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About two years ago, when Pink Jeep Tours decided to expand, it investigated exactly what set it apart from the competition and in which areas it could improve.

The 57-year-old Arizona-based company, which offers sightseeing excursions around the Grand Canyon, Sedona and Las Vegas in bright pink jeeps, had set its sights on growth throughout the US and new markets abroad.

They are real charmers

So the company’s management measured its net promoter score, which gauges customer loyalty and happiness. Pink Jeep found that it wasn’t just its eponymous vehicle colour that helped it score 91 out of 100 on the customer loyalty scale. It was the company’s guides, who must complete 150 hours of training before giving a tour, that were the key in keeping customers happy and keen to return. 

“They are real charmers,” CEO Tim Miller says.

Some of the guides are so warm and friendly that customers want to keep in touch with them after their excursions have ended, says Miller, who held executive positions in other travel and outdoors companies before joining Pink Jeep in 2013. “We deliver this experience in a different way than a lot of people are used to and customers can feel that.”

Pink Jeep found its friendly guides were the reason customers kept returning time and again (Credit: Pink Jeep Tours)

Businesses often use sales numbers or other figures to gauge how well they are doing. Or track other results, like competence, in order to measure employee performance. But when it comes to building trust with customers and within teams, it turns out that warmth is a key element to success. But how exactly do you measure something so seemingly abstract? Especially as warmth might look different to different people? 

Warmth is the real distinguisher between who we trust and are loyal to

A 2015 study of millennials from consulting firm Deloitte, showed that more than half of the participants surveyed felt that knowing more about their CEO’s experiences in managing work and life would have a positive impact on their feelings about their workplace.

The results show the need for executives to share more personal stories and communicate beyond just company strategy, especially for companies hoping to recruit and retain top, young talent, says Matthew Kohut, co-author of Compelling People, which looks at the qualities that make people influential.

While skills are key, warmth is what brings out the best in teams. Here, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraces midfielder Roberto Firmino (Credit: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

“Warmth is the real distinguisher between who we trust and are loyal to,” says Chris Malone, managing partner at Fidelum Partners, a consulting firm that specialises in tracking customer loyalty. “But it doesn’t show up in transaction records.”

Building trust

The idea of “warmth” is often misperceived, says Kohut, also managing partner of KNP Communications. Warmth, he says, isn’t about smiling more or being agreeable. Rather projecting warmth means that you’re able to show someone that you share their goals or values.

A Princeton University study found that people make snap judgments about other people based on their own background and experiences. Those judgments are important because they reveal whether you’re likely to trust someone or whether you perceive their intentions as good or bad, says Susan T Fiske, a professor of psychology and public affairs at the university. Fiske didn’t work on that study, but does research emotional prejudices and interpersonal relationships.

Warmth looks different in different places

When customers or teammates perceive that you are warm, they are really sensing that you are on their side. And people are more likely to trust others in their group, says Fiske. For example, someone might perceive a person in a certain ethnic group as being warm, cooperative and trustworthy, which might make it more likely that they will want to work with that person.

“Warmth looks different in different places,” says Kohut. “There is warmth in the Green Berets and there is warmth in kindergarten.”

That warm and fuzzy feeling that creates trust shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to bettering a business (Credit: Getty Images)

While hard skills and competence are critical, warmth is what brings out the best in teams. And boosting warmth could be key for companies in building trust internally among employees.

“If everyone is highly competent, but out for themselves, it doesn’t work,” Kohut says.

Warmth is also what helps companies build positive relationships with customers and keep them coming back. Malone says that companies today are held to an even higher level of accountability when it comes to customer and employee loyalty. Decades ago, companies could get away with focusing on cutting costs at the expense of customer service and employee perks.

It’s not the kind of thing that you can normally bring up in a conversation

“Now, with social media, customers notice ill intent and the word travels further and faster,” says Malone. “It’s not just that everyone in Sunday church knows about it, but everyone knows.”

Measuring warmth

Measuring warmth is particularly challenging because it’s subjective and often tough to talk about. After all, you can’t just ask a colleague if they perceive you as warm.

“It’s not the kind of thing that you can normally bring up in a conversation,” Malone says.

That’s why organisations use anonymous peer reviews that capture feedback of an employee from not only their bosses, but also colleagues and subordinates. But Kohut says that companies could get even more inventive in how they encourage warmth by rewarding employees for helping their division succeed instead of just boosting their own numbers.

“Lots of sports teams give credit for assists,” he says. “The corporate world could get creative about measuring the way people give assists instead of just scoring goals.”

It’s also challenging for companies to gauge how their customers perceive them by just looking at bottom-line numbers. Instead, they can use third-party surveys to get their customers’ honest opinion.

That warm and fuzzy feeling shouldn’t be underestimated

Malone’s firm, Fidelum Partners, helped a Canadian office supply company called Grand & Toy, which was losing business to competitors, survey customers about their perception of the company. They asked tens of thousands of customers for overall feedback on service levels including on 15 different dimensions of warmth and competence, such as asking them about whether the company “genuinely acts with your best interests in mind” and “has a warm and friendly staff.”

At first, it found that customers felt the company didn’t have their best interests at heart and wasn’t being fair and respectful. In response to the survey results, the company invited customers to air their unresolved problems and promised a personal reply within 72 hours. As a result, their customer satisfaction scores shot up.

That warm and fuzzy feeling shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to bettering a business. From 2014 to 2016, Fidelum surveyed 27,000 Grand & Toy customers and found that customer perceptions of warmth accounted for 41% of their willingness to recommend them over others, notes Malone.

Fidelum also surveyed nearly 1,000 Pink Jeep customers in July 2016, and there too found that perceptions of warmth accounted for 42% of their willingness to recommend the company.

After figuring out that the personality and warmth of their guides, and their rapport with customers, is what makes the company successful regionally, Pink Jeep is now upgrading its hiring and training programs. It wants to make sure that customers continue to feel the passion of their guides as they expand to more locations.

“As soon as you treat customers like buses and expect them to come every hour, you will be in trouble,” Miller says.

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