Which companies love customers?

Not love to have them, but love interacting with them, knowing them, talking with them, learning from them, involving them in the business, and letting them take the lead sometimes. (And not just by using a “loyalty card” or some other gimmick.)

In The Intention Economy, I give two examples, one offline and one on.

The first is Trader Joe’s, whose retired President, Doug Rauch, told me that his main job at the store was talking with customers. That is, literally, shopping along with them. Seeing what they liked, didn’t like, and why. Asking questions. Getting input. Trader Joe’s, he said, doesn’t just look for transactions, but for relationships. When I asked him if there was anything in the store that customers did not influence, he said no. When I told him we lived in Santa Barbara, he asked if we shopped at the store on Milpas Street or the newer one near Upper State. I was impressed. The dude was based in Massachusetts and still knew every store, and had shopped along with customers at every one he went to as well.

The online example is Zappo’s, which encourages its service people to maximize interaction with customers on phones. The company also welcomes exceptions. For example, I have wide feet: 9 1/2 EE. Shopping just for what fits me is easy. A few minutes ago I bought replacements for my several-year-old ASICS Gel-Cumulus 13 athletic shoes. The old ones look more worn than they really are, so I got some fresh ones. There was no reason to work with a human in this case, but I sensed a human sensibility to the ease with which I could find and get what I wanted. (The Kid and I like to sing, “Shop like a man, fast as you can,” to the tune of the Four Seasons‘ old “Walk Like a Man.”)

So who else is there? You tell us, in the comments below. No restrictions. The only qualifications are the ones I laid out in the first sentence. And tell us why, too.

10 thoughts on “Which companies love customers?

  1. I’m going to be a curmudgeon and challenge the premise of the question.

    Companies don’t love. People love.

    I’m really not sure it is healthy to assign human emotions/motives/intentions to an economic/political abstraction like a company.

    The same goes for both positive and negative attributes. To say a company is “evil” strikes me as just as off-the-mark as saying a company loves.

    People need to be praised for what is praiseworthy and blamed for what is blameworthy.

    Doug Rauch deserves your praise. There are people at Trader Joes who deserve our praise. There are people at Zappos who deserve our praise, but not the companies.

    The companies Trader Joes and Zappos are inure to blame and unaffected by praise because they are not human beings.

    I would like to give a shout out to my bartender, Thomas, at Paco’s Tacos Mexican Restaurant in Culver City — he has enriched mine and my wife’s life beyond measure for over 10 years. He loves at least two of his customers.

    1. Yeah for the curmudgeons. I love the idea that there’s some comments here that show a lot of critical thought about the “truisms” of customer service.

      That said, you can’t ignore culture in companies, and how important it can be in affecting customer service, hiring retention, behavior, and a lot more.

  2. Jim, agreed on the premise of your point. I see a slightly different angle on it…if we take your point to be valid, are there companies that have deep-rooted culture or norms or values that make it more likely that the representatives of that company will be more likely to exhibit the types of behaviors noted above?

  3. People make the culture/norms/values at companies and people should be held responsible for them, good and bad.

    So, does it make sense to praise the people who are collectively known as the company Zappos for creating a positive culture/norms/values?

    That sounds lame and meaningless to me. Actually, that sounds like advertising copy.

    I would be more interested in hearing praise of the people who are most responsible for influencing the culture/norms/value of Zappos.

  4. At Zappos, customer service is a way of life, values set by the guy who started it. Zappos service is legendary and like Amazon, can use that to carve out an e-commerce position in a very difficult space – footware; returns are central to winning.

    I consider Priceline Com (custs’ choose the price) as the one company that most resembles early VRM proposals as a 4th party, allowing rental cars corps to bid for my business.

    I consider Trader Joe’s to be a place with great prices from volume, and owning all the brands in the store. (this has recently changed.) Not really a VRM — Customers buying habits determine what is on the shelf within the limit of Trader Joe’s products.

  5. Jim –

    If you agree that there are companies where a lot of the employees love and respect (more powerful than love, IMO) their customers, then I nearly guarantee you that two things have happened in those companies:

    1 – the leaders in those companies love and respect customers, and have made that central to the company’s mission & values.

    2 – they must hire people who can, and want to support those values.

    All the incentives in the world can’t hide it when folks are faking it, and don’t really have a mindset of respect and love — for the work they do, the company they’re in, their customers.

    That, to me, suggests a community. And I would absolutely argue that one can be part of a “loving” community.

    So, while I agree that your premise is technically correct, I think it misses the nuance of Doc’s point, which is that an organization of people can, in fact, be seen to be “loving.”

  6. I’m not sure that I care if a company *loves” me — I care about how passionate a company is about helping me do something or be something I want to do or be.

    If I were a student, I wouldn’t care if a teacher loved me, if that teacher’s love for the subject provided her/him with the ability to help me appreciate and understand the subject better,

    By focusing on “love,” it’s too easy to equate good service and products to being the key to success (Zappos).

    However, truly great companies don’t stop there — they help me become a better customer by teaching me how to use their products/services to accomplish something: They teach me, inspire me, anticipate what I might want to be accomplishing, not merely what I want to buy.

    I never got the feeling that Steve Jobs loved me, nor that Apple loves me, for that matter. However, I can walk into an Apple Store or watch a tutorial on their website or use one of their products, and I quickly understand that they and I love the same things — and they care that I can accomplish what I had in mind when I purchased their product.

    I want companies to teach me, help me, solve problems for me, inspire me, treat me with respect.

    I’ll seek love elsewhere.

  7. Okay, so let me put it a different way.

    What companies would be open to VRM-equipped customers?

    As for Trader Joe’s, I have most of a chapter on them in my book. Zappos is in there too.

  8. Leaders who promote this culture – whether employees believe it or not have to be commended. Companies who pay attention to detail, can often succeed. Picking the right team and giving them some clear guidelines helps promote this.

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