Taking the lessons of friendship into business would serve retailers well, says Lord Kirkham.

Taking the lessons of friendship into business would serve retailers well, says Lord Kirkham.

Earlier this month Harry beat HMRC in a contest that had, in my view, no other possible outcome. Monsieur Redknapp, aka Rosie 47, started a handful of goals ahead in this key match as he soared on a huge wave of public popularity.

While the taxman should be a tough adversary, he was never going to be in the same league as the Spurs manager when it came to public esteem. It would have taken a team including Abu Qatada and Fred the Shred, with Rupert Murdoch on the bench, to level that particular playing field.

Whether you are in a court of law awaiting the jury’s verdict, at the roadside with a punctured tyre and no spare wheel, or looking for some mug to take your speeding points, it is good to be popular and friends come in handy.

It does not matter whether you are a politician, a southern Mediterranean country, a Russian oligarch or the occupant of a cardboard box. It pays to have good pals, particularly ones you can trust to watch your back (or your box) for you.

Don’t you prefer to do business with people you like? I know I do. And knowing that potential customers also want to do business with people and companies they like, surely we should all aim to enlarge the circle of our friends sometime soon.

Doing just that means identifying the qualities and characteristics we find most attractive in people. Perhaps a friend would smile hugely and easily when they see us, be consistent in attitude, likeable, helpful, honest and loyal. They might even bid us to have a nice day – and actually mean it.

How many of our businesses tick all those boxes of treating customers like friends?

Clearly for any retailer product, prices, website, store location and the availability of parking can be pretty key. But with the odd exception (Ryanair springs to mind) becoming the customer’s reliable and trusted friend is vital in helping form healthy long-term relationships.

Recently I met a new neighbour at a small reception hosted by a long-time friend. I was tired, and felt no desire to dominate the proceedings. So, trapped in a corner for a couple of hours, I simply asked my captor a series of open-ended questions about himself, his work and family, nodding sagely in agreement at his answers.

My contribution to the conversation was a maximum of circa 5%, and his the balancing 95%.

The next day my old pal informed me that not only had I made a big impression but won a new best friend too. The new kid on our block had told him how intelligent I was and just how much he had enjoyed our sparkling conversation.

From which we can deduce without caveat that being a good listener really is an important avenue to making friends. There can be no better advice to any retailer than to smile more, listen harder, be accommodating, attentive and helpful. Try re-reading Dale Carnegie’s 1936 classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People and act on it.

Even if we don’t do more business – and we will – we will certainly feel a great deal better, receive many more Christmas cards and greatly improve our chances of acquittal if we ever end up in the dock.