A quick note, before we start — I am going to talk about clients and customers as the same thing. I view all customers as clients as I live in a relationship world. I have an ongoing relationship with all customers, thus all of my customers are clients. I apologize if this is confusing for anyone that lives in a transactional world where these words can mean different things. I think that a relationship-based business is required in order for loving your customers to pay off. And now on with the love…
Emotion in a professional setting is often a negative thing. Acting upon emotion and feelings in business typically leads down the wrong path. I would, however, like to argue that loving a customer is an essential piece of a vibrant and successful 21st Century American business.
When I refer to “love,” I am not talking about feelings, I’m talking about actions. As Stephen Covey said in his classic “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”: “My friend, love is a verb. Love – the feeling – is a fruit of love the verb.” A client that feels love for you and feels loved by you will most often remain loyal to you. Love the verb involves sacrifice, listening, empathy, affirmation, and appreciation.
Let’s take a deeper look at what each of these actions means when it comes to customers:
1. Sacrifice. It is imperative at times that you sacrifice on behalf of your customers. Recently, my company faced a situation where one of our best clients went to visit a customer to take them an order. When our client arrived the night before his meeting, he realized that the entire order had not been placed in our system and that he was only taking a portion of his customer’s order to them. Our COO – Fabian Ramirez – was alerted by the client. Fabian and I met at the warehouse at 11:30 p.m. to pick the rest of the order. (One of us to pick the order and the other to quality check its accuracy.) Fabian then drove the five-hour trip to meet our client prior to his 10 a.m. meeting. Sacrifice is about thinking of the needs of others first. It is not always glamorous, not always noticed, but is the greatest signal to a client that you value them and put their livelihood as more important than anything.
2. Listening. Listening to clients starts in the selling process. Most clients are complex, have unique needs or desires. However, the most important thing that listening to your client will demonstrate is that you are different from everyone else. Another principle of Stephen Covey is to “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Almost nobody listens before speaking, certainly not in the selling process. It is listening to your customer that allows you to sacrifice, offer empathy, affirmation and appreciation. Without listening, you are acting upon assumptions. You don’t need to worry about having the right thing to say to your customers to make them happy; you need to be thinking about what the right thing to ask is. Be prepared with questions rather than answers and your customers will love you for it.
3. Empathy. To show your customer empathy is to be aware, mindful, and understanding. Empathy is putting yourself in your client’s shoes. This act is a game changer. When you empathize with your customer, you improve things about yourself before you are asked. True empathy is rare in business. Most are out to get first and give later. The few that empathize invest in a strategy of long-term gain. When we ship packages on behalf of our customers, we look through their eyes but we include the expert lens that they hired us to have. We not only see our customers as people, we see their customers as people too. It is this humanization and empathy that leads to a sustainable win-win. In our business, the result of this empathy yields finding cheaper solutions without losing quality.
4. Affirmation. Say positive things about your customers. Say it to them, say it to others, say it when they aren’t even around. If you think that your customer does something particularly well, tell her. Your customer has a need to be affirmed and it is likely that she is not told by others too often. It is one thing for people to provide affirmation through purchasing products or for positive things to be said on the internet. However, it can be very powerful to write a personal note or to, better yet, look your customer in the eyes and tell her that she is doing an amazing job.
5. Appreciation. Find out what makes your customer feel appreciated, then do it. If it is writing her a thank you card, taking her out for a meal, or verbally thanking her – you need to express gratitude for her business from time to time. Appreciation is best shown when nothing is expected in return and not only after you received a big order. Appreciation at a random time could in fact be what lands you that next big order. Appreciation does not have to cost a lot; just a simple gesture is often more memorable.
The Lumineers have a song called “Stubborn Love” that is gaining popularity as it has been used by Dick’s Sporting Goods in a recent commercial. The song features a line that claims “the opposite of love is indifference.” Most would say hate. However, it is our indifference that, in my opinion, causes more issues for us on a daily basis than our hate. So you have a choice when it comes to your clients – indifference will be apparent to your customers. They can tell that you don’t care about the success of their business and they will find a partner that does. Or you can choose to love your customer. It can be difficult and seem at times to be for naught. However, if you love your customer, they will realize it and they will often love you back. And when you love something, you probably will tell others.
Happy Valentine’s Day!