Corner Office-Hug Your Way to Success
Every so often, I meet someone who makes a surprising impact on me. This month, I want to share my experience meeting Jack Mitchell. He is the 69-year-old CEO of Mitchells/Richards, a high-end men’s clothing retailer in Connecticut and New York that outfits the Fortune 500 executives who work on Wall Street.
Mitchell was recently in town speaking about his books Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results, and Hug Your People: The Proven Way to Hire, Inspire, and Recognize Your Employees and Achieve Remarkable Results.
Being a true Midwesterner, of course, I thought this guy was going to be an interesting combination of rude New Yorker and annoying Richard Simmons–type flake. After all, how can you rub shoulders with the Wall Street elite and write books about hugging people without being . . . well, a little different?
Wow, was I wrong.
I first heard Mitchell speak to an audience, and then because I was so impressed with what he had to say, I asked him for an interview. I wanted to learn first hand if he was really who he said he was. Without a doubt, Jack Mitchell is one of the most sincere and genuinely enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. He has more enthusiasm in his left pinky than most people have in their bodies (and, by the way, he is neither rude nor “different”).
Apples Don’t Fall Far
Mitchell’s parents founded the apparel chain in 1958. In his books, he writes about his dad opening the first store with three suits, a few dozen shirts, several pairs of socks, some sweaters, and a handful of ties. Today, the business is run by the second and third generations of Mitchells and sells $65 million in apparel annually. The chain of stores includes an inventory of more than 3,000 suits for men and women.
Mitchell says his family’s business is successful because of the relationships they build with customers. The relationships start by making the stores feel welcoming. Mitchell says that his parents “understood that customers wanted five things more than they wanted a great location or an enormous inventory:
1) a friendly greeting,
2) personal interest,
3) a business that makes them feel special,
4) a no-problem attitude, and
5) forward thinking.”
Mitchell sees to it that the list is still a family mantra today.
It’s About Relationships
I asked Mitchell if he really hugs his customers, to which he replied, “Absolutely!” Being a bright guy, he picked up on the doubt that was showing in my expression. He explained that hugging doesn’t have to mean wrapping his arms around everyone who walks in the door. It means doing things for his customers that go beyond what they expect of a retailer. He says it’s about building a personal relationship with every transaction, because “that’s what people want.”
“When you have strong personal relationships, customers will do more of their buying from you because they like and trust you,” Mitchell says. “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.” He adds (and I agree) that too many businesses ignore their customers and don’t spend nearly enough time or money profiling them to get to know their needs and wants.
Beyond the Internet
Remember back in the days of the dot-com boom, when analysts were predicting that the retail sector would become nearly extinct because everyone would start buying everything on the Internet? Despite the huge growth of Web-based business transactions, I haven’t noticed any significant change in the number of strip malls, outlet stores, or other retail venues. Why not?
People like to buy things from people, and Mitchell’s success is evidence of this. He’s not against technology, but Mitchell says it shouldn’t replace face time with the customer. Technology, he believes, should be used as a tool to enhance customer service, not replace it. For example, his business has built a database of more than 115,000 customers, which includes personal information about them, such as their nicknames, anniversary dates, kids’ birthdays, and whether they like M&Ms.
That’s great! I’d love it if I could walk into a store and be greeted like this: “Good afternoon, Mr. Sheffert. How is Clyde doing? Is he still chasing the squirrels in your backyard?” I’d do all of my shopping there!
When I was a kid, one of my summer jobs was working in a full-service gas station. Customers would pull up and I would pump gas, wash windows, and check the oil, all while visiting with them about their family, the high-school football game last Friday, and so on. Yes, it’s true, kids! It didn’t only happen on TV Land’s Mayberry, R.F.D.!
Another summer job I had was working in a grocery store, where I actually bagged groceries and carried them out to customers’ cars, or if they lived within two blocks of the store, I’d deliver to their homes. Back then, when we telephoned a business, the call was answered by a human being. It’s hard to believe, but it really happened!
Compare that to today’s level of customer service. Just try to get an airline employee to help track down your lost luggage. Or try to get someone to help you replace an appliance that was built so shoddily that it broke within six months. Or try to get someone on the phone to help you with the computer software or insurance policy that they sold to you.
There’s a growing gap between the expectations and desires for service that customers have and what they actually receive—and that’s not good for the future of our businesses. We are losing our customer-service edge, and that may be the last leg we’re standing on in this global economy.
Back to Basics
As my kids like to say, “Dad, that’s the way it was in the old days.” And, like my kids, some of you may dismiss my message as sentimentality for the good old days. However, successful businesses have to be successful in building customer relationships—and that fundamental fact will withstand the test of time.
In this technological age, it’s a refreshing idea: Treat your customers as special individuals who are important to the success of your business. It’s not about increasing profits by decreasing customer satisfaction. It’s not about the latest technology, but about leveraging technology to learn customers’ preferences, buying habits, and what makes them feel good. It’s just about good, old-fashioned, sincere customer service. So, go ahead. Hug your way to success!