Kindness as Currency: How Good Deeds Can Benefit Your Local Business

Posted by MiriamEllis

“To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” – Taisen Deshimaru, Buddhist philosopher


A woman stands in a busy supermarket checkout line. The shopper in front of her realizes that they don’t have enough money with them to cover their purchase, so she steps in and makes up the balance. Then, when she reaches the checkout, her own receipt totals up higher than she was expecting. She doesn’t have enough left in her purse.

“No problem,” says the young clerk and swipes his own debit card to pay for her groceries.

A bystander snaps a photo and posts the story to Facebook. The story ends up on local radio and TV news. Unstructured citations for the grocery store start crackling like popcorn. National news takes notice. A scholarship foundation presents a check to the clerk. When asked how he felt about it, the clerk said:

“Personally, I think it’s undeserved attention. Because she did something so good … I felt like it was my responsibility to return the favor.”

In the process, if only for a moment in time, an everyday supermarket is transformed into a rescue operation for hope in humanity. Through the lens of local SEO, it’s also a lesson in how good deeds can be rewarded by good mentions.

Studying business kindness can be a rewarding task for any motivated digital marketing agency or local brand owner. I hope this post will be both a pick-me-up for the day, and a rallying cry to begin having deeper conversations about the positive culture businesses can create in the communities they serve.

10+ evocative examples of business kindness

“We should love people and use things, but sadly, we love things and use people,” Roger Johnson, Artisan

As a youngster in the American workforce, I ran into some very peculiar styles of leadership.

For instance, one boss gruffly told me not to waste too much time chatting with the elderly customers who especially loved buying from me…as if customer support doesn’t make or break business reputations.

And then there was the cranky school secretary who reprimanded me for giving ice packs to children because she believed they were only “trying to get attention” … as if schools don’t exist to lavish focus on the kids in their care.

In other words, both individuals would have preferred me to be less kind, less human, than more so.

Perhaps it was these experiences of my superiors taking a miserly approach to workplace human kindness that inspired me to keep a little file of outbreaks of goodwill that earned online renown. These examples beg self-reflective questions of any local business owner:

  1. If you launched your brand in the winter, would you have opened your doors while under construction to shelter and feed housing-insecure neighbors?
  2. If a neighboring business was struggling, would you offer them floor space in your shop to help them survive?
  3. Would your brand’s culture inspire an employee to cut up an elder’s ham for him if he needed help? How awesome would it be if a staffer of yours had a day named after her for her kindness? Would your employees comp a meal for a hungry neighbor or pay a customer’s $200 tab because they saw them hold open a door for a differently-abled guest?
  4. What good things might happen in a community you serve if you started mailing out postcards promoting positivity?
  5. What if you gave flowers to strangers, including moms, on Mother’s Day?
  6. How deeply are you delving into the season of giving at the holidays? What if, like one business owner, you opened shop on Thanksgiving just to help a family find a gift for a foster child? You might wake up to international fame on Monday morning.
  7. What if visitors to your community had their bikes stolen on a road trip and your shop gifted them new bikes and ended up on the news?
  8. One business owner was so grateful for his community’s help in overcoming addiction, he’s been washing their signage for free. What has your community done for you and how have you thanked them?
  9. What if all you had to do was something really small, like replacing negative “towed at your own expense” signs by welcoming quick stop parking?
  10. What if you, just for a day, you asked customers to pay for their purchases with kind acts?

I only know about these stories because of the unstructured citations (online references to a local business) they generated. They earned online publicity, radio, and television press. The fame for some was small and local, for others, internationally viral. Some activities were planned, but many others took place on the spur of the moment. Kindness, empathy, and gratitude, flow through them all like a river of hope, inviting every business owner to catch the current in their own way. One easy way for local business owners to keep better track of any positive mentions is by managing and monitoring reviews online with the New Moz Local.

See your online presence

Can kindness be taught in the workplace?

In Demark, schoolchildren learn empathy as a class subject. The country is routinely rated as one of the happiest in the world. At Moz, we have the TAGFEE code, which includes both generosity and empathy, and our company offers internal workshops on things like “How to be TAGFEE when you disagree.” We are noted for the kindness of our customer support, as in the above review.

According to Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki, people “catch” cooperation and generosity from others. In his study, the monetary amount donors gave to charity went up or down based on whether they were told their peers gave much or little. They matched the generosity or stinginess they witnessed. In part two of the study, the groups who had seen others donating generously went on to offer greater empathy in writing letters to penpals suffering hard times. In other words, kindness isn’t just contagious — its impact can spread across multiple activities.

