April 12, 2006
Liz published this at 9:33 am
Grouping People Doesn’t Work
Each year when my son started school with a new teacher, I would wait about three weeks. Then I would make an appointment to see her. I would bring along a few cool books I had carefully selected for her classroom as a gift. I gave her the three weeks because I wanted my son’s teacher to have a chance to get to know this rare and brilliant child on his own–we needed a common place to speak from. I brought the books because I wanted my child to move from being a “boy in class” to being a person–a child with a name, whose mother knows about books and cares about him.
I did those things because I was a teacher once. I know how easy it is to think of those faces as “the kids in my class,” not as individual people. Teachers are human beings and when you’re faced with 20-30 small people to get to know, it doesn’t happen very fast. The sad news is that extreme cases get center stage. Think of the names you remember from your early school days–they’re the extremes: the kids who were really smart, really bad, or really good friends with you. The rest become a blur. We’re human we make groups and unfortunately, we like to group people too.
Grouping people doesn’t work for getting to know them as individuals.
My son taught me that when he was all of three. I said, “Hey kid, let’s go.”
He stopped cold in his tracks, looked at me, and said, “I’m not a kid. I’m a people.”
We Have Relationships with People
We don’t have relationships with customers, or with users, or with eyeballs. We have relationships with people. It may sound like semantics, but it’s more than that. How we use words points to how we think and how we value ideas. If we think customer first and then person, we’re thinking backwards. Humanity wins out every time. Take care of the person and the personal relationship, and the work will take care of itself. Try it. It’s true. When we show people that we value them, they hardly ever let us down.
The reason that humanity wins is because real customer relationships are built around customer needs and desires. Needs and desires are individual human things, packed with individual human quirks and nuances. Sure there are patterns in any human group. You can even pile those patterns into demographics if you want. Stay at that level, and you’ll be skating on the surface where there’s only information and no heart.
I can’t begin to know my customers, if I don’t know what’s in their hearts.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Customers, visitors, and readers are people, not users, traffic, stats, or any other word that steals their humanity and steals our own humanity as well. It’s brand YOU and ME–together. My three-year-old customer-son was right to set me straight when he said, “I’m a people, not a kid.”
Who doesn’t want to walk into a restaurant where everybody knows your name? Who wouldn’t rather work with someone who knows who you are and cares about the things you care about? Who hasn’t had the experience of being treated like less than a person by a clerk, a doctor, or a boss? Didn’t that make you want to say, “Hey, I’m a person I have a name.”?
Do something small today to show a reader, a customer, or a visitor–someone who’s just met you–that you know that he or she is a person of value. See what happens. Then see how many times today people treat you–a customer–in that same personal way.
A business that values me as a person has my business and my brand loyalty from minute one. By week three, they’ll have the business of all my friends as well. There is no better promotion than valuing customers as the people that they are.
–ME “Liz” Strauss