by Steve Adubato, PhD

Hugging your customers. Sounds pretty weird, right? Not if you ask Jack Mitchell, CEO of Mitchells/Richards, an extremely profitable clothing business based in Connecticut, and author of the book, "Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results." Jack Mitchell and his family have been "hugging" customers since 1958 and today they do over $65 million in sales. Regardless of economic times, Mitchell's clothing business has done well. The loyalty that they have engendered from customers is legendary in the clothing business.

A few years ago, Jack Mitchell decided to sit down and put on paper some of the keys to great customer service. But "Hug Your Customers" is a book about a lot more than customer service. It's about empathetic and highly personalized communication. It's about leadership that comes from the top of an organization and permeates down to every employee.

--Jack Mitchell says you don't have to actually physically hug your customers, although he argues some do want and need that. Rather, it is a metaphor for how people want to be treated. The cornerstone of creating a "hugging" culture is to know your customer. We are talking REALLY knowing them. Knowing about their family as well as their likes and dislikes. Knowing their moods and knowing their business.

--When people say it's not personal, it's only business, a hugging culture says that's bunk. Of course it's personal. Never underestimate the importance of a customer actually liking you on a personal level. In his book, Mitchell calls his customers "friends" and he appears to really mean it. Of course your product or service has to be of high quality, but people buy from other people and underestimating how personal that dynamic really is is a dangerous mistake.

--There is no substitute for passion. When things are going bad and sales are down, Mitchell says it's passion and an undying commitment to the customer that has gotten his company through these difficult times. It's a passion that you can't manufacture or fake. It's not simply about greeting the customer with a smile and a handshake, it's about actually giving a damn about helping them. While you can train people on some of these important communication and customer. The key is to bring people on your team who have the potential to care deeply as opposed to those who are simply looking for a job.

--The real work begins as soon as a sale is made. A hugging philosophy says that as soon as you purchase my product or service, my job is to make sure you are not only satisfied, but really happy with it. That means not waiting too long to reach out and communicate that you want to know how things are going with the customer. Too many sales people are so obsessed with making the sale that as soon as it's done, they are on to the next prospect.