Mercedes-Benz CEO, Stephen Cannon, wanted employees to catch the kindness bug because of its profound impact on sales. He invited his workforce to join a “grassroots movement” that resulted in surprising shoppers with birthday cakes, staff rushing to remote locations with spare tires, and other memorable consumer experiences. Cannon noted:

“There is no scientific process, no algorithm, to inspire a salesperson or a service person to do something extraordinary. The only way you get there is to educate people, excite them, incite them. Give them permission to rise to the occasion when the occasion to do something arises. This is not about following instructions. It’s about taking a leap of faith.”

In a 2018 article, I highlighted the reviews of a pharmacy that made it apparent that staff wasn’t empowered to do the simplest self-determined acts, like providing a chair for a sick man who was about to fall down in a long prescription counter line. By contrast, an Inc. book review of Jill Lublin’s The Profits of Kindness states:

“Organizations that trade in kindness allow their employees to give that currency away. If you’re a waitress, can you give someone a free piece of pie because the kid at the next table spilled milk on their foot? If you’re a clerk in a hotel, do you have the authority to give someone a discounted rate because you can tell they’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?”

There may be no formula for teaching kindness, but if Zaki is right, then leadership can be the starting point of demonstrative empathy that can emanate through the staff and to its customers. How do you build for that?

A cared-for workforce for customer service excellence

You can find examples of individual employees behaving with radical kindness despite working for brands that routinely disregard workers’ basic needs. But, this hardly seems ideal. How much better to build a business on empathy and generosity so that cared-for staff can care for customers.

I ran a very quick Twitter poll to ask employees what their very most basic need is:

Unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents cited a living wage as their top requirement. Owners developing a kind workforce must ensure that staff are housing-and-food-secure, and can afford the basic dignities of life. Any brand that can’t pay its staff a living wage isn’t really operational — it’s exploitation.

Beyond the bare minimums, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 Survey of 7,300 executives, HR experts, and employees highlighted trending worker emphasis on:

  • Flexibility in both hours and location to create a healthy work/life balance
  • Ethics in company technology, practices, and transparency
  • Equity in pay ratios, regardless of gender
  • Empathy in the workplace, both internally and in having a positive societal impact with customers

It’s just not very hard to connect the dots between a workforce that has its basic and aspirational needs met, and one possessing the physical, mental and emotional health to extend those values to consumers. As I found in a recent study of my own, 70 percent of negative review resolution was driven by brands having to overcome bad/rude service with subsequent caring service.

Even at the smallest local business level, caring policies and initiatives that generate kindness are within reach, with Gallup reporting that SMBs have America’s happiest and most engaged workers. Check out Forbes list of the best small companies of 2019 and note the repeated emphasis on employee satisfaction.

Kindness as currency, with limitless growth potential

“I wanted a tangible item that could track acts of kindness. From that, the Butterfly Coin emerged.” Bruce Pedersen, Butterfly Coins

Maybe someday, you’ll be the lucky recipient of a Butterfly Coin, equipped with a unique tracking code, and gifted to you by someone doing a kind act. Then, you’ll do something nice for somebody and pass it on, recording your story amongst thousands of others around the world. People, it seems, are so eager for tokens of kindness that the first mint sold out almost immediately.

The butterfly effect (the inspiration for the name of these coins) in chaos theory holds that a small action can trigger multiple subsequent actions at a remove. In a local business setting, an owner could publicly reward an employee’s contributions, which could cause the employee to spread their extra happiness to twenty customers that day, which could cause those customers to be in a mood to tip waitstaff extra, which could cause the waitstaff to comp meals for hungry neighbors sitting on their doorsteps, and on and on it goes.

There’s an artisan in Gig Harbor, WA who rewards kindnesses via turtle figurines. There are local newspapers that solicit stories of kindness. There are towns that have inaugurated acts-of-kindness weeks. There is even a suburb in Phoenix, AZ that re-dubbed itself Kindness, USA. (I mentioned, I’ve been keeping a file).

The most priceless aspect of kindness is that it’s virtually limitless. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be quantified. The Butterfly Coin idea is attempting to track kindness, and as a local business owner, you have a practical means of parsing it, too. It will turn up in unstructured citations, reviews, and social media, if you originate it at the leadership level, and share it out from employee to customer with an open hand.

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Convincing Old-School Clients that Things Have Changed

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

There’s a reason we use the terms 
“white hat” and “black hat” for SEO: it used to be the Wild West. Black hat tactics were so effective, they were almost necessary to market online. Paying a few thousand dollars to an SEO could get you to rank #1 for almost any term (before you let them go and your competitor paid them the same to outrank you). You only got a few thousand dollars in return for that ranking, though, since there weren’t many people shopping online yet.

