Transform Your Business in One Simple Step

by Al Smith

guest blog post by Ted Coine


Transform Your Business in One Simple Step 

 Can one miniscule change in behavior transform your entire company? Can this small tweak make it a better place to work? A better vendor for your customers?

 Can one little change make your company more profitable?

 I believe that it can.

 When I was researching the habits of customer service leaders for my first book, Five Star Customer Service, I came across The 15/5 Rule as part of standard training in several of the most renowned luxury hotel chains. It’s one of those basic things that most of us never really put a name to before, but leave it to the best of the hospitality industry to nail it!

 What do you do when you walk past someone going the other way in one of your company’s hallways? When do you say hello? When do you smile and nod? When do you just go about your own business and let them continue with theirs, unmolested? The 15/5 Rule provides you a simple, easy-to-teach rule of thumb for this nagging little question.

 Here’s how it works. When you’re within 15 feet of another person, acknowledge their presence with a smile and some other gesture – a nod, for instance – that shows you’re glad to see them. When you’re within 5 feet, add a kind word; “Hello” will do, though “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” are probably better.

 If they’re farther than that 15 feet from you? Nevermind. You’re good. Although if you make eye contact with another person, it’s always good manners to smile.

 This is a policy for staff to employ to make guests feel welcome. It’s one more way among dozens for a chain like Four Seasons or The Ritz Carlton to say to its guests, “We know you could stay at our competitor just down the street. So we want to thank you. You matter. You, Mr. or Ms Guest, are why we’re in business.”

 What I’ve noticed about hotels that pull off the best service is, they don’t just reserve practices like the 15/5 Rule for their paying guests. Recognition makes just as much difference in the back of the house as it does in the front. And what I’ve observed most clearly and undeniably is this: if you show me how an executive applies (or ignores) the 15/5 Rule with those lower on the org chart, I will tell you how that particular hotel is perceived by its guests.

 …All of which brings us to your company. Ever since I learned that this aspect of “common” courtesy and simple human validation has a name, and is easily taught to new staff no matter their background, I’ve had a keen eye for it among the companies I visit. And it astounds me what a vast gulf of difference there is from one company to the next, often even within the same office building! There is even a remarkable degree of difference from one department to the next within the same company.

 Even after I share this tip, some people don’t see the point. Some companies don’t have a culture of simple human validation. Some leaders are “too busy with important leadership issues” to acknowledge those around them.

 I guess. Although to me, the idea that there is any leadership issue more important than one’s own workforce is a dangerous thought; the kind of thought that drives a company to ruin.

 The 15/5 Rule is simple. It’s free. And implemented thoroughly, it will transform the culture of your business from wherever it is today to one of remarkable acknowledgement, validation, and possibly even esprit de corps. That, and not “busy-ness,” is how to build a thriving, profitable culture.



 Ted Coiné is one of the most influential business leaders on Twitter, with a following of over 100,000 and growing rapidly. His blog,, focuses on leadership, culture, customer service, and the effect of Social Media on the business world – the same themes that inform his next book, Catalyst. He is a frequent guest blogger, appearing regularly on the Sustainable Business Forum and 12 Most.

An inspirational speaker, Ted is author of Five-Star Customer Service (2005) and Spoil ’Em Rotten! (2007). Prior to writing his first book, Ted was founder and CEO of Coiné  Language School, a B2B company he brought from his living room to a $10 million valuation in four years by focusing relentlessly on customer service.



{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Al Smith November 9, 2011 at 9:29 am

Thank you Ted. This is exactly what the CARE Movement is all about. Actually, when I came up with the acronym, I thought long and hard about which words to use. When I get the chance to talk about CARE, I use Acknowledge and Recognition as other CARE words. This is such an easy and simple thing to do. Like you said, let’s hope leaders aren’t “too busy with important leadership issues” so they might implement and practice this simple, yet effective action.

I challenge all readers, to practice the 15/5 rule today and the rest of the week. Smile, Recognize and Acknowledge a co-worker today. You never know the impact you can have.

Wow. What a concept; Smile and say Hi. We get so caught up in ourselves, that we forget about simply CARE-ing for someone else. Thanks again for this wonderful reminder, Ted. We can do this.

