Intelligent acts of kindness: Why it pays to be nice

This article originally appeared in LinkedIn.

I recently had to get a new cable box. Few companies can raise the ire of consumers like cable companies, with their DIY installation and sometimes weak service.

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As the rep at my cable company’s local service location loaded me up with gear and forms, she took one critical step that would eliminate a hassle for me later: She wrote the serial code from the back of the cable box on the top of my form and circled it in red.

This is the number you need to phone in once you’ve hooked up your box and are ready for the company to turn on the service. But by that point, it’s usually in the dark recesses of your television cabinet behind an inaccessible tangle of wires, or, in my case, needs to be read upside down through bifocals.

So I asked: Was this basic step of writing it down in a handy place passed down from headquarters? No, said the rep. She simply wanted to make the process a little easier for customers. With this move, the company put a smile on my face and it didn’t cost anything extra.

This is a classic example of what I call an intelligent act of kindness. These common sense gestures brighten a customer’s day, make employees feel good about their work and cost the company very little relative to the customer impact they generate. They’re intelligent acts because they pay off in enduring loyalty that inspires customers to share these experiences with their friends and family, enhancing a company’s reputation (and its profitable growth).

Here are some intelligent acts of kindness that warmed my heart:

  • I recently heard that a high-end hotel in Boston filled the nearly empty gas tank of a stressed-out guest who was running late to his next appointment. He didn’t even need to ask. He returned to his car, and he was surprised to see his tank full. The cost to the hotel was $65; the guest (annual revenues of several thousand dollars) told dozens of friends and likely will never stay at another hotel.
  • Barbara Talbott, the retired head of marketing for the Four Seasons, once told me of a desk clerk who delivered a pot of tea, gratis and unasked, to the room of a guest with a bad cold.
  • Heather McVeigh, a representative at Vanguard, sent flowers to a customer who was working with her on the financial issues that arose after his wife passed away.
  • When an employee at the cloud hosting company Rackspace heard that a customer she was talking to on the phone was getting hungry in the middle of an extensive troubleshooting effort, she ordered the customer a pizza. I’m on the board of Rackspace and employees there take great pride in stories like this.
  • Executives at FirstService Residential, a property manager, told us about the time its staff helped a resident plant trees to honor the passing of a loved one. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy last year, the company delivered water to customers in the New York City area who had lost water service.

When was the last time a company did something simple, minor and relatively low-cost that truly made your day?