Fast forward to today: Ranking well on Google is
insanely profitable—much more so than it ever was in the early days—and Google’s algorithm has advanced dramatically. But former SEOs and people outside our industry still hold on to that idea that a few thousand dollars of “technical SEO” can make them magically rank #1. 

So, how do you convince your old school clients things have changed?

The immediate answer

When this comes up in conversation, I have a few trump phrases that usually bring clients around:

  • “Yeah, that used to be a great tactic, but now it puts you at risk for getting a penalty.” (Really, any response that includes the word “penalty” stops clients in their tracks.)
  • “That makes sense, but Matt Cutts said…” / “Good point, but Google’s official blog recommends…”
  • “I / another coworker / another client / a Mozzer has tried that, and it had disastrous results…”

Basically, acknowledge their idea as valid so you don’t insult them, then explain why it won’t work in a way that scares the shit out of them by mentioning real repercussions. Or, you know, just persuade them gently with logic.

If you can’t persuade/scare the shit out of them, tell them you’ll do some research and get back to them. Then do it.

If that doesn’t work…

Okay, so you have answers for on-the-spot questions now. They will work anywhere from moderately well to amazingly well, depending on your delivery and the respect you’ve gained from your client. But the client may ask for more research, or be skeptical of your answer. To be really effective, the right answer has to be coupled with a lot of respect and a logical, well-delivered explanation. 

Many of you are probably thinking, “I establish respect by being right / talking professionally / offering a lot of case studies during the sales process.” That’s the sort of thinking that
doesn’t earn respect. You gain respect by consistently being:

1. Respectful, even if your clients are wrong

It’s embarrassing to be wrong. When your client says, “What meta keywords should we put on this page?” and you chuckle and say, “Gosh, meta keywords haven’t been used in so long—I don’t even think Google ever used them,” your client is going to fight you on it, not because they’re particularly invested in the idea of using meta keywords, but because you’ve made them feel wrong.


So when your client is wrong, start by validating their idea
. Then, explain the right solution, not necessarily digging into why their solution is wrong:

Client: What meta keywords should we put on this page?

You: Well, I’m going to put together some keywords to target on this page next week, but making them meta keywords won’t make much of a difference. Google doesn’t look at them because it’s so easy to spam (wouldn’t it be nice if they did?). Anyway, when I send you those keywords that we should target, I’ll also include what we need to change on the page in order to target them.

Answering like this will keep your conversations positive and your clients open to your ideas, even if your ideas conflict directly with theirs. 

2. Honest

You’re probably smart enough not to make up client anecdotes or lie about what Matt Cutts has said. Where I usually see dishonesty in consulting is when consultants screw up and their clients call them on it. 

It looks bad to be wrong, especially when someone is paying you to be right. It’s even worse to be caught in a lie or look dishonest. Here’s my mantra:
It’s not wrong to make an honest mistake. When clients tell you you’ve done something wrong, consider it a misunderstanding. Explain where you were coming from and why you did what you did briefly, then fix it.

(Note: this obviously doesn’t work if you made a stupid mistake. If you made a stupid mistake, apologize and offer to fix it, free of charge. It’ll lose you some money up front, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.)

3. Direct

This is the best outline for any answer:

  1. Brief answer, in one sentence
  2. Deeper explanation of answer
  3. Information to back it up
  4. Reiteration of brief answer

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard another consultant (or myself) not be entirely sure of an answer and ramble on for a couple of minutes before stopping to complete silence from their client. Or know the answer but think it’s too complicated and deliver an answer that only confuses their client more.

By starting with the answer, the client already knows what’s coming, so all other information you give after that will naturally support your answer as you go, rather than possibly leading them down the wrong path. Consider these alternatives:

Standard answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: Competition is always a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. It’s easier to rank for, say, “yellow sapphire necklaces” than “blue sapphire necklaces” because there are more blue sapphire necklaces out there. But this is definitely what we should do to increase our rankings.

Direct answer:

Client: How much will this increase our rankings?

You: I don’t know, it’s not something that we can definitively say in SEO, unfortunately. Competition is a huge part of the equation, so we’ll have to look into that. But, regardless, this is the most effective action that we could take to increase our rankings.

The more direct answer admits doubt, but is still much more convincing in the end (though both are vague and obviously top-of-mind examples… just ignore that). 

4. Complimentary and inclusive

It’s called the 
Benjamin Franklin Effect: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” (Props to Rob Ousbey for telling me about this.)

When your client has done something right, compliment them on how they’ve made your job easier since you don’t have to fix their mistakes. When your client has done something wrong, let them know what they should do to fix it, but help them share in the work to make the change. It’ll make the client feel valued and it’ll take a big part of the workload off of you.

