Hug Your Customer

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2005

If customer service is a major factor in the success of your business, you really ought to pick up a copy of Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell. The book will also make a thoughtful holiday gift for the right person. It's written from a retailer's perspective, but effectively transcends all business genres and should resonate with anyone who regularly interacts with customers or clients.

As the CEO of Mitchells/Richards, two extremely successful upscale clothing stores in Connecticut, Jack Mitchell not only understands and practices the essence of business relationships and customer-centric thinking, he brings his extensive first-hand knowledge to us in a simple, straightforward and highly accessible way.

Hugging, from Mitchell's point of view, is about making each customer the center of the universe. What a concept. Having shopped at Richards (the Greenwich store), I totally get it. Each visit was an incredibly satisfying, distinguishing and ultimately memorable experience. Bob O'Connell, chairman and CEO of MassMutual Financial Group, shares that viewpoint and comments in the book: "Knowing the shirt style I like; appreciating what sports jacket my wife and I will actually agree on; even remembering that I take lemon in my tea. Those are the special, caring, thoughtful details that make Mitchells the store I travel 100 miles to visit."

Another loyal customer is Tom Renyi, chairman and CEO of the Bank of New York: "While I live in northern New Jersey, I shop at Mitchells in Westport, Conn. Why? For the hugging of course-although the clothes are great too!" That's what destination shopping is all about.

But the book's deceptively obvious yet profound customer-centric philosophy has significant value for all businesses. Knowing and anticipating a customer's wants and needs and then consistently taking pains to satisfy them-along with developing a personal relationship with that customer-breeds loyalty, which grows businesses.

Customer service in the business world is talked about a lot, but probably not enough. What doesn't receive nearly enough attention, however, is customer or client behavior. If sellers are rightfully expected to be gracious, attentive, considerate and responsive, then shouldn't buyers return these qualities? The smart ones do. While these are quality traits all people should possess, the demonstration of them by business clients is not only righteous-it's good business.

Why? The customer who is consistently honest, respectful, considerate, honors commitments and doesn't try to take all the money off the negotiating table ultimately wins with preferential treatment. Providing great customers with special service, a first look at new product offerings and even business leads are validations of the adage "What goes around comes around." Human nature just has a way of prevailing, regardless of how much a client or account is worth. While buyers like to do business with the sellers they like, the converse is also true: There are the customers with whom sellers must do business, and there are customers with whom they really want to do business.

I've had the good fortune to work with both clients and suppliers whose common interests, both personal and business, along with sincere bilateral appreciation have resulted in good friendships. It's just sound logic that recognizing and respecting each other's value and efforts are essential to harmonious interactions. That's why the most mutually beneficial relationships in business are the ones where the hugging is mutual-no different than in life.

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