4 Lessons in Humanizing Business I Learned Overseas

Humanize your BusinessOne would be in the wrong to think there isn’t anything to learn from the forgotten areas of the world. I spent a two-year stint in the Peace Corps living overseas in the Kyrgyz Republic. I went to help the people who lived there, but there is no doubt I gained more from them than they gained from me. I even learned some lessons about humanizing business from their business owners.

What is Humanizing Business?

Chris Brogan is one of the foremost experts in humanizing business. He has created a successful business and provides his expertise to companies in all sectors. The premise he begins his work from is the fact that, in his words, “We don’t simply buy to fill a basic need. We want to belong… We buy from people we know, and more so, we buy from people we think are like us.” The trick is getting your business to satisfy that innately human quality and turn your efforts into happy customers and great sales.

Before social media, it was much easier for consumers to see businesses as faceless giants, concerned only with their profits. This still happens today, but with efforts by larger companies to get involved on social media, it’s easier than ever to create a human side to your brand. Small businesses are also able to take advantage of their predisposition to creating relationships and a sense of belonging, by using social media to show off their talents and include even more customers.

I would argue that it has always been beneficial to nurture these relationships of belonging, and treat customers as people rather than walking sources of revenue. There are lots of businesses that got away from this mentality, however. Now they are trying to get back into it. As Chris writes again, “Human business resets the core building block from “customer” to “relationship.”

Thinking about humanizing business, I realized that I had experienced some of the finest examples of the power of creating a sense of belonging in the consumer while living in Kyrgyzstan. I won’t bore you with generic how-to about steps you can take to humanize your business. I do want to share some of the most impactful memories I have of dealing with businesses in the country I consider a second home.

1. Engage Your Customers on a Personal Level

Many cities and large towns in Central Asia are peppered with “Gamburger stands.” Yes, that’s how hamburger is pronounced in Russian. They aren’t quite like hamburgers, but they are affordable and tasty and just what I needed from time to time. I had plenty of options to choose from, but I went back to the same guy every time.

This one vendor was genuinely interested in who I was and how I was feeling. He took the time to engage with me in a more than this-is-only-a-financial-transaction sort of way. He wanted to know as much as he could about me. He asked questions about my day, my work, shared some of his opinions about things. He was selling me food of course, but that was secondary to building a human relationship.

You can bet I went to him and only him for my gamburgers.

While you can’t literally ask every single customer how they are doing and get to know them personally, making an effort is simple and easy. All it might take is regular updates to social media about events that affect people’s personal lives. Encourage them to share birthdays and other events with your social media and recognize them. Small businesses certainly have a much easier time of this, as they more frequently interact with customers in person. Still, larger businesses can benefit from taking their customer engagement to a higher level.

2. Reward Loyalty

I can still remember one of my first trips to the bazaar – a large open-air market – in a city near my village in Kyrgyzstan. I was understandably nervous about going to a crowded market area; there were a lot of vendors there. All of them clamoring for everyone’s business, and I had a target on my face since I was a foreigner.

Then I found a Tajik man, whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. Anyway, he was immediately confident in the quality of his goods. He insisted that I try anything I wanted – he wasn’t afraid to let his product (aka content or services) speak for itself. No strings attached.

This simple gesture upon first meeting him stuck with me. I continued to visit his stand in the bazaar over any other option I had. And believe me, I had plenty of options, too! So do your customers.

What happens when a relationship develops through humanizing is that both parties reward each other’s loyalty. I still remember one day he insisted I share his lunch with him. The interaction wasn’t about him making money; it was about him making a committed and long-term customer who was more than just a source of profit.

Of course your business won’t be able to buy lunch for everyone, but you can do things that reward their loyalty. Random acts of kindness or rewards once a transaction has been made can go a long way in making your customers feel like they belong – and more importantly, want to belong – with your brand.

3. Freebies Build a Connection

 On one occasion, I was heading to a gathering of fellow volunteers empty-handed. I needed to bring something with me; drinks, food, anything as long as I wasn’t empty handed. I found a small store under an apartment complex with two of my friends and we promptly entered to make our purchases. The woman behind the counter was very pleasant.

In fact, she was so happy that she decided to provide the three of us with three very large shots of vodka. We futilely tried to refuse for a minute and then quickly drank the vodka for fear of offending. The store owner was jovial and treated us as friends first and customers second. You can bet I remembered that store for the rest of my time in the country. It got more of my business.

I’m not suggesting that you provide free alcohol to new customers (although that might work pretty well), but freebies, samples, and unexpected gifts or giveaways can make a business seem more than just a moneymaking machine to a customer. You can get pretty creative with this – just make sure whatever you offer is useful to your customers. It doesn’t even have to be related to your products, but could be something that customers would appreciate receiving.

4. Small Gestures Mean A Lot More than You Think

I don’t have a single overriding example of this message, but multiple small examples of how small gestures made me remember a business and want to go back. If your business has the opportunity to surprise customers with random discounts, go ahead and do it. It shows them that you appreciate their business. It’s always a warm and fuzzy feeling when you realize you’ve been given a deal when you weren’t expecting one.

Doing this from time to time, like the countless small business owners I ran into in Kyrgyzstan did for me, will help create a relationship with your brand or your business in a consumer’s mind. You will be remembered. Even if your business is online-only, you can think of ways to make yourself stand out for your customer by including notes or discounts in orders.

People love to be recognized or feel as if they are getting special treatment. It’s human nature. Taking advantage of that in a genuine way can help to humanize your brand in so many ways, ultimately helping your bottom line.

People Will Keep Coming Back 

The stronger of a bond you can create between your business and your customers, the more likely customers will be to continue their business with you. Social media has made it incredibly easy to keep in touch with consumers. But there are still plenty of actions businesses can take that go beyond sharing content. Humanizing is one way to bring business back to its roots.

How do you humanize your business?

 

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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