Jack Mitchell: Hug Your Customers and Employees

Discussion
Apr 21, 2009

By Tom Ryan

Tossing any sexual harassment
complications aside, Jack Mitchell, chief executive officer of Mitchells,
the high-end clothier of Westport, CT, believes the key to success for store
owners is to “hug”
their customers and their workers.

“It’s getting to
know each person on a personalized, individual basis,” Mr. Mitchell
said last week to about 160 people under a tent at Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk,
CT, according to The News-Times.
“Hugging is an absolute mind-set, trying to determine what’s important
to them.”

Mr. Mitchell, who also
owns Richards in Greenwich, CT, and Marshs in
Huntington, L.I, is the author of Hug Your Customers (2003). According
to a review on Amazon, the book “has nothing to do with being touchy-feely
around them and everything to do with offering them over-the-top service.” In
2008, his second book, Hug Your People, elaborated on how hiring,
motivating and keeping great employees is a company’s greatest asset.

As an example, Mr. Mitchell
recalled that one time a customer called the store at 10 a.m. looking for
two suits by 5 p.m. that day because he had to speak at a seminar in Switzerland.
Debra Gampel, his regular sales associate, looked
up his profile on the computer and had all the clothes he needed picked
out before he arrived at the store. Later that day, the suits were delivered
to his home, Mr. Mitchell said.

But the biggest “hug” for
that customer came, Mr. Mitchell said, when he took a card out of his pocket
at the Swiss seminar and discovered it was from Ms. Gampel, wishing him a happy birthday.

“The stuffy Swiss
bankers actually clapped,” said Mr. Mitchell. “We really try
to focus on you as a real person.”

Other examples from Hug
Your Customer
include literally offering a customer the coat off
your back, if that’s the only one left in the store in the customer’s
size and preferred style and color. It may mean going to customers’ homes
to tie their bow ties for big events. “Hugging” may also involve
serving coffee and bagels in the store and giving away hot dogs in the
parking lot on summer Saturdays.

For employees, “hugging” involves
establishing personal relationships with workers, and personally tailoring
rewards and recognition to their specific interests. It may also include
a gift certificate to a chic restaurant for a food lover or a round of
golf for a golfer on staff.

“Ask yourselves:
Do you really care about those people around you?” said Stew Leonard
Jr., chief executive officer of Stew Leonard’s, who also spoke at the event. “You
have to care about a person’s career more than they do.”

Discussion question:
To what extent is the concept of “hugging” customers and employees
more relevant to high-end boutiques such as Mitchells rather than general
merchandisers, grocers or other retail formats? What can other channels
take from Mitchells’ over-the-top customer and associate approach?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

21 Comments on "Jack Mitchell: Hug Your Customers and Employees"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bob Phibbs
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Hugging customers. Exceptional experiences. Call it what you will but those stories, including mine about the Four Seasons hotel standout in a world of, “find everything ok?” yelled at you as you exit a store.

Retailers allowing scheduling, hiring freezes, cutbacks and a host of excuses to deteriorate their own brand isn’t news but becoming a way of life in retail.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
13 years 1 month ago

This all sounds like something out of a Tom Peters book. And while it’s important to make every client feel special, wanted, and appreciated, it’s also important to factor in a “break even” point. Just how far does a business go to “hug” a client?

While every industry is different, let’s keep in mind that not every client is worthy of an equal “hug.” Anyone heard of Pareto’s Principle?

Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

It is not as much about what you do–or know–as it is about how much you care. It does not matter what spin you put on it; there are a couple of truths about giving hugs.

1. The way you treat your employees will determine the way your employees treat your customers.
2. All things being equal, people do business with people they like. All things being unequal, people do business with people they like.
3. The one thing that is the hardest for your competition to duplicate is your culture, especially if it is a culture of caring.

