Why the Golden Rule Outshines Platinum in Service

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Last month, I questioned why so few companies fully embrace the Golden Ruletreat others as you would want to be treated—even though this principle serves the best interests of customers, employees and, ultimately, investors. At the end of my post, I asked readers to share their theories.

More than 100 people offered their thoughts (thank you!). After reading all of them, one thing immediately struck me: People interpret the Golden Rule’s meaning in a variety of ways. While some people, like me, consider it the ultimate service beacon, some commenters, such as SummaRisk’s Radu Capatina, questioned whether the rule goes far enough for companies that want to truly delight customers. 

Like Radu, Arun Rao of FocusU Engage India offered up the “Platinum Rule”—treat others as they would want to be treated—as a far better goal. 

Radu and Arun make a good point. Technology is helping companies collect more data about their customers than ever. Hotel managers know if their most loyal customers prefer a 12 PM checkout instead of 11 AM. Utilities know which customers are without power after a storm, so there’s no need to wait for a service call. B2B executives know if their top buyer’s fiscal year ends in December or June. That’s table stakes for any company today.    

For a company trying to create service experiences that customers will rave about, you could say that the customer’s standard matters more than the company’s. The goal should be to anticipate customers’ needs—maybe before they’re even aware of those needs—so you can surprise and delight them, not merely meet their requests, right?

In music, a platinum album has sold twice as many units as gold. Platinum credit cards usually offer more perks than gold cards. Naturally, wouldn’t a Platinum Rule also be an upgrade?

In my opinion, not necessarily. If you consider the Golden Rule in its purest sense, I still think it provides a loftier goal. I would also argue that if a company isn't careful, the Platinum Rule can lead it astray. While treating customers as they would want to be treated makes sense on paper, customers may wish for something that would help them, but hurt another customer. Or they might want a price cut that would eventually bankrupt the company.

We should all be working toward a better society, whether it’s in service to our customers or to our families and communities. To achieve that, both sides of a business relationship—and really any relationship—need to benefit. You wouldn’t want to diminish one person’s life through excessive service to another person.

The Golden Rule, as I understand it, calls us to enhance the other person’s happiness and well-being, but not at the expense of the server or the community. It’s truly putting yourself in someone else’s shoes—your customer’s, your neighbor’s or your friend’s—and enriching the lives of both sides, while strengthening your shared community. Everyone benefits and that makes all of us better off.

Your very insightful comments gave me a lot to think about, and I plan to explore more of the themes you raised in upcoming blog posts. So keep the comments coming—especially if they challenge my views. I love thoughtful debate. 

Fred Reichheld is a Bain Fellow and founder of Bain & Company's Loyalty practice, which helps companies achieve results through customer and employee loyalty. He is the creator of the Net Promoter® system of management.

 Net Promoter®, Net Promoter System®, Net Promoter Score® and NPS® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.


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