The power of immeasurables in business when caring for customers

A conversation with Ilse Crawford about care and capitalism.

Ilse Crawford is a creative director and academic whose influence can be seen across the globe in the buildings we frequent and the stuff with which we surround ourselves. She puts human needs and desires at the centre of all she does, and she believes in the idea of care and the importance of emotional sensibility. In this conversation, she mulls over capitalism and care with &Open Co-founder and CEO Jonathan Legge.

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My parents’ favourite wedding gift to give is two silver serving spoons, because they remember receiving serving spoons when they got married, and any time they used them they would say “Oh this spoon came from so and so.” This gift from forty years ago is still in use, and that person keeps coming up in conversation.

Exactly, and it’s a useful gift, but also I’m sure it wasn’t just a random silver spoon — it was something that they took care in finding.

Yes! And that’s how we try to frame what we are doing, these gifts are about showing that our clients care — a simple word but often overlooked.

The things that matter involve a degree of the un-measurable, to a greater or lesser degree. I mean, most people, when it really boils down to it, would say that the immeasurables matter a lot more than the measurables.

Ilse Crawford

Absolutely, though not so much overlooked as marginalised. It’s a soft word, or a sort of patronising word — when it should be core to our way of being. Business operates within a capitalist system, and a capitalist system only measures the things that can be counted. That’s its nature. But that’s not actually what creates brands, or indeed relationships, and all the things that matter. The things that matter involve a degree of the un-measurable, to a greater or lesser degree. I mean, most people, when it really boils down to it, would say that the immeasurables matter a lot more than the measurables.

And gifting is taking that immeasurable quality, care, making it tangible and, for us, scaling it.

I mean caring at scale is the hard thing isn’t it? Even if it’s hard to do those highly personalised things at scale, I still think it’s possible to care about how things are made, the intelligence behind the thing — it’s still making choices that show that there’s thought going into it, and that you take care to only choose things from people that themselves care. Gifting gives you the chance to express a shared value system.

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Ett Hem project

How do you find balancing these measurables and immeasurables when you are working on projects at such different scales? Working on Ett Hem must have been quite different to your work with Cathay Pacific, right?

With Ett Hem, the whole premise was about care; thinking about how people feel when they’re travelling, how to give them an elevated sense of the normal, of wellbeing, of care, to make them feel more special. It creates a completely different connection with the people that you are taking care of. And you feel the difference as a customer — one of the guests said “Typically beauty is never on a social agenda,” but beauty is something that is for free, in a way. It shows that you care, it requires that you go the extra distance, but it makes such a difference.

For Cathay Pacific, our priority was to think about customers as individuals always, and to deal with them on an individual scale — even if we then had to figure out how to multiply that. Of course you have to look at that in terms of logistics, but that’s not the content of what we were doing. The content was working out how to support the individual traveller on their journey. You know, to make them feel good.

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Cathay Pacific Project

Do you think that there’s a risk for businesses that ignore human connections? I feel like they’ve got away with a lot over the past 30 years, but it seems that now it’s starting to change.

Well social media means that people are used to having one-on-one connections with people they might not have met, but if you are going to do high-tech then you have to have high-touch in the physical world. You cannot behave in a mechanistic way, you will be called out, and should be — because things operate like a machine, they’ve started to behave like a machine.

No one wants to feel like they’re just being pushed through a system.

Absolutely. Once, I was going through airport security and this woman sort of beckoned me over and I thought “Oh.” It was really early in the morning, and you know, you stand there like a rock, thinking “Oh no not again.” And she just sort of patted me down, and sorted out my collar, and kind of arranged me, and sent me on my way. I nearly cried! It was just so unexpected! In the classic security line, it makes no financial difference whether somebody is kind, and cares, or behaves like a robot. It really doesn’t, but people behave as though it costs more.

It’s very human, this kind of interaction, it’s a back and forth rather than just a yes and no.

Exactly, it’s about respect and trust, it’s not just being nice the whole time, caring is about taking a real interest.

Interview by Jonathan Legge, Co-founder and CEO of &Open: the world’s first customer happiness platform.

Next Article

The lost meaning of flowers

Exploring the symbolic language of gifting.

&Open Jul 03, 2019

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