Be My Valentine … Year Round
By Chip Bell
The origin of Valentine’s Day is very instructive. It was initially associated with a religious celebration honoring St. Valentinus, a priest from Romewho was martyred about AD 496. Two stories (probably myths) frame the sentiment associated with February 14th … especially when applied to those you serve: customers and colleagues.
Valentinus boldly performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers and their brides when it was forbidden for soldiers to marry. He supposedly cut out wooden hearts and gave them to each soldier to remind him of his vows while he was away in battle. When he was later jailed and awaiting execution, he healed Julia, the blind daughter of his jailer, Asterius. He even sent the girl a farewell note and signed it “Your Valentine!” Add these three concepts — generosity, boldness and kindness — and you get a strategy for delivering Valentine service all year round.
Become Famous for Your Generosity
Allowances were not something my dad believed taught kids a work ethic. So I worked for all my spending money. In a rural area the only paying chores for kids were baby-sitting and lawn mowing. My sister baby-sat; I mowed yards. I got a dollar for a regular-sized yard and two dollars for a large yard; my grandmother had a two-dollar yard!
One summer we had a drought. Yards did not grow much, so I was looking at a pretty bleak school year in terms of spending money. Towards the end of that summer, my grandmother called and wanted me to come mow her yard. I was thrilled! As always, I mowed her yard and met her on her back porch to get my two dollars. But I got a big surprise. She handed me a five-dollar bill and said the most wonderful words, “Keep the change!” And it did change my relationship with my grandmother, a relationship I kept until she died in her mid-eighties.
One byproduct of Valentine service is not just keeping customers, but changing their feelings about the organization from pleased to thrilled, from passively retained to actively an advocate. One powerful route to your customer’s heart is a generous attitude — the type that leaves customers surprised, not just happy. Now, few organizations can provide customers with a 150 percent tip like my grandmother. While the economics of a ten-year-old boy’s piggybank are important, it was her abundance mentality that created the warm memory of our relationship.
Boldly Demonstrate Authentic Caring
Rick McIntire called me last week! He was the salesperson who sold me a GMC SUV in Dallas about 20 years ago … that was four Lexus’s and a fire engine red Mazda Miata ago. Rick knows I changed brand affinity because the GMC dealership Rick sold vehicles for is owned by the same company (Sewell Automotive) that owns the Lexus dealership that first snagged my vehicle brand loyalty. Don’t ask about that Miata! It was a complete aberration and a totally impractical impulse buy. (But it sure was a lot of fun for three years.)
The part about Rick’s phone call that most enchanted me was the fact that he was not making an out-of-the-blue sales call. He was not trying to persuade me to give up my Lexus SUV to return to a GMC SUV. In fact, he knows I now live in Georgia, not in Texas … I have not been in his Rolodex for a long time. He called because he just wanted to reconnect. His call deepened my appreciation for Sewell GMC and ramped up my fondness for the GMC product in general. And it made me appreciate how lucky I was to have the great Rick McIntire on my radar screen.
Valentine service is the Rick McIntire approach to bold authenticity. Customers value wholesome relationships — encounters with all the con, ploy and gaminess completely stripped out. The late psychologist Carl Rogers claimed “unconditional positive regard” is the core substance of all healthy relationships. It means caring without an agenda, serving without an ulterior motive.
Show Kindness Towards Who Matters To Your Customer
“Amy’s Plant” has a special meaning to a good friend of mine. And it always makes him smile whenever you ask him about it. But I am getting way ahead of myself!
My good friend tore down a shed in his side yard. The ugly, old shed was in stark contrast with the rest of his highly coiffured lawn. He decided to turn the space into a flower garden complete with a lattice-covered sitting area. When it came time to purchase plants and ornamental trees, he took along his six-year-old granddaughter, Amy. The salesperson at the nursery treated Amy as a part of the decision-making process … to the delight of my friend. Amy got to be the salesperson’s “helper” and he even asked her opinion on some of the plants.
Amy was over at her granddaddy’s house the afternoon the plants and trees were delivered. After all were placed in the spots where they would be planted, the driver had one more plant to unload. It was a small, aromatic rosemary plant with a tag that read “Amy’s Plant.” She was thrilled and got to personally choose the spot where it would be planted. Now, every time she visits “Paw Paw,” she races to the side yard to check on the growth of “her” plant.
Here is the most important part. Whenever someone visits my friend’s garden, or seeks his input on a good place to buy plants, or asks about any topic even remotely related to horticulture, that person will get to hear the “Amy’s Plant” story. Don’t wait for your customers to wear an “Ask Me about My Granddaughter” button. Find ways to learn the target of their affinity and add it to your list as well!
Think Valentine’s Day every day. Reach out to angry customers and let them know your appreciation for their gifts … we always learn from upset customers. Contact customers who have left and just let them know how much you enjoyed serving them. Surprise a customer or colleague by sending a “Thinking of You” card. Give a gift or offer a hug for no special reason. The core emotion surrounding Valentine’s Day is love. We see lots of cupids, hearts, and flowers at this annual event. But the most influential type of love is that which is expressed without an agenda, motive, or even a special designated day.
Chip R. Bell is a customer loyalty consultant, keynote speaker and author of several national bestselling books. His newest book is bestselling The 9½ Principles of Innovative Service (www.simpletruths.com). He was a keynote speaker at the 2013 NAHC Annual Meeting and can be reached at www.chipbell.com.