Build disciples instead of creating customers

Popular businessman and fellow columnist Harvey MacKay once told a story he heard from a friend about a lady who tried to return a pair of shoes to a particular department store. This pair of shoes was obviously worn and scuffed to the point that if accepted, would not be able to be re-sold. The person behind the counter initially refused to accept them, but when the lady began to cause a scene, the manager was called in an attempt to explain the situation more clearly. Perhaps he could set the lady straight: Look, if we take these back, we’ll just have to throw them out, and you’ll have essentially gotten a free pair of shoes from us. Plus, we would’ve lost money just by selling them to you.

But he didn’t come in and harass the lady like everyone expected. He took her to the side so the line could continue moving and handled her case personally. He looked up her account and found that she had spent several hundreds of dollars there. He saw value in her as a customer and her loyalty, so he happily refunded her money, no questions asked.

That lady went on to spend not just several hundred more dollars, but thousands. Because the store saw value in her – and showed her that they thought of her as valuable – she continued to be valuable to them. Does this make sense to you? Even as a guy running a business in Sapulpa, I’ve had to learn to go beyond the sale and cultivate something much deeper and ultimately more rewarding – a relationship.

Surely you’ve heard it before – people buy from whom they trust. I want to take it a step further: people keep buying from whom they trust, even if it costs more. By and large, a responsible consumer (what a concept!) will value relationship over price any day of the week. I had a mechanic here in town that proved to me that I was worth more to him as a customer than just the price of my business. He went to order a part for my truck and was grossly over-charged by the company he’d been dealing with for some time. Knowing what a strain that was on me as the customer, he did something I’d never seen before: he fired his parts supplier! On the phone he told them, “You did me dirty here and I may have lost a customer because of it. We’re done.” I was shocked. I assured him his actions had only strengthened our relationship, not ruined it.

A disciple is much more than just a customer. They will respond to you in ways that go beyond their pocketbook. A person who shops at a store is a customer. A person who enjoys the experience so much they would like to work there is a disciple. This of course, is every boss’s dream: to hire someone who’s not just looking for a job, but looking to become part of the vision of the company as a whole. How do you know if you’re building disciples? Ask yourself these questions:

Are people talking about us in addition to shopping here? And of course you want this communication to be positive, but don’t neglect the power of an unsatisfied customer. An angry, unsatisfied customer is a disciple in the making. If they care enough to verbally degrade you when you screw up, they’ll usually care enough to sing your praises when you turn around and fix it.

Are we making an impact on our customers? I worked for years at a popular video rental chain. We frequently had folks drop tapes through our overnight return slot that belonged to another video store and vice-versa. While my initial perception was that people were just too lazy to return their stuff to the right store, one of our corporate executives made me think when he said that the reason people return our tapes to another store is that we didn’t do enough to wow them while they were here. Create a positive memorable experience for your customers and you can bet they won’t forget you.

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