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Business is really about connecting with customers

customers"A place where everybody knows your name." That's the famous line from the TV show Cheers. Every time Norm entered the bar, in unison, everyone would shout, "Norm!" He even had his own bar stool right next to mailman Cliff Clavin. Cheers may have been just a TV show, but it demonstrated the power of a business making connections with its customers. There's something special about being treated as a valued customer - to be greeted by name and to have your preferences remembered. But in these systematize everything days, it's easy for a business to rush by that most precious of business behaviors - connecting with customers.

By connecting, I mean the magic that occurs when human beings (employees) extend friendliness, warmth, caring and respect to other human beings (customers). You can systematize every minuscule process on your quest to achieve consistency and predictability, but it's impossible to systemize the warmth of a smile, a caring voice and an engaging personality. These are human qualities. And it takes the right leadership, environment and culture to energize these qualities to a level that customers not only experience, but it draws them back for more.

Last Friday, my wife Joanne and I were in Peabody, Mass., for bike fittings at a bike shop called Fit Werx. We were greeted by co-owners Marty and Dean and immediately felt welcomed. (A customer and fellow road biker referred me to Fit Werx.) For the next six hours, Marty and Dean treated us like we were the only people in their lives that mattered. They asked endless questions, measured us, they measured our bikes, and had us peddling on a fitting bike while they videotaped us. (First time I saw a side view of myself peddling. Not sure I ever want to see that again.) They analyzed our body angles on the computer and made small but critical adjustments to our bikes. Marty and Dean connected with us. I'm already telling others to get fitted at Fit Werx.

We broke for lunch halfway through the fittings. We saw a tiny old-style diner near the train station called The Little Depot Diner. Inside we found a counter with about 10 stools and three of the happiest waitresses. We were immediately offered coffee and a good helping of jokes. There was something special about The Little Depot Diner, its staff and its friendly customers. It was a diner version of Cheers. This little place was a master of connecting with customers.

Remember my name. Demonstrate a sincere interest in discovering my needs. Remember those needs. Respect me. Listen to me. Give me your best - not something less. Earn my trust and you'll have my loyalty. As a customer, these things are important to me. The more of these you fulfill, the more your business earns my loyalty and respect - and my praising referrals. The less you do, the more your business tells me how average it is.

Reality check questions: Is your business a master of connecting with its customers - or something less? Have you prepared, groomed and inspired all of your employees to allow their human qualities out? Do you demonstrate every day how to connect with customers? Do you protect your company culture from drama, indifference and all-about-me egos? Has your business evolved into something that just goes through the motions of customer service, or is it passionate about making a difference in the lives it touches.

If you've been looking for that "something" to take your business to the next level, this is truly a worthy something.

Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.

Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO and author of No-Compromise Leadership


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