Al Smith recently posted..Transform Your Business in One Simple Step


Ted Coine November 10, 2011 at 5:58 am

Al, I’m honored to have been invited to participate in this series on your blog. As you can probably tell from my own post on CARE, I’m captivated by the very idea of this movement. You’re going to take wings, and I’m just glad to have a small role in that. Thank you.
Ted Coine recently posted..Why You Should C.A.R.E.


Al Smith November 10, 2011 at 8:43 am

Ted. What can I say, man. You absolutely made my day. Your CARE post was incredibly kind, this guest post was right on time and now, you’re inspiring words of encouragement. Wow. You really do CARE ! Ha ! Can’t thank you enough.

i sent you an email yesterday. Would love to talk sometime.

Have a GREAT-Ful day.

Al Smith recently posted..Laughter – I Love to Laugh


Kaarina Dillabough November 9, 2011 at 10:38 am

Ted, this is such an excellent post, and a “practice” that I put into practice every day…acknowledgement of others with a simple gesture…a smile, a nod, a greeting.

It’s ironic (not) that in my upcoming Guest Post for Al, one of the statements I make is:
“Say “hi” or make eye contact and smile at those you pass in the street, on the bus, at the store. (and yes, I’ve been told that in some cities that’s risky business, but just exercise best judgment).

We’ve become a society of “people with heads down”, always on devices, rarely making contact with the actual human beings we pass by. On my daily runs, especially when I encounter teenagers, they won’t even move one inch to allow me to pass…playing pedestrian chicken, if you will.

I know that when I smile at someone, nod or say hello, their whole demeanor changes. Their face lights up, they walk a bit straighter and the tension they’re holding dissipates, even if only for a moment. And for those who are just plain grumpy…hey, the hi didn’t cost me a thing.

Excellent post: one I’ll CARE to share. Cheers! Kaarina
Kaarina Dillabough recently posted..Are you the person you dreamed you’d be?


Ted Coine November 10, 2011 at 6:06 am

Kaarina, It’s not ironic at all that both of our posts cover some of the same ground – it’s in the air! We need to be more civil, warmer, to the strangers around us. A big part of that, I’m convinced, is how we raise our children. I hate to sound like a curmudgeon (hopefully I’m still way too young for that), but “when I was a boy….” I’m laughing as I write this, but when I was a boy my parents taught me to stand up straight, say “yes, please” or “no, thank you,” and they taught me to look people in the eye and smile at them. I’m not sure most parents take the time to do that with their kids nowadays, and it’s a real shame. Children don’t raise themselves.

“The ‘hi’ didn’t cost me a thing.” That’s so right! It’s free, and it pays dividends like nothing else. What an investment!
Ted Coine recently posted..Why You Should C.A.R.E.


Claudia November 9, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hi Ted… wonderful post. I had not heard of the 15/5 rule but it seems to be so applicable to many facets in life…certainly, as you point out in our businesses, but also when we are at the grocery store, the mall, taking a walk… we, as a society, have created a life of isolation in a weird paradox to the social environment that many of us live on the Internet. We share, chat, engage and tweet behind the safety of our monitor but when we are out among people in real time, we put our heads down and move forward without ever looking up to see the people around us. I am still surprised by this. Perhaps if we change the culture back to one of interpersonal connections…a smile, a nod, a brief conversation… in our everyday lives, we can more easily transfer that culture to our businesses. I am lucky in that my business is primarily a one on one experience…the dentist and their patient…and so, it is easy and comfortable for me to sincerely engage with my “customers”. I can understand how this may be more of a challenge in large corporations, but it is NOT impossible. Humans inherently are social creatures…technology, sadly, seems to be draining us of our social comfort.
Thanks for a thought provoking post, Ted and, as always, thank YOU Al for sharing your wonderful site with us!!
Claudia recently posted..We Did the Monster Mash – Imagination and Halloween


Ted Coine November 9, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Claudia, that’s so true – it’s COMPLETELY applicable to “real” life, too! I grew up in a suburb of NYC, and we weren’t the warmest and most outgoing of folks in that area. What a delightful bit of culture shock, then, when I arrived on my college Campus in Virginia and everyone smiled and waved at me all the time! The first time it happened still sticks powerfully in my mind, because it was so odd to me. A young lady going the other way, but way across the street, smiled so warmly and waved – and I looked behind me, certain it was meant for someone walking there. No, I was the only one on my sidewalk.

