Excerpted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers.
At Wine Library, we don't just pull out the charm when a big spender walks in, or when someone is unhappy, and we don't reply to inquiries with carefully worded legalese. We try not to calculate that one customer is worth more than another, and therefore worth more time and more effort, even as we recognize that a big customer can bring a lot to the table. How can you ever know who is potentially a big customer, anyway? Maybe you've got a customer who spends only a few hundred dollars with you a year. What you can't see is that the customer is spending a few thousand elsewhere, maybe with your competitor. You have no way of knowing that the customer's best friend is the biggest buyer in the category. Now, what if you were able to build a relationship, make a connection, tilt the person's emotions toward you, and capture 30, 60, or even 100 percent of what he or she spends? Your small customer would become a lot bigger. That's why you have to take every customer seriously. This is a basic business principle that has been talked and written about a great deal, and some companies take it seriously. But the playing field is so different now from, say, 1990, that companies can no longer treat it as a nice idea to which they should aspire. Valuing every single customer is mandatory in the Thank You Economy. If there's a problem, we at Wine Library never tell ourselves that once we handle this issue, we'll never have to deal with the person again. We talk to every single person as though we're going to wind up sitting next to that person at his or her mother's house that night for dinner. We make it clear that we want to help in whatever way we can, and that everyone's business matters to us. And we mean it. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we lose because someone else established the relationship first. For the most part, everyone has more than one place to find what it is you're selling.
I've had people tell me that though they like what I do and live in my town, they buy from the other guy's liquor store because he's been good to them. I say, "I'm cheaper and I have a way better selection and I'll be good to you, too! Heck, I'll be better!" but I can't win, because a relationship has already been formed. I can compete on price, I can compete on convenience, and if they'd give me the chance I'd compete on caring, too. But they're not going to give me that chance unless the other guy slips up. And even then they'd probably give him a second chance, because forgiveness is the hallmark of a good relationship. If I kept pounding I might be able to win a percentage of my competitor's business, but the little guy in town will keep his consumer's market share with real caring and service. Anyone working for a big company might be skeptical that a large business, or even a strictly online business, can form the same kind of friendly, loyal relationship with customers as a local retailer. I'm saying it's already been done because I lived it. I built my online company the same way I built the brick-and-mortar store. But it works only if everybody at the company gets on board, which is why unless you are building a new company from the ground up and can install caring as your business's cornerstone, you have to be willing to embark on a complete cultural overhaul so that, like a local mom-and-pop shop, every employee is comfortable engaging in customer service, and does it authentically. Your engagement has to be heartfelt, or it won't work.