19/300: Words on Appreciation

First of all, thank you. I wrote yesterday’s post with a bit of trepidation. I thought it would be ignored or dismissed. Instead, it was my most read post ever – by a factor of five.

Thank you. I’m humbled. I appreciate you.

And appreciation is what I wanted to write about today. I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and came across a list of some of the most incredible customer service stories I’ve ever read. I posted the story to my feed with the note “I think I know what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

I love a good customer service story. I love hearing about people in jobs usually thought of as thankless going above and beyond to make people happy. And I was at least half-serious when I wrote that I could see myself doing that kind of work.

What is it about customer service that interests me? I think its because our expectations are usually so low. No one calls a customer service line because something awesome has happened or because they are excited about the product/service/widget they have. They call because they are already disappointed. And most of the time, the experience of customer service only compounds that disappointment.

But the opportunity for customer service – as a marketing channel – is the very thing I aspire to create in all of my work – human connections. Extraordinary customer service isn’t about giveaways or free stuff, it’s about treating customers as people. Most of marketing and advertising, even in these days of dynamic retargeting and hyper-personalization of digital campaigns, is transactional and impersonal. We think about targets. We think about segmentations. We think about groups. Customer service is personal and that’s why it’s usually disappointing – customers are treated like claim numbers instead of people who are having a bad day or a disappointing experience.

This gets me thinking about other relationships I have – friends, family, people at work. The people I am drawn to the most are the ones who seem to appreciate people the most. My boss Kristen, is a perfect example of this. She’s constantly checking in with the people on my team. She’s constantly showing her appreciation for the things we do. She shows people she cares and, in return, we care for her.

My wife is another great example. Like all families, we experience unanticipated bumps in the road. Things come up. Problems happen. When they do, I try to move heaven and earth to get things back on track. She once got locked out of her car near our house. I was at work and happened to have an extra set of keys, so I left in the middle of the day, drove forty minutes home to get her taken care of and then went back to work. She said ‘thank you’ but I was already thinking about the things I needed to do back at the office. I said ‘no problem’ and went to get back into my car. Before I could drive away, she came to my window, grabbed my hand, kissed me on the cheek and said ‘no, really, I mean it. Thank you.’

A small example to be sure, but what my wife and boss, what Zappos and Amazon representatives have in common is a demonstrable appreciation for the people in their lives – whether the man they married, the employees they manage or the customers who make their job possible. Appreciation is the basis of good customer relationships, but even more than that, it is the basis of all good relationships.

Heading out the door into this cold and stormy weekend (though we’ll have it a lot easier in Cincy than my friends on the East Coast), I want to say how much I appreciate you and the support you have shown me already. I hope you feel it and hope there are people in your life you appreciate too.

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