It’s up to us how warm or cold we are to each other. I choose warmth. I’ll recommend it to anyone!
Ted Coine recently posted..Why You Should C.A.R.E.


Lori Gosselin November 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Hi Ted, Hi Al, Kaarina, Claudia!
Like the others here, I’ve never heard of the 15/5 rule (I love rules with numbers!) Like the others, too, I’ve observed how uncommon it is for people to talk with one another in line-ups. I do. And when I do I can feel the energy lifting all around me. I had one such experience in the bank one time that seemed to go out in ripples.

I was in a long line-up which was moving very slowly. I turned to the lady behind me and said, “Long line-ups move the slowest.” She made a comment that she had to pick up her child from school soon, and appeared concerned. As I neared the front spot, I turned to her and motioned that she should go ahead of me. She was SO grateful that I felt like I’d just given her my bank book rather than my place in line. As she went ahead of me, I looked back at the unsmiling people behind her and said, “I’m not letting YOU go!” they all laughed. As this was going on, a fellow had come to replace the wet floor mats which lined the tellers wickets. I could tell a band person had just torn a strip off him and he didn’t look very happy. And his job wasn’t easy. He had to get the rug, literally, out from under people ;-) But the mood in the bank was, shall we say “helpful” since my small gesture. Everyone was obliging him and helping him to the point of reaching down and moving the wet and dirty rug for him. I could tell by the look on his face that this wasn’t something he typically experienced. And I could feel the light mood in the bank, even though we were still all waiting in that same, slow-moving line-up. It was an interesting experience.
Now I’ve got the 15/5 rule too! Thanks!
Lori Gosselin recently posted..What is the Soundtrack of Your Life?


Ted Coine November 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Lori, I want to stand in line with YOU! How fun would that be?

I wish I’d had you as a neighbor when I was just out of college. I’d often visit my father, who lived about sixteen floors up. Almost every day for a year, I rode that same elevator with the same people. When I was with my father, they would show a bit of warmth and make conversation – there was no taming my father’s gregarious personality. But the very same people wouldn’t even make eye contact with me if I was alone. It was… surreal, and deeply unpleasant. Finally, after a year of this, they began to accept me and open up a little, at least acknowledging my existence.

Maybe that’s why I ride elevators with my back to the door now, facing my fellow passengers. (I jest – as far as you know ;)

Anyway, kudos for bringing some humanity to that stodgy old bank!
Ted Coine recently posted..Why You Should C.A.R.E.


Mrs Green @ November 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Thanks for such a fantastic post Ted.

It reminds me of a story book I bought for my daughter when she was little called something along the lines of ‘because Brian hugged his mother’. Lori’s comment bought that story right back to me – the story tells of a boy called Brian (funnily enough) who wakes up in the morning and hugs his Mum, for no reason at all other than he’s happy to see her. She’s happy so makes her husband’s favourite sandwiches. He’s happy so takes some wood to an old woman who lives in the forest. She’s happy so …. you get the picture.

That’s why I love posts like this; they remind us how the simplest act (one might call it a Random Act of Kindness) can literally change the world – it’s the butterfly effect in motion. It makes sense whether you’re standing in the checkout queue or the CEO of a large corporation.

I’m fortunate enough to live in a village where anyone who passes you still makes eye contact and says hello – even children and teenagers, which; in a world where we tend to think badly of children is such a blessing.

On my site I try to bring some of the ‘real’ world etiquette into the virtual by the simple act of honouring, validating and acknowledging comments left. So many bloggers do not do this simple ‘thank you’ to their readers – what a waste of an opportunity.


Jenn Lofgren November 11, 2011 at 10:22 am

I’m a stickler for GREAT customer service and realized from your post that its really the caring that I’m looking for and the 5/15 rule pointed that out. Thanks!
Jenn Lofgren recently posted..sharing the good stuff


Jimmy November 12, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Hi Ted,

The common courtesy through this 15/5 rule has a huge impact. But far too many people think that little gestures like that mean little. They do not understand that this is a way to anchoring good stuff into the mind of the customers.
Jimmy recently posted..7 Reasons to Contribute to Society


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