4. Great customer service is not about solving a problem that you have created but is one making sure you do not create the problem in the first place and two. doing the things that are unexpected that will WOW the customer.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

When I read the headline, I wasn’t sure where the article might lead, but Jack is simply talking about provide great customer service. The logical next step in that process is ensuring that your employees are treated well. We often use the phase “if you want your employees to treat your customers well you have to treat you employees well.”

Certainly believe providing exceptional customer service is a great goal, but also understand that doing so in a high-end boutique operation is far easier than in a multi unit retail operation spread over a wide geography. Not saying it can’t be done because Nordstrom has demonstrated that it can be.

I believe that being a good employer means remembering that your staff are human beings–each with their own set of wants, needs, etc. If you treat them as such and as a valued resource to your company (not simply as an expense) then you have the foundation to provide the type of customer service we would all welcome.

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

I have a supermarket client that does plenty of hugging, kissing, and handshaking to most of his customers. I think a lot of women only shop at his store because they get all this attention.

People will gravitate to stores or people who make them feel good. It’s that simple. The pretty Asian lady who runs a small dry cleaning business always gives me a hug, a kiss, and tells me I’m so handsome. I have no idea what she is charging me to clean my shirts, I just automatically go there.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
13 years 1 month ago

You should be “hugging” customers whether you own a high-end clothing boutique or a 99-cent store. It’s just good business practice. Unfortunately, it isn’t practiced enough.

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
13 years 1 month ago

Hugging your customers and employees is a no brainer! It is common sense, but unfortunately, common sense is not that “common.” It all goes back to senior management attitude!

Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Great customer service should be the goal of every retailer. It begins with a commitment to management and permeates every facet of the organization. Too many retailers and service industries say customer service is important and then deliver a sub-optimal experience.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Embracing the customers (not in a physical sense) is the key to all successful marketing. I know Mitchells and clearly–given their price points–it’s important to make the customer feel special, but isn’t that true of all retailing regardless of price point?

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

Making customers feel special is important. The juxtaposition of this article with the previous one is interesting. The technology may give you information about what the consumer is doing and purchasing but certainly doesn’t “hug” the consumer. The people working in the store need to figure out how to use the data to do something for the consumer that demonstrates caring. Technology is the beginning of a great strategy but is not the solution.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
13 years 1 month ago

This is how you beat the Pareto Principle.

David Zahn
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

I would like to link this article to yesterday’s “Profiting With A Purpose” as I think this speaks to the “HOW” of the issues raised in the “purpose/mission/philosophy” discussion of yesterday’s article.

Ed Mitchell recognizes that there are many places for a man to purchase a suit or other non sports logo’d clothing suitable for an adult. What causes people to return to his stores is his ability to make the shopping experience memorable and to get to the point where David Livingston’s comment can become reality…don’t even care about the price because of the way I feel shopping there.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
13 years 1 month ago
I was lucky enough to get an galley copy of Mr. Mitchell’s book, “Hug Your Employees” early on. My reply to his PR rep was, “The idea is a great one, but I fear retailers won’t buy it.” The plain truth is, we have very little data to help us understand what actually WOULD happen if we metaphorically hugged our employees. As an industry, we just don’t do it. My suspicion is that if a company genuinely did this over time, sales would rise, retention would improve and the customer experience would improve as well. Contrast this with a quote I read from a highly placed executive outside of retail this morning saying “There is no correlation between employee job satisfaction and corporate performance.” A terrifying statement that received fairly wide airplay. I suppose it seems facile to say we should be concerned about more than corporate profits…especially in a down economy. The question we need to ask ourselves is, over the long haul, does it behoove retailers to improve the way we treat our… Read more »
John Lofstock
Guest
John Lofstock
13 years 1 month ago
What strikes me here is that this is news at all. Retailers that are not motivated to “hug” their customers and show compassion for their employees are going to find themselves looking up at their competition. The lessons learned from retailers like Circuit City should be taken to heart, especially as the economy worsens. Stores that make customers and employees feel special are building a solid foundation that will encourage repeat visits and create a wonderful working environment. And it doesn’t require a huge financial investment. I read about a chain that offered messages to customers that looked stressed out over buying a TV. Brilliant. Hyundai is another company that comes to mind. Its Assurance program to give wary customers peace of mind if they lose their jobs during the first year of Hyundai ownership has led to a 10-15% increase in car sales over last year, the company said. This comes at a time Detroit is hemorrhaging. It took until this month for Ford and GM to follow suit. They say imitation is the… Read more »
Joan Treistman
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

I think this book sums it up nicely: “The Power of Nice” By Linda Kaplan Thaler….

