Remember when you used to get love letters in the 4th grade?
They were the best! They made you feel great for days and weeks afterwards … until you got another note saying she just wants to be friends. But just the idea of getting a love note was special. Someone was telling you that they appreciate you.
That’s really cool, whether you’re in the 4th grade, in your 40s or your 80s. It makes you feel good knowing that you make someone else feel good.
Now imagine getting love letters every day – from your customers?!
Look, we’re obsessed with helping companies grow. So when I have deep conversations with Michelle Newberry and we discuss growing her company there’s one thing that jumps off the page. It’s the "love letters" she receives as the owner of Care Courses School, Inc.
Care Courses School is an online, distance-learning company that provides training and state-mandated continuing educational courses for daycare providers. What’s amazing is that she and her 12 employees have created a powerful bond between her company and her 40,000 customers, even though they never meet face-to-face. More than 75 percent of her business is done entirely online, which has been growing 10-15 percent every year despite the recession.
But here's the most amazing part: She and her employees receive more than 700 love notes every year! Wait, read that again: 700 love letters a year! (How many do you get?) And they’re not just emails or letters of thanks, either.
One woman wrote to say that she’s making her a hand-made quilt to show her gratitude. Another woman sent everyone on staff a birthday card even though she had no idea when their birthdays were. Several sent drawings from their children. Most emails they receive say, “I love you guys … Everything went so smoothly … I will never use anyone else … Way to go! … I spoke with Emilia and she helped me get the courses I needed so I could keep my business open.”
How do they do that? “We hear a lot of sad stories,” Michelle says. Ninety percent of her customers are women. Michelle realized early in her career that most daycare providers are underpaid and underappreciated. Imagine, she says, caring all day for kids who really don’t appreciate the work you're doing and then dealing with stressed out, overworked parents in the evening who are usually late picking up their kids – and then trying to care for your own family.
The recession has only made it more difficult for her customers. She and her staff have lost track of the number of customers who call to say, “My husband just left me” or “My husband just lost his job” or “I don’t have any money this month but the state says I have to get this training done by the end of the week.”
Here’s the deal. “They don’t get a lot in return,” Michelle says. “They give all day long and they aren’t getting anything back. We may be only the supportive adult they speak to all day long.” You have to understand that your customers also want and need your support.
Don’t misunderstand; Michelle is not a pushover. As she says, “We’re in this business to make money, but we also care about our customers.”
There’s one message. It begins with the #1 value, “We care a lot.” Followed by, “We always make things right.” Here’s where the rubber meets the road.
You see the values sound simple enough but the key is how she and her staff exhibit those values every day. For example, a series of emails to customers over 14 days are written by Michelle herself. Although they may be automated, her personality and caring attitude comes through in every email, which include emails and phone numbers of whom to contact if customers have questions and that end with, “Love to hear from you. Michelle”
“We may be selling a $40 course but we understand that their entire livelihood depends on it,” Michelle says.
Pay attention to this one idea, it’s worth reading this story just for this...
Do you have employees who regularly talk with customers? Consider giving each of your employees a sack of "gold coins" worth $1 each they can use to help a customer who might need help covering some of the costs. It's a great way to empower your employees to help make a difference in the lives of your customers.
Here’s how to put core values into play. Each of the 10 employees who work with customers get $60 worth of gold coins every month to help “make things right” on behalf of customers. That’s $600 per month for employees to spend however as they wish!
In the case of Care Courses School the coins can cover the $10-$20 overnight shipping charges for a customer who is out of money but desperately needs the training the next day. They can replace training materials lost in a fire. They can expedite a letter to the state confirming they’ve met the continuing education requirements. Employees don’t need approval. And they don’t have to justify why they spent the money to help a customer. They’re free to make the decisions on their own. Note, autonomy here is the key. Disney, hospitals and hotels all give discretionary “gold” to make people happy. It’s just a budget item.
What employee freedom and “gold coins” can you let your team freely distribute? Sprinkle a bit of love and watch what happens. They will open up their hearts, minds and wallets to you in return.
Here’s one last idea that needs to be learned. Most leaders make a mistake and lose touch with their actual customers. Michelle makes it a point to personally handle a small number of calls and emails herself (about five per week) so she understands what her customers are wrestling with. Steve Jobs used to work in customer service and take customer complaint calls himself.
If you want to grow you really have to be close to your customer. I was totally shocked that Michelle admitted that she and her staff are not at all like their customers. They haven’t run daycares nor do they have any desire. In fact, Michelle likes to spend her free time racing cars! But (and here’s the big but) they really understand their customers wants and needs. They talk with them and as a result they deliver a service that and truly cares about their customers.