I smile every time I think of one of my favorite clients from a number of years ago. What made it fun was a visionary, high energy CEO. The company’s sales came through a retail catalog mailed to customers who then placed orders largely via a call center. It was also a time the company elevated its emphasis on their customers’ experiences, not just the merchandise their customers purchased.
One component of the “voice of the customer” initiative was to hold a focus group session with a group of customers who were chosen because they had recently bought and/or returned merchandise. The first focus group was attended by all of senior leadership, including the CEO. At the end of the session customers were given a gift, and while they got a tour of the large distribution facility, the executives who watched the focus group worked on ways to translate insights gained into actions or, in some cases, a wakeup call to get more customer intelligence.
“Neglect is more dangerous than strife; apathy costlier than error.” -Chip Bell
The highlight of the focus group session was inviting the customers at the end of their tour to have lunch in the employee cafeteria. Prior to their arrival, word was quickly passed that a group of customers were en route to the cafeteria. As they entered the large cafeteria, the entire room erupted into a lengthy standing ovation. It was powerful and affirming! And, in the words of one employee in the room, “This makes my challenging work worth it.”
In the following weeks, my conversations with the CEO revealed a fascinating discovery. The standing ovation became a metaphor for the sprit conveyed by the call center employees. Instead of, “Smile more on the phone,” or “Listen more to your customers,” it became, “Give your customers a standing ovation experience.” It was code for unmistakable valuing and obvious affirmation.
“Great relationships are fueled by affirmation.” -Chip Bell
Lightning strikes a tree and alters the course of a stream causing two rivers to join.
You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, where one small creature flapping its wings and creating a small wind current causes a chain reaction that alters hemispheric weather patterns half a world away.
When I think back on my own life, there are a few of those major moments that changed my life. Had just one person, one event, one little part of the equation been altered, even the slightest bit, who knows how different my own life would be.
“A good life is a collection of happy moments.” -Denis Waitley
One of those moments happened in 1990. I walked into a crowded room, looked up, and met eyes with the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Everything slowed down for a moment, the world tipping on its axis, freezing time long
enough to suspend us for a few seconds. It was immediate. It was intense. It was like nothing I’d known before.
Only a short time later, this week in 1992, she stood in the back of a church, the light flooding in through a stained-glass window behind her. She seemed to almost float there, as if she were an angel who was given the option to become fully human and was making her choice by joining her life with mine. From the front of the church, I sang to her, and she walked up the aisle and then we sang a duet together. Our lives forever changed. Yes, it was exactly like one of those Hallmark movies, the story line either inspiring or sickeningly sweet, depending on your perspective.
Others are gone, too: aunts, friends, my other grandparents, who were so gracious that day. My grandmother looked in the camera and thanked my wife “for being one of us now.”
Time marches forward. I’m now that guy that can tell others how to make a marriage last twenty-five years.
There are other moments that stand out:
Buying our first home together. How we managed, I’m not sure, but we did on a shoestring budget. We remember our near panic when we received that first utility bill, wondering how we would pay it.
The birth of our daughter in 1997. We recall every single minute. My wife’s elated cry out to me when her water broke. Hours later, my daughter surprising the nurses by tracking me by my voice.
A health scare. Only months afterward, we were surprised again with another altering moment. I’ll never forget the doctor coming out, telling me that my wife had breast cancer, and that she was about to come out of anesthesia. We would have to tell her together. It was advanced enough to require radiation and chemotherapy. She lost her hair but never her spirit. In a few months’ time, her faith began to sprout faster than her hair, and she has never wavered in her belief.
“It is in our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” -Aristotle Onassis
Life-threatening disease. Years later, we learned she had another cancer. This one even more insidious, threatening once again to steal her away, to shatter the glass of our lives. We’ve learned to pray more in these moments. No one prays in good times quite the same as in challenging times. We don’t know the why behind them. Perhaps God uses them to get our attention, perhaps because we’re finally still enough to see what is always there, and yet we miss it as we race by the important on the way to the meaningless.
Then there are the career moments. When she left hers to fight cancer and stay home to raise our daughter. When my promotions started. Her belief in me fueled my success. From the outside, my job promotions looked miraculous. The truth behind them was more struggle, political battles, and more work than you’d want to know. Nothing came easy. And it seems we moved so often that my wife put our furniture on wheels. In fact, it was our move to Columbus from Nashville that opened our eyes into how much junk we were carting around, stuff from decades ago, some of it in boxes not opened in several moves.