South African Desmond Tutu explained in an interview that the word ‘ubuntu’, which has its origins in African Bantu languages, means that a person becomes a person only through other people. Sadly, it’s entirely possible to work from home now and never actually see a customer in the flesh. Groceries, clothing and more can be home delivered with a few mouse clicks. Among all the benefits of our progressing technology and communication, we have lost one very important thing: personal connection.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of seeing business relationships and personal relationships as completely different things; incompatible even. But there’s one fundamental of business we all need to remember now, more than ever:

All businesses are people businesses.

  • People make products for people.
  • People serve people.
  • People work with people.
  • People work for people.
  • People market to people.

Keeping this fundamental in mind, it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that the root cause of any business problem is not finance-related, it’s not product-related, and it’s not connected to structure or process. Today, as has plainly been the way it has worked for centuries, businesses live and die by their staff, contractors and management (people), and their interaction with customers (who are also people).

Any solutions in this new era won’t be new ‘business practices’; they will be new ‘people practices’. We don’t need a new ad campaign or organisational chart. There’s no quick fix. What we require is a change in our thinking. The competencies needed in today’s times are not greater public relations skills, but rather abilities in developing personal relationships. Even though it’s not easy to overturn decades of societal depersonalisation, today’s forward thinking companies are showing a willingness to listen and acknowledge their customers’ valuable input. This requires that they lay themselves bare and show that they aren’t faceless companies; that they are just people serving other people.