Warmth, competency and customer experience – Interview with Chris Malone about The Human Brand

Times are changing

Today’s interview is with Chris Malone, founder of Fidelum Partners and recent author with Professor Susan T Fiske at Princeton of a new book: The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies. Following an introduction by Stan Phelps, who reviewed the book here, Chris was kind enough to make some time to talk to me about the book, what’s changing around us and how we can make businesses or brands more human and why that is important.

The Human BrandThis interview follows on from my recent interview: Power to the customer – Interview with Matt Gorniak of G2Crowd – and is number ninety-six in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate, become more social and deliver better service.

Here are the highlights of my interview with Chris:

  • The book was inspired by a Harvard Business Review article in 2009 by Amy Cuddy called: Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb.
  • The article introduces the idea that we as humans judge people on two dimensions: warmth (i.e. do you have my best interests in mind or are you only on the look out for yourself) and competence (what is your skill, intelligence, ability,reliability, creativity etc).
  • Then, Chris came across the work of Amy’s mentor, Professor Susan T Fiske at Princeton, and they started to question whether we use these instincts to not only judge people but businesses and brands too.
  • The research shows that 80% of all of our decisions are driven by our warmth and competency perceptions.
  • The book has researched over 45 brands and the results show that our perception of the warmth and competency of a brand is a huge driver in our interest in and loyalty to that business.
  • Chris tells a story of Starbucks and how they deliver warmth and competence. This comes direct from his own experience when he was senior vice president of marketing at ARAMARK Corporation and they operated 75 college campus Starbucks franchises.
  • Chris goes on to explain about Starbuck’s Little Green Apron Book, which outlines a series of principles (Be Welcoming, Be Genuine, Be Knowledgeable, Be Considerate, Be Involved) that Starbuck’s would like it’s employees to adhere to. The Little Green Apron Book also has a series of little cards that employees can give to each to acknowledge the right type of behaviour when they see it.
  • Looking after your employees, encouraging the right behaviour and empowering them allows them to deliver a great customer experience.
  • They are humanising how we do business.
  • The book goes on to discuss a new relationship renaissance that is happening between customers and companies, as we emerge out of, what Chris calls, the ‘middle ages of marketing’. He believes we are coming full circle after 150 years of industrialisation back to a place where social accountability and personal connections are coming back to the fore.
  • I mentioned to Chris that this reminded me of a talk that I saw by Robin Wight at Likeminds back in 2010 (The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Social), where he shared some insights on human evolution, sociology and why the future is necessarily social.
  • In order to adapt to this changing landscape, Chris recommends that businesses start by becoming more self-aware, where they better understand how their policies, practices and processes are coming across to their employees and customers from a warmth and competence perspective.
  • To do this we may need to forget or unlearn a lot of what we have learned about business from education or our own experience.
  • The Loyalty Test (www.loyatlytest.com) is a free, web-based tool that allows you to rate your loyalty, using the warmth and competence dimensions, to a selected company, brand or celebrity and benchmarks your experience against the research in the book.
  • Apart from checking out Chris’s book: The Human Brand, he also advocates that you check out Give and Take by Adam Grant as a great complimentary read.

About Chris (taken from his bio on the book’s website)

Chris MaloneChris is a consultant and keynote speaker who helps clients achieve sustained business growth and performance.As Founder of Fidelum Partners, he has worked with hundreds of senior executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups and non-profits. Chris has over twenty years of sales, marketing, consulting, and organizational leadership experience, and a track record of driving growth and profitability. He was chief marketing officer at Choice Hotels International and senior vice president of marketing at ARAMARK Corporation, and has held senior marketing and sales positions at leading organizations including the Coca-Cola Company, the National Basketball Association, and Procter & Gamble. He lives in the Philadelphia area with his wife and three sons.

Grab a copy of the book here, say Hi to Chris on Twitter @hcmalone and connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Photo Credit: riacale via Compfight cc

5 comments On Warmth, competency and customer experience – Interview with Chris Malone about The Human Brand

  • Adrian,

    At the risk of stating the obvious (a personal strength) aren’t warmth and competence the two elements of trust? You have to have both for trust to be in place.


    • James,

      Thanks very much for your comment. You raise an important question and fortunately it’s one that has been well researched. It turns out that both trust and warmth have multiple dimensions. There are elements or trust that relate to morality and integrity (warmth-related), but also elements of trust that pertain to skills, reliability, knowledge and resources (competence-related). So we can have trust in one’s intentions or abilities, or both as you suggest above. It’s also worth noting however that there are two general kinds of warmth. The first relates to the morality and integrity mentioned above, but the other relates to sociability, friendliness and openness. So overall, trust is certainly an important factor in our warmth and competence perceptions, but not limited to those that pertain to trust. Hope this is helpful!

      Best regards,

  • Adrian,

    Thanks for the interview. Stan introduced me to Chris, as well, and I’m looking forward to reading his book. But are warmth and competence the same as hard skills and soft skills? Or, attitude and skill? We talk about hiring for one and training for the other. How does Chris address that? (Guess I need to read the book.)

    Annette 🙂

    • Annette,

      Thanks for your helpful question here. I would say that warmth and competence are closely related to what’s been referred to as soft and hard skills, but I find that the warmth and competence model provides much greater depth and specificity around why soft and hard skills are important to us and how we are hard-wired by evolution to be driven by them. The big surprise from a hiring and training standpoint is that warmth is much more important to our success than competence, despite that we tend to focus most of our effort on hiring and building competencies. Our book focuses mostly on the customer-related applications of this, but our next book could very well be about warmth & competence in the workplace. Hope this is helpful.

      All the best,

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