A client (let’s call him Martin) recently shared an inspiring retail experience. Martin has held CEO roles in globally recognised retail brands, and is highly attuned to the way customers are treated. One day, while working in Tokyo, he chanced upon a random shop, and was drawn to buy a small trinket. The store assistant thoughtfully wrapped the ornament in gift wrap, adorned it with a ribbon and bow, all the time working with precision and care. Since it was raining outside, she insisted on placing the gift in a waterproof bag, to ensure the wrapping paper remained dry. Whilst the process involved an element of theatre, it included charm, care and thought. Martin’s story raised a question that I’ve been thinking about since: how can we bring beauty into a transaction?
I have argued for some time about the emergence of ‘The New Emotional Economy’, an economy grounded in the human capacity for empathy. This will be a key differentiator as technology and the introduction of AI fosters a decline in the knowledge economy. Whilst the march of the machines eliminates the drudge of repetitive work it risks an associated dehumanisation impact. As intellectual work becomes commoditised by technology, human touch, which a machine could never provide, becomes the essential item. This means care, concern and compassion—beauty’s ingredients—become the paramount contributors to success.
As the Covid-crisis continues to wreak havoc on human life and liberty, we risk losing touch with people, and what it means to be human. This presents an opportunity for business to bring beauty to engagement, to focus on dignity before dollars. Conducting business in the Covid environment has been and is extremely difficult because physically we’ve lost touch with our people.
Last week a friend relayed her experience of discovering a flood in her apartment, and the dread of dealing with her insurance company. She was pleasantly surprised by the level of care they provided, and felt treated as a person rather than simply a persona. The woman who took the call expressed sympathy for my friend’s unfortunate situation, asked caring and thoughtful questions, and they even shared a joke. The insurance representative managed to make a dreary process beautiful. As a result, my friend was more than happy to pay a premium for the service because she experienced care, which in turn established a trusting relationship.
In the new emotional economy what matters is the size of your heart not the size of your head. What matters is how much you care, not how much you know. In the current corona climate—and beyond—imagine what would happen if you could treat all business transactions with the same element of care shown by the Japanese retail assistant and insurance broker. You would bring ‘the human’ into a world that is missing, and urgently requires, human touch. People—your customers—will pay a premium for genuine care, for a real sense of human touch. While the creep of technology commoditises intellectual work, emotional care workers will come to the fore as we rethink our work practices. The insurance company referred to by my friend will not be alone, as better organisations train their staff to care more for individuals as persons, not numbers. Businesses should learn to maximise genuine human touch because ultimately humans are best at being human and tech needs to support this. People will pay a premium for deep care and support—matched with efficiency and precision—because it makes the pain points far less painful.
Lockdowns impose digital relationships, deprive us of human touch, and limit our ability to foster human culture. The pandemic, therefore, provides an opportunity for leaders to relearn what it means to be human. You need to explicitly value kindness, cooperation and collaboration and find new ways to incentivise such behaviour. You have an opportunity, across the political, business and social sectors, to learn to care for people in deeper, more meaningful ways. The hard and difficult decisions, which need to be made, can be carried out in a caring way. You can go beyond mere duty to beauty, wrapping all your transactions with the same level of care as the Japanese retailer. Beauty and care applied to every interaction can help eliminate feelings of disconnection, invisibility and isolation. Consider the words you choose, the gratitude you express, the questions you ask. Lifting your emotional impact ultimately builds community and connection—foundational aspects of business in a pandemic world.