Likeable Business: A Book Review

The world of business is like a cocktail party. At least according to Dave Kerpen.

To be a huge hit at a party - or a market - one needs to be a good listener, tell great stories, and be responsive, authentic, passionate, and full of surprises. These traits, amongst others, are also necessary for a business to be likeable.

Author of the bestselling Likeable Social Media, Kerpen's new book Likeable Business is packed with inspirational tales of heroic businesses - and their leaders - who made it a point to care. They include familiar favourites like Apple, Google and Zappos, as well as charming outfits like Jones Soda which features photos of its community members on their soda bottles.

In Likeable Business, Kerpen prescribes 11 principles companies can adopt to make themselves more likeable. By being more customer and employee centric, likeable businesses can win over the hearts and wallets of customers in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

These strategies are illustrated in the figure below:

Courtesy of Dave Kerpen

Let us go through each of the strategy in turn:

The art and science of listening is the first step for any likeable business. Great leaders listen to their prospects, customers, employees and colleagues. On social media, tools like Radian6, Sysomos and Lithium allows one to seive out keywords and trends. Of course, kids are also worth listening to. Just ask the owners of Build-A-Bear Workshop!

In the words of Robert McAfee Brown, "Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today." Businesses that can weave compelling tales are better able to captivate people and drive them to take action. A good story can also be told through multi-media platforms and channels like blogs, online videos, and good old television commercials.

Being authentic requires us to be exactly who we say we are. It compels us to be humble, vulnerable, and real, propelling us to speak from the heart and act with integrity. Being real also means that the line between our public and private selves will be increasingly blurred.

You can run but you can't hide - not with the omniscient social web! Honesty and openness are valuable qualities in a business, and telling it like it is helps us to endear our business to others. Conversely, lying can be extremely detrimental to one's business. Just ask BP. Their cover up of the Gulf spill resulted in a loss of over US$25 billion in market value practically overnight.

Team Playing
Likeable businesses have strong team-oriented cultures. To build such a business, leaders should let employees shine, nurture innovation, and encourage out-of-the-box thinking. They should even place their employees ahead of their customers.

The lightning speed in which customers express their displeasure online makes quick responses almost mandatory in this day and age. Executed well, quick and genuine responses may turn an unpleasant situation into a winning outcome. A good example here is JetBlue's real-time recovery team, which rapidly responds to customer complaints on email, Twitter, and other social media channels.

Being adaptable is more important than ever before, especially in our rapidly changing environment. Businesses should navigate emerging challenges and exploit transient opportunities which may come their way. Flexibility and nimbleness helps one to embrace change in an increasingly restless world.

The story of how Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield built Ben & Jerry's revealed how passionate the two gentlemen are about giving back to the community and making the world a better place. Indeed, passion is an absolute must for anybody keen to build a likeable business. The benefits? Those who love what they do don't have to work a day in their lives.

Surprise and Delight
Like a magician, a likeable business knows when to surprise and delight its customers. By doing so, it is able to generate positive word-of-mouth and create buzz which resonates with existing customers as well as prospects. Oprah Winfrey's "favourite things" where she surprises studio guests with gift after gift (including jewellery, household appliances and holidays) is a great example here.

Naturally, no story on simplicity is complete with paying homage to Steve Jobs of Apple. In fact, digital heavyweights like Google, Twitter and Instagram are also keen advocates of "focusing on the few". Ultimately, being simple means being human - creating intuitive, easy-to-use products and services that satisfy just what customers need.

Finally, likeable leaders are grateful to those who made their success possible. They are appreciative of their mentors, customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders. Often generous in spirit, likeable businesses earn positive karma, generating an ROI in terms of financial rewards and happiness. A good tip here is to write thank you notes to those who matter on a regular basis.

Beyond describing each trait with memorable case studies, Kerpen further provides a handy "Social Tools and Principles" guide as well as "Action Items" to assist readers in bringing these principles to life. Reflecting on these items certainly helped me to deepen my own learning experience.

Like its predecessor, Likeable Business is a good addition to anybody's bookshelf. While its lessons aren't exactly rocket science, the way in which they are presented made for a compelling read. Highly recommended for entrepreneurs - or intrapreneurs - seeking to make a difference in their businesses.

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