You know how people say, “it’s the thought that counts?” I tend to disagree, especially if you’re trying to build better brands.

While a tiny kindness may count for something, it isn’t enough to cement your brand reputation.

In day-to-day experience, the people who interact with your brand — from your customers and employees to your partners, vendors, suppliers and investors — expect a certain level of professionalism, empathy, and effort. It needs to be consistent and reliable, as much a part of your brand as the shape and color of your logo.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just who you are — and it all starts with five ridiculously easy things that are simple to integrate into the DNA of your brand.

Listen

Nothing makes a person feel more valued than feeling heard. Conversely, nothing makes a person more agitated than feeling ignored.

Think about it. How do you feel when a discussion is sidelined by interruptions, inappropriate questions, or comments that make it clear listening wasn’t a priority?

Unfortunately, as sound and communication expert Julian Treasure maintains, “We are losing our listening. We spend roughly 60 percent of our communication time listening, but we’re not very good at it. We retain just 25 percent of what we hear.”

The premium on accurate and careful listening, he said, “has simply disappeared” — and we’re all becoming impatient.

But listening is simply too important to ignore. Customer experience expert Shep Hyken calls listeningthe fuel for customer retention, employee fulfillment, and the growth of a company.”

Brands that listen well — by acting on the information they receive from conversations, social media, surveys and other forms of feedback — have higher brand satisfaction, he said.

Be Honest

Mistakes happen. Machines break. Systems fail. Orders get lost in transit. Saying so won’t prevent anger, but it will go a long way to defusing unpleasant situations.

But too many brands lapse into obfuscation and double-speak. That is a mistake. It shows disrespect. It assumes the customers, employees, partners or other stakeholders are too naïve, ill-informed or incapable of handling the truth.

It’s a recipe for brand damage.

Truth is reassuring. We don’t always like it but we can deal with it.

Take a look at how the Bay Area Rapid Transit system treated customers after a service outage last year. By responding simply and clearly, it provided facts and not more fodder for anger.

Exceed Expectations

When does a brand interaction go beyond the ordinary? What makes people happy to engage with a brand, over and over again?

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Brie Tascione, CMO of Relay Network, thinks it comes down to over delivering. “If marketers can think less about traditional marketing and more about ensuring that every brand interaction is meeting or exceeding consumer expectations, we’ll be more likely to win and keep customers for life,” she said.

She’s not alone.

Stop Thinking ‘I’m Sorry’ Is Enough

A meaningful apology has two key elements. First, it express your remorse over your actions. Second, it acknowledges the hurt your actions have caused to someone else.

“Probably the worst example of an apology is ‘I’m sorry that you feel that way’ or ‘I’m sorry that you think I’m not being clear,'” said Ted Choper, head of customer success at UserVoice.

Choper suggests saying, “I’m sorry we caused this frustration” or simply “I’m sorry for the trouble.” Either option shifts the blame to the brand.

It’s a way for the brand to accept responsibility. The brand rep can then validate the person’s feelings, explain the situation honestly, and do something to solve it.

Solve the Problem

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Tara-Nicholle Nelson, the author of The Transformational Consumer: Fuel a Lifelong Love Affair With Customers by Helping Them Get Healthier, Wealthier and Wiser, and CEO of the consulting firm TCI, made a salient point.

“Your competition is any and every obstacle your customers encounter along their journeys to solving the human, high-level problems your company exists to solve,” she wrote.

She concludes: “If you can stay focused on eliminating the obstacles along your customers’ journeys, your company will turn out much more than all right.”

We agree.

Noreen Seebacher is the content evangelist at Arke, where she researches, writes and continues her long career in news reporting as a brand journalist. Noreen lives in Beaufort, South Carolina with her husband, her dog and four formerly homeless cats.