Mark Burr
Guest
13 years 1 month ago
Just show the cashier or the clerk the right buttons to push and not to make any mistakes and you’re good to go. That likely sums up the training plan at 90% of retailers today. Limited budgets for training – the first area cut. Limited hours based on sales per man hour. Margins dipping due to the economy, etc. All these things make this type of an experience an afterthought at best for the majority of retailers. Sadly, it’s likely the same regardless of the economic considerations of today’s market. Developing these types of experience ties right into yesterday’s discussion on purpose and passion as Mr. Zahn points out. But what does it take to actually make it happen? Who’s doing it? Who can carry it out beyond just a few locations? In the small market I grew up in, it was all about a daily reinforcement from management at all levels up to the owners done by their example. From my view, that is the best form of training. Yet, how do you make… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

The more personal, unique experiences you can provide your customers, the better. I think hugs are great! I think a top 10% customer gets a hug from the store manager, where everyone else gets a hug from the employee who greets them.

If the store clerk sees any evidence of loyalty to another store by the customer (a loyalty card in her wallet, keychain, etc.) then a personal incentive should be authorized and offered at that moment. A hug is only the start.

Liz Crawford
Guest
13 years 1 month ago

I shop at Mitchells and found a receipt from there, just as I was opening this email.

Mitchells practices what they preach, and it isn’t just the owner either. All of their sales associates learn the customers by name and follow up with emails and phone calls when a special sale comes, or a favorite designer has a trunk show. Even during these more trying economic times, the customer service never stops.

It’s that personal, I-know-you-by-name greeting and service that makes the difference. Sure, why couldn’t many stores adopt this practice? Most shoppers are local. Stores are local and so are many of their employees. Let’s get to know each other.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
13 years 1 month ago

I’m all for merchants giving more hugs. And it applies across retail channels and across consumer income brackets. It’s all about making the customer feel special, even if they’re just one of 10, 50, 100 or 150 shoppers in the store. And it also applies in the online space with virtual hugs.

Given the lack of customer service found across the retail industry, many merchants miss a big opportunity with the small niceties, e.g., remembering the customer’s birthday or anniversary, addressing customers by name, having treats for the customers children, loading groceries in the senior’s car, or simply a ready smile. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference and keep customers coming back.

Marge Laney
Guest
13 years 1 month ago
Giving customers “hugs” should be second nature to all retailers. It is not. I think about why that is, a lot. What I’ve come up with is this; not taking care of customers has not caused retailers enough pain to do something about it. In other words, customers don’t for the most part punish the retailer for lousy service. I don’t know how many times I’ve observed customers schlepping in and out of fitting rooms, or wandering the sales floor attempting to find something to buy, sometimes walking right past an associate. When I ask them what they think about the lack of service, they simply reply “Oh, I don’t mind, they (meaning the sales associates) seem so busy.” It takes a really bad experience to get most people to even talk about it. For the most part they just expect it and return again and again, which signals to the retailer all is well. But those that do hug reap the benefits in a strong bottom line and loyalty. Hugging is about personal connections… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
13 years 1 month ago

It’s relationship retailing. For small retailers, one of the greatest advantages that they have over their much larger competitors is their ability to engage their customers in a very personal way. By some estimates, regular customers, those customers who visit every 2 weeks or 4 weeks, make up as much as 50% of the customer base of small retailers. This gives those retailers an exceptional opportunity to stay close to those customers, and provide them very personalized, and personal, service.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Is the payback bigger from ’hugging’ customers or employees?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...