Business Doesn’t Have To Be Soulless.

By Dan Nielsen The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A deep personal connection sometimes can be seen in the easy interaction between customers and entrepreneurs and employees. That connection becomes apparent when repeat customers get to know workers and vice-versa.

The Record-Eagle, Traverse City, Mich.

Some business moguls believe emotion doesn't belong in the workplace. They block out personal feelings and let numbers do the talking.

But some entrepreneurs place great value in the emotional quality of their interaction with customers. Emotion, for them, becomes just as much a part of the workday routine as balancing the books.

Bonds of trust and friendship tend to build up gradually within families and among friends. Such bonds can grow the same way between people who frequently do business together. They're not always easy to see, particularly in today's business universe of chain stores and employees that hop from employer to employer.

But a deep personal connection sometimes can be seen in the easy interaction between customers and entrepreneurs and employees. That connection becomes apparent when repeat customers get to know workers and vice-versa.

It is obvious when a hardware store clerk knows which customers to hover over and which ones to let roam free without guidance.

It is obvious when a regular walks into a restaurant and, before he can take off his coat, a waitress arrives at tableside, sets down the soft drink he planned to order and asks if he'll have the usual chef's salad.

A personal connection between worker and client is particularly obvious during periods of stress.

Longtime local business owner Kim Kierczynski was stressed last week. She is closing her Kim's Hallmark Korner store after more than three decades in business. She and her employees, many of whom have worked for her for many years, shared hugs with customers who streamed through the door last week both to purchase merchandise and to say goodbye to a shopping experience they have grown to love.

Kierczynski and her crew developed genuine feelings of affection for their repeat customers. Their shared tears of sadness about the store's closing showed the depth of their emotional connection, a connection that stretched far beyond cash and carry.

I was struck by the contrast between the genuine scene at Kim's Hallmark and some not-so-genuine scenes in a film I recently watched on Netflix, "Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things."

The movie explores the penchant many of us have for collecting material goods. The film's premise is that things don't make people happy, that having too many possessions actually distracts from what truly matters in life.

The film follows a pair of young authors on tour trying to sell their books about the minimalist lifestyle. One of them makes a point of giving unsolicited hugs to everyone he meets. But the clinches come off as contrived, one-sided and artificial. It looked to me as if he hasn't yet quite got the hang of genuine human relationships and is using random hugs with strangers as a weak substitute.

I came away with the impression that the two gave up materialism in a search for meaning, but have not yet discovered that the true meaning of life is embedded in deep human relationships. I felt sorry for them.

The documentary is a fine film -- it is interesting, amusing and provides some good talking points on society, materialism and the power of advertising.

But the two guys featured in the film still have some things to learn. The man who insists on hugging perfect strangers, I suspect, is approaching relationships from the wrong angle. A hug does not create a relationship. A relationship creates the urge for a hug. The relationship comes first, the hug second.

First-time customers become repeat customers because they respond to the way they're treated. They feel welcome. They find what they need. They get good service. They get a good deal. They believe employees really want to help them. They respond to the soul of a business by coming back again and again. It takes years for consumers to develop an affection for a business, to become part of its soul.

Kim Kierczynski spent decades developing relationships with the customers at her card shop. They became part of the soul of Kim's Hallmark Korner. They value the relationship. When they learned the store will close, they had the uncontrollable urge to hug.

Emotion can play a role -- a large role -- in the workplace.

Business doesn't have to be soulless.

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