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When you first see this you must be thinking “Are they crazy why on earth would I want to give business to my competitors?”

But this isn’t as daft as it sounds.

There are numerous reasons you might want to do this and they are all about acting in the best interests of your customers. And by doing the right thing by them you will reap the rewards.

By companies acting in this way it clearly demonstrates that your customers can trust you because you are willing to put their interests before your own. However, you need to ensure it is not seen as a gimmick, but it is a genuine, sincere and honest act of you trying to help your customers.

It all boils down to trust and what the benefits are of being seen as a trustworthy partner. After all honesty, empathy and transparency are all qualities you would expect in a friend, so why shouldn’t you expect businesses to behave in the same fashion?

The real question to ask is why so few companies actually act in this transparent and honest way?

Customers have long memories and they will reward businesses for this type of altruistic behavior and by doing this one simple act you will win their trust, because you are putting their needs before your own financial interests. This is the stuff that builds profitable long-­term customer relationships and loyalty, and it's not new.

Before I give you some current real life examples, I saw this illustrated particularly well in one of my favourite Christmas films Miracle on 34th Street. This film made in 1947, over 65 years ago, illustrates this point and is probably one of the first times that customer experience made it onto the big screen, although if it was called anything back then it was probably called customer service.

For those of you, who haven’t seen the film, the story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of the Macy’s department store Santa Claus, who says he is the real Santa.

Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle

While working in Macy’s he is told to push parents to buy their presents from the store, but he ignores these instructions.

Instead he tells one exhausted mother where she can get the toy her son wants because Macy’s has run out of stock and then proceeds to tell another mother that she should buy her daughter’s skates at Gimbels (Macys archrivals) because they are better made.

And when the women are surprised he is telling them to shop elsewhere and questions him as to why he is telling them this, Kris responds “The only important thing is to make the children happy. Who sells the toy doesn't make any difference. Don't you feel that way?”

And what do you think the customer’s reaction to this surprising advice was? Well in the film the exhausted mother approaches the head of the Toy Department and says: “Listen. I want to congratulate you and Macy's... on this wonderful new stunt you're pulling. Imagine, sending people to other stores. I don't get it. Imagine a big outfit like Macy's... putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial. It's wonderful. I've never done much shopping here before... but from now on, I'm going to be a regular Macy customer".

Then his secretary lets him know later that afternoon that there are six more women who want to thank him, and personally, she thinks it's a wonderful idea, too.

Now I know it is only a film, but I have seen the reaction of customers when a company puts their interests before its own. Here are just a few examples.

Amazon always reminds you that you bought a book before, so you don’t accidently buy it again. They do the right thing demonstrating that they value you by putting your financial interests before their profits. It also benefits Amazon’s bottom line too, as they don’t have to undertake a time and resource consuming returns process when you discover you already have the book.

I was visiting the Vodafone contact centre in the UK and it was running a campaign for its high value customers, proactively calling them to tell them they were on the wrong plan and how they could save money. And I heard numerous customers actually say: “Am I getting this right, you are calling me to tell me how I can pay you less? What’s the catch?” To which Vodafone replied “No catch, we just want to look after your interests and want to keep you as a customer for a long time and we feel the best way to do this is to make sure you are on the right plan and not paying us for services you don’t need and aren’t using”. As you can imagine, customers were flabbergasted with this response and the campaign was so successful that it was rolled out across the whole customer base.

USAA, one of the most financially trusted financial organisations in America, decided to proactively refund over-payments on car insurance premiums to those on active service posted in the Middle East. It rightly assumed if you are serving abroad you wouldn’t be at home driving in the USA. What was the customer’s response to this? Nearly 2,500 send back the cheques, saying: “Just keep the money and be there when we need you”.

In addition haven’t we all been into a store and when you can't find what you are looking for, isn’t it wonderful when the sales person advises you which other shops may have it. In one case on a visit to Myer, I mentioned to the shop assistant that I though the cake tin at $22 was overpriced and she said to me on the quiet, “Try the $2 shop, I think they are much less there”. I was impressed by this but how much more impressed would I be if she hadn’t had to say it on the quiet.

Imagine if your bank contacted you to tell you it had just launched a new type of account and advised you to switch your money into this account as it will earn more interest, or your mobile provider called you to tell you to switch to a cheaper plan. How likely would you be to trust them more and stay loyal to them because they act like they have your back? Why would you go elsewhere? And how many friends, family members and others on social media would you tell of their honourable behaviour? How many new customers might a business acquire because of acting this way?

If companies act in the customers’ best interests it consistently bring rewards to them in the medium to long term and will always dwarf any short-­term profits that may be made by acting in a self-­interested way.

Harry Antrim as Mr R.H. Macy Harry Antrim as Mr R.H. Macy

And on that note I think I will end this article with Mr. Macy’s response to Kris’s actions: “I admit this policy sounds idiotic and impossible. Imagine Macy's Santa Claus sending customers to Gimbels. But, gentlemen, you cannot argue with success. Look at this, telegrams, messages, telephone calls, the governor's wife, the mayor's wife... over 500 thankful parents...expressing undying gratitude to Macy's. Never in my entire career... have I seen such a tremendous and immediate a merchandising policy. And I'm positive if we expand our policy...we'll expand our results as well.

"Therefore, from now on...not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner... but I want every salesperson in this do precisely the same thing. If we haven't got exactly what the customer wants...we'll send him where he can get it. No high-­pressuring and forcing a take something he doesn't really want.

"We'll be known as the helpful store... the friendly store, the store with a heart... the store that places public service ahead of profits. And, consequently, we'll make more profits than ever before”.

The business benefit this scene depicts is pretty farsighted for something written in 1947 and still universally true.

Amy Scott's new report 'Why silos damage customer experiences', is now available for download. Check it out now and learn about the types of silos that exist and how they impact customer experience, how to breakdown your silos and how to create an outside-in customer-centric structure.

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About Amy Scott

Amy Scott is Director of Sedulous, a service design and customer experience consultancy that has worked for a variety of blue-chip global British, Australian, European and American organisations on how to improve their service and deliver better experiences to their customers. The consultancy has grown rapidly by developing a reputation for creating highly effective customer initiatives that make a real impact on a company’s bottom-line.

Sedulous also undertakes numerous large, complex market research projects on behalf of clients helping them gain business knowledge and actionable intelligence.

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