After being in London for about 13 kilograms (which roughly equates to 18 months give or take), my mother subtly mentioned that she’d seen an episode of 60 Minutes which featured a young Australian fitness instructor called Jamie, who was training rock stars and celebrities at a gym in Covent Garden, and “perhaps it might be fun to seek him out” (mother speak for “darling I’m scared you’re about to self combust all over Trafalgar Square”). So after paying a small fortune and finding dry-clean only gym gear (it was the late 80’s and I didn’t want to go too much), I arrived at the bustling gym for my first session. The gorgeous but painfully aloof people on reception instructed me to head up to the fourth floor to the women’s change room and the gym where Jamie would meet me. Enthusiastically, I asked where I’d find the lift. After a bewildered and pregnant pause, I was told simply, “this is a gym”, and was shown the stairs. Which was fine, sort of, until an instructor who’d been standing at reception chased me all the way up to the fourth floor, screaming at me to “MOOOOOVE … (insert some nasty expletives)”. I burst into the safety of the women’s changing room to be greeted by about a dozen models. So after taking my time to get changed in the toilet cubicle, I sauntered out to the gym to find that my stairwell protagonist was none other than Jamie. It wasn’t a happy union. During one session, there was a small window where I wasn’t so out of breath that I couldn’t speak, so quickly asked if I could have one of the t-shirts that Sting and all these other fit, fabulous people were wearing, that said “Body by Jamie”. He stood and looked me up and down, and said, “…in about nine months.” This is not goodwill. It was funny, and he was right, but it definitely wasn’t goodwill. In fact, when the completely up itself gymnasium went bust and we all lost our membership money, I was thrilled I’d never have to step foot in the place again, and skipped all the way back to my office (burning countless calories all the way).

We know when we’ve encountered goodwill. It’s a generosity of spirit that lifts your mood and soothes your heart. I think good businesses should make their customers feel better about themselves, rather than the business. The latter naturally follows, as a halo effect bi-product, but primarily, if our customers feel respected, heard, inspired, informed, entertained … or just better for whatever reason, they will not only come back, but they’ll talk about us.

The poet, Maya Angelou wrote that, “People will forget what you say, and people will forget what you do, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” When we launched Net-a-Porter, we wanted every person who entered the site to feel as if they were part of something incredible. With an absolute commitment to exceeding customer expectations at every touch point and by continuously anticipating their need states, we helped change the way people shopped and we helped change the way the internet was perceived. Let’s not forget that this was twenty years ago, when connections were slow, and websites looked as if they were designed by skateboarding male teens. Respectful of people’s time and money, we created a beautiful and intuitive site with aspirational imagery, which wasn’t just transactional, but a forum for discovery. Whether customers spent £200 or £20 000, everyone had the same base level of impeccable service, making people feel uniquely special and equally, part of a global tribe.

Goodwill doesn’t just sit at the high margin end of big business though. It’s simply being respectful of all of your stakeholders. Paying suppliers on time; making your destination (whether online or bricks and mortar) worth people’s time and money; having clean restrooms; having nurtured, empowered staff; ensuring that customers are able to access your services when and how they choose in the context of their daily lives. Exceeding their expectations.

Of course, the current crisis puts social responsibility firmly under the spotlight. Frankly, it’s been increasingly front of mind for a broad church of customers for a while, but the sharpened focus of the media on companies that have acted with authentic integrity, generosity and empathy for the plethora challenges that people everywhere are experiencing, highlights the blatant opportunism and glaring lack of purpose of many other businesses. By recognising the collective fear and struggle, companies such as Zoom extended their resources to people in need, enabling communication between work, family and friends. By letting their purpose take precedence over profit, they have embedded themselves in the vernacular and hearts and minds globally. In Australia, Woolworths quickly ensured that the elderly, disabled and vulnerable were given priority. Immediately at the outset of the pandemic, Telstra committed their ongoing financial support of local football clubs and cultural hubs, appeasing fear of financial shortfalls and ensuring those important stalwarts of communities will be there, “on the other side”. Spotify gave staff members a stipend of $1000 to buy office supplies for home. Leading and local galleries, orchestras and theatres globally have streamed exhibitions and performances to inspire and connect those in isolation. In Italy and Spain, people sang together from their balconies, buoying each other and collectively lifting spirits. Resounding platitudes and priority time slots at supermarkets have acknowledged the gratitude to essential and front line workers by individuals, communities and businesses around the world. A fashion retailer in China offered frontline medical staff a 50% discount at checkout on their site. This is goodwill. The list of companies and individuals working for a common good is pleasingly sizeable. Purpose is not a passing phase. Society demands it, and it’s incredibly effective in making a hitherto disengaged and disloyal consumer, an active participant.

How do you want your customers or clients to feel before, during and after they encounter your business? How do you want your staff to feel about working for you? How do you want people to feel when they read about your business in mainstream or social media? You don’t have to give anyone a t-shirt to generate goodwill.