Neil Alcala, CEO and owner of DirectPay for the last 20 years, processes credit cards and places e-commerce solutions for coaches, speakers, trainers, info-marketers, and other professionals to get paid for their services.
I’ve personally witnessed Neil’s generosity throughout the years, as a CEO and a person, with no concern for receiving anything back. “Kindness is ingrained in our culture at DirectPay,” he told me. “It’s not something that we actively measure, but one of the things that we focus on is when you call or contact DirectPay, we treat you as a person, a person needing assistance, needing help. Whether it is for our service or even a competitor’s, if we can assist you, that is what we are going to do. That is the foundation of how we operate at DirectPay.”
As Neil spoke, I couldn’t help but recall that pivotal scene in the classic holiday movie Miracle on 34th Street when the Macy’s Santa Claus instructed harried mothers to find the most popular toys at Gimble’s, a known rival of the department store supergiant. The idea that a Macy’s employee would send a customer to a competitor and drive away a sale was preposterous to store managers—at first. But right before Santa is to be fired one of the mother’s thanks him for putting good spirit back into the holidays and vows to do all her shopping at Macy’s. Neil reminded me of what it means to be at one’s service.
There are many times when a small business owner calls DirectPay accidentally, unaware that their shopping carts are serviced by another provider. “We will still assist them the best we can anyway,” explained Neil. “We believe in supporting small businesses—period. It may take some extra time, but we are committed to helping them.”
It is no different than if a stranger stops you in the middle of the street and asks you for directions. “If you know the way,” says Neil, “you will share that information. If you don’t, maybe you will stop another person for help or look on your phone, or take the person to the nearest point you can. It’s the same way at a DirectPay.”
This goodwill and kindness have increased the intimate connections (the trust and reliability the company is known for) between not only their customers but the competitors who get wind of DirectPay’s assistance to noncustomers. As a result, DirectPay processes about 3.25 billion dollars a year for its clients and has grown despite a recession and credit crunch, while their peers have had a retraction in their business. This is why most people assume that Neil would want to keep his currencies of kindness a secret to keep the other sharks at bay, and perhaps beach them for good. On the contrary, kindness is so ingrained and institutionalized in Neil’s mission that he sets out to help and support future entrepreneurs, even helping build brands that might one day directly compete with DirectPay. At first, one would think Neil is out of his mind. What kind of corporate sabotage is he going for exactly? But Neil reminds us that it comes back to that biological desire and need to bond with one another.
In 2016, Neil implemented a new program internally working with StonyBrook University on Long Island, located 15 minutes away from DirectPay’s offices. The idea is to work with their school of business, encouraging students to apply for a full-time position at DirectPay for a five-year contracted term. DirectPay will then train the graduates, send them for certification programs, get them up to speed in the coaching, speaking, and infomarketing worlds, and encourage them to start their businesses. Why the five-year contract? Neil explains, “We want them to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’ve started a business with the help of DirectPay.’ Our goal is to spin off a new company every six months. It’s their company; I don’t have any ownership. I just want to add a new business to the U.S. market, and who better to start a business than someone with a passion and energy and excitement fresh out of college?” And each new business launched with being one-degree of separation from DirectPay, and that is some mighty network!
Additionally, Neil explains that entrepreneurs in training at DirectPay are an added value to their clients because their employees then understand the experiences their clients have gone through or are going through in their businesses. “If you are on the phone with an individual who has started their own business, and you have never tried it, it is very difficult to understand their point of view.”
One of my favorite stories comes from an article I read by Bill Taylor on HBR.org, the website of Harvard Business Review, retelling the story of Brandon Cook, from Wilton, New Hampshire, whose hospitalized grandmother admitted she desperately wished for a bowl of soup (her favorite clam chowder from Panera Bread). Unfortunately, granting this minor wish was impossible since at that time Panera only sold clam chowder on Fridays.
Ever the loyal grandson, Brandon took a shot and called a local Panera and spoke with Susanne Fortier, the store’s manager. Turns out she was happy to make clam chowder just for Brandon’s grandmother and sent a box of cookies as a gift from the staff!
You can imagine what happened once Brandon and his grandmother took to social media to share their story and gratitude: 500,000-plus “likes” and more than 22,000 comments on Panera’s Facebook page. At the same time, Panera received what even the most clever advertising campaign can- not buy: a true sense of connection and appreciation from its worldwide customers.
Is this story an example of the power of social media and word of mouth? Yes, of course, but as Taylor posits, “…I see the reaction to Sue Fortier’s gesture as an example of something else—the hunger among customers, employees, and all of us to engage with companies on more than just dollars-and-cents terms. In a world that is being reshaped by the relentless advance of technology, what stands out are acts of compassion and connection that remind us what it means to be human.”
Kindness is what it means to be human. The very human characteristics of kindness, rooted in our biological need to bond and to connect.
Tell me, how have you generated connections through kindness lately? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org