5. Proactive

Good project management is the key to effective consulting. When clients don’t know what you’re working on, they get worried that you’re wasting their money. Make sure that you consistently:

  • Meet; I like to have scheduled meetings once a week
  • Share a 3-6 month project plan, with dates and deliverables outlined
  • Ship those deliverables on time
  • Respond to emails within a day or two, even if the answer is “Great question! I’m prioritizing [other project for the same client right now], can I get back to you in a week or so?”
  • Follow up with open questions; if a client asks you a question in a meeting you don’t know, admit you don’t know, say you’ll get back to them after you research it, then actually do that

I think that project management is often dropped because it seems so easy that it’s de-prioritized. Don’t believe that: this may be the most important of the five traits I’ve listed.

To sum it up: be honest, selfless, and proactive, and your clients are going to love you.

Even if you’re a terrible SEO (though try your best to be a good one), clients are going to respect consultants who put their clients’ business first, are open and honest about what they’re doing and thinking, and get their work done without being micromanaged.

Now that you’ve earned your client’s respect, they will be open to you changing their mind. You just have to give them a reason to.

Nail it with a great argument

When a client says, “Can we rank for ‘trucks’ by putting the word ‘truck’ as the alt text to each image on this page?” our mind immediately says, “No, why would you think that?” That’s not going to win the argument for you.

The reason we SEOs say “why would you think that?” is because we know the answer. So, teach your client. Start by validating their idea (what did we just learn about clients being wrong?), then explain the right answer, then explain why their answer won’t work:

Client: Can we rank for “trucks” by putting the word “truck” as the alt text to each image on this page?

You: Well, that would certainly get “trucks” on the page more often! To really optimize the page for “trucks,” though, we’ll need to put it in the page title, and a few times in the body of the page. SEO is all about competition, and our competition is doing that. We have to at least match them. Once the page is optimized for “trucks,” though, we’ll still have to work to get more backlinks and mentions around the web to compete with Wikipedia, which ranks #1 right now for “trucks.”

Don’t focus too much on their mistake.The more time you spend on the disagreement, the more frustrated your client will get; the more time you spend on your solution, the more impressed they’ll be with you.

If that doesn’t work, do the research to tell an even better story:

  • Give examples from other clients. Don’t give away too many names, of course, but knowing that you’ve solved this problem or a problem like it in the past makes clients feel much more confident in you.
  • If you’ve never seen this problem before, reach out to your SEO community. One of the best parts of working at Distilled is that when a client off-handedly emails me a question, I can email all Distilled consultants and usually get an answer (or at least an educated guess) within an hour or so. If you work on your own, build a community online, through Moz or another online portal, and ask them.
  • Forecast the effects of your solution. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not good at this because it can take a long time. But if your client is resistant, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Take clients through how you worked out the forecasting so they can see how much they’ll gain by working with you.

Once you’ve got proof behind your argument, restate your position, add your new arguments, and then follow up with your position and what you recommend your client does now. Make sure that you end in an action so there’s something concrete for them to focus on. 

Practice, practice, practice delivery

You can have the perfect explanation and a great relationship with your client, but if you trip over your own words or confuse your client, you won’t be convincing.

Written reports

Edit the paper multiple times. Only include the information that directly leads to an action item, don’t include all of the information that they already know, or that just shows you did your homework. That stuff is boring, and will encourage your client to skim, which will often lead to misinterpretations. Next, have a friend who’s been in SEO for awhile and knows about this old school stuff edit it. It’s hard to know where your descriptions might break down without someone else’s perspective.

Verbal presentations 

Practice your presentation ahead of time: talk through your recommendations to a friend or coworker. Have them interrupt you, because you will definitely be interrupted when you’re talking to your client. Make sure that you’re okay with that, that you can have a separate conversation, then jump back in to the report.

For presentations that are brief and over the phone, make sure that you’ve already sent your client something written. If it’s a report, make it clear and to the point (as described above), if it’s not, outline the action items in an email or a spreadsheet, so your client has something concrete to look at as you discuss. I’ve also found clients are able to digest information much better when they’ve already read it.

For big presentations – the ones that need an accompanying PowerPoint, follow the same advice as I gave in the written report section: Edit to be succinct, and get feedback.

This is pretty much a post on good consulting

I’ve consulted clients on technical SEO, promotions / outreach, creative, and content strategy-based projects, and I’ve found that the key to being effective in every one is a) coming up with a good answer, and b) everything discussed in this post. Building respect and communicating effectively is the foundation that supports your answers in almost every relationship, consulting, in house, or even personal. The key to convincing your clients that their black hat, overly white hat, or completely UX-based solutions are wrong is all sort of the same.

So what do you think? What resistance have you come up against in your consulting projects? Share in the comments below!

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