and lose my help.” This generally brings them from berating to reality in a hurry.

Likewise, setting and meeting expectations from you to the customer should happen early. We create handouts and leave-behinds for contractors at the first visit. The handout is a company newsletter and discount certificates for future calls or to give to neighbors and friends. Sometimes it includes a free dessert coupon for a nearby restaurant.

The hand out also includes a sheet explaining:

  • Who you are;

  • What you do;

  • Why you’re different; and

  • Mutual expectations from the service relationship.

Do you think the above is being done by your competition? Right.

The leave-behind goes with the invoice and is a soft-sell tactic that reinforces your service mission. It also has a URL where customers can leave comments and reviews online as well as a customer service hotline to report concerns, praise or complaints.

Do you think the above is being done by your competition? Right again.

After the visit, customers get a call from a CSR that goes over any issues (manages expectations again) and politely requests referrals as “a way to help grow the <Company Name> family with other great customers like you.” Those words are structured very carefully to deliver the right psychological messages of cooperation. 

The point is that you’re already setting a “differentiation standard” right along with what they can expect from a top contractor instead of the pretenders in a white van with a completely forgettable message.

Don’t be that guy. Be the company that offers a home to those who are sick of that guy.

Manage expectations and you manage your future.