simple conversations


Why Getting Personal Is Good for Business

“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” – Michael Corleone (The Godfather)

This frequently cited line is, in my opinion, a lame excuse to sidestep the human element in business. Yes, it takes energy, time and resources to genuinely care about your employees, associates, contractors, and especially your customers, without whom you wouldn’t have a business. Humans are complex creatures.

I used to handle customer service at the BMW HQ in Kuala Lumpur. I know firsthand how draining it can be to deal with irate customers, given the amount of time and energy required to placate their emotional outbursts when things go wrong.

But here’s the catch. There’s no escaping the human element in business. Businesses are built on relationships. Not cold, unfeeling transactions. 


With Zappos, Tony Hsieh didn’t set out to build a business just selling shoes. He didn’t even care about shoes, but he was passionate about customer service.

“To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means doing something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver.” – Tony Hsieh (Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose)

His customer-centric approach paid off for Zappos. When people think of Zappos, they think first and foremost of a brand that goes all out to please its customers.

I’ve personally only had a handful of experiences where I’ve been truly wowed by a business or brand, but those rare moments have been imprinted in my mind forever.


Ali is by far the friendliest and nicest handyman I’ve ever had.

From my first experience with him, I knew I wouldn’t be forgetting his name in a hurry. First, he addresses me by my first name – Lindy – not Miss or Ma’am. Second, he gives me an honest assessment of the problem and patiently explains the repair options and pros and cons of each. Every time. He’s never in a hurry to get out of the door like the other handymen I’ve had. Third, whenever he leaves, he says “Have a good day, Lindy!” with a genuine smile on his face.

I’ve never had such an honest, nice and friendly handyman before. Guess what? I recommend him to my friends whenever any of them need a handyman.


Most businesses tend to provide value for the customer based on proportional increased revenue. That seems to make business sense. But what about providing value at the cost of reduced revenue?

During my student days in Glasgow, Scotland, I had a postpaid mobile plan with O2. I got a call from one of their customer service reps one day, out of the blue. Fully expecting a sales pitch of some sort, I was mentally preparing myself to say no to whatever it was they were selling. But as it turns out, they were calling to suggest downgrading my plan. I couldn’t believe my ears. That was the last thing I’d expected them to say.

They had noticed my low usage from my account history and felt I would benefit from a cheaper plan. Of course I agreed – it would save me money. I wasn’t saying no to that! The customer service rep proceeded to update my plan details while I was on the line. I didn’t have to lift a finger. Sweet! If I ever had any doubts about staying with O2, that simple gesture on their part effectively guaranteed my loyalty.


As a freelance copywriter, I tend to favour working with creatively stimulating clients, for obvious reasons. One of them – Justin Merino, Founder of kulturspace – has played an instrumental role in my growth as a freelance copywriter. While he approaches each project with a clear vision in mind, Justin also respects my creative judgement and insights while contributing to the process with his own inputs.

It’s such a welcome change from the alternative of being treated as a mere contractor in just another business transaction. Adopting a collaborative approach to work is a win-win for all involved, including the project. It’s human nature to favour dealing with people we like, trust and respect. Naturally I sing praises of Justin and kulturspace to friends and acquaintances whenever the opportunity arises. Businesses are built on relationships, not transactions.

Let’s get personal. It’s not just good for business, it’s essential if you plan on staying in business for the foreseeable future.

Have thoughts you’d like to add to this? I’m all eyes.


Image: Stephan Geyer

LindySiuWhy Getting Personal Is Good for Business
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