Don’t panic. The author isn’t suggesting that you take his title literally. Hugging your customers, he says, has nothing to do with being touchy-feely around them and everything to do with offering them over-the-top service. His advice is hardly groundbreaking. For instance, what rookie employee has not heard the old adages such as “know your customer, think outside the box, have a ‘no problem’ attitude”? While we’ve all heard this obvious, age-old advice repeatedly, how many of us can honestly say we’ve seen it practiced with any level of success where we shop, eat, travel, etc.? That’s the point of this book. Everyone knows what should be done to create repeat customers … very few people do it!
Chances are pretty good that you’ve never heard of this author or his business establishment. Jack Mitchell is co-owner and CEO of Mitchells/Richards, two independent clothing stores in southern Connecticut and New York’s Westchester County (two of Manhattan’s most affluent suburbs). This upper-end clothing retailer dresses many Fortune 500 executives from Chase, GE, IBM, Merrill Lynch and Pepsi to name a few. Today, Mitchells/Richards sells $65 million in apparel annually. However, the store began as a modest family business, started by Jack’s dad in 1958. Don’t make the mistake of tuning out at this point because you don’t work in the clothing business. What Jack learned from his father decades ago can be applied to any and all customer-centric businesses that appreciate the importance of knowing that having satisfied customers no longer insures success—you must have extremely satisfied customers who want to return time and time again and encourage others to do the same!
Mitchell credits his family store’s success to making the store a home, where customers feel welcome. Mitchell says his parents: “… understood that customers wanted five things more than they wanted a great location or enormous inventory:
- A friendly greeting
- Personal interest
- A business that makes them feel special
- A ‘no problem’ attitude
- Forward thinking”
For Mitchell, that means literally offering a customer the coat off your back, if that’s the only one left in the store in the customer’s size and preferred style and color. It means going to customers’ homes to tie their bow ties for big events. It means serving coffee and bagels in the store and giving away hot dogs in the parking lot on summer Saturdays. Some might view this as fawning, but for Mitchell, it’s the best way to keep customers coming back. You, of course, will have to determine what it takes to “HUG” a customer within your environment. This would make an excellent exercise for your staff. Once the crucial determination is crystallized, discuss expectations, training, and follow up to insure success.
Mitchell writes: “When you have strong relationships, customers will do more of their buying from you. They’ll refer other customers. They’ll communicate with you better and tell you what they like and what they don’t like, in turn making your business more efficient and effective.”
The author points out that hugging is difficult to quantify, and many companies ignore customer satisfaction and customer profiling altogether. While inventory is recorded on the balance sheet, Mitchell tells us that a company’s greatest asset—repeat customers—doesn’t appear on any financial statements.
Further, while companies invest significant amounts in computer systems, they rarely develop computer systems that support a hugging culture.
Mitchell writes: “What’s amazing is that although personal relationships are absolutely crucial to any company’s success, they are rarely tracked by any system. Hotels don’t know who likes queen-sized beds and who wants extra pillows. Airlines don’t know who prefers aisle seats and who prefers the window.” Can something similar be said about you, your business and your customers? If so, take action to correct this situation.
Mitchell is a big fan of profiling customers to provide more personal service. He likes his sales associates to know which customers like M&M’s and what nicknames they prefer.
Knowing personal information about each customer is nearly impossible without a database to support this information. However, it doesn’t stop there. I know of many companies who boast a tremendous database and yet do nothing with it. Like any other customer service strategy, knowing it is not enough. You have to use it. In today’s unbelievably competitive marketplace, there are few who “use it.” So-o-o-o-o, define your “HUG,” make it an expectation, train your staff to “HUG,” practice it, and then, most importantly, “HUG!”
(This book review was originally published in 2003 as one of the Top 10 Books – Edition 12.)