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David FullerMy son Caleb and I went to the local Canadian Tire Store recently. Instead of going through the regular tills, I ventured through the garden centre to pay.

I was greeted by a smiling fellow who told me his name was Sam. “I know you from somewhere?” Sam said.

I didn’t say anything.

“Are you a movie star?”

“Perhaps,” I said as my son giggled beside me. “Perhaps we were in a movie together?”

“No, I wasn’t in a movie, but I recognize you from one. Was it a comedy?” Sam asked.

At this point, I had paid for my purchase and I thought I had better leave before I disappointed Sam with the fact that I was just an ordinary customer.

As Caleb and I laughed our way home, with the thought of me as a famous movie star, I realized that Sam had just made me want to come back to the store, just to have another great experience like that. His ability to make a connection with me the customer created a positive impression that would last a long time and be valuable for the business over time. Sam was genuinely interested in his customers and was a definite asset for that Canadian Tire outlet.

As business owners, we’re often too caught up in our own little worlds to really engage with our customers, to create an experience like Sam created for us. Sam, in his curiosity about me the customer, had made me want to experience more of that business.

In a world filled with technology, texting, email and snapchats, our customers crave real people, that human touch.

In fact, a study from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration found that touching customers on either the shoulder or the hand led to an increase in tips of between 16 to 41 percent.

If we want customers to love us, we have to show genuine interest in them. We need to teach our staff how to do the same. Twenty eight years of retail experience taught me that many of my customers, between certain hours of the day, came in just to talk to someone. They were lonely and wanted to have a relationship with someone that day.

When we engage our customers in such a way that we show we’re interested in them, in their lives and who they are, we create value for them that really has nothing to do with money.

Certainly there are situations that must be based on the lowest prices. But what would happen in business if we really started to care about our customers? If customers came to know that we cared about them?

My guess is that our competitors would be out of luck.

If I had to choose between going to the local Canadian Tire or a competitor with the same product even at a lower price, and I thought that I could have an experience like the one I had with Sam every time, I would shop nowhere else.

Price wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t even be part of the equation.

As business leaders, we need to get it into our minds that despite the busyness of our day, the overwhelming amount of work we have, the stresses of running a business or managing people, our customers count.

By engaging with customers in a meaningful, memorable way that’s enjoyable, fun and interesting, we will out-do our competition. By training our staff and ourselves to be more like Sam – engaging, funny and personable – we come to understand that life becomes more rewarding, personally and financially.

Sam might have laughed as hard as I did at the thought of me being a movie star. Perhaps he was just trying to add some spice to his day as well.

But regardless, Sam knows how to be successful. He made my shopping experience memorable and that’s what we’re all searching for – positive memories we can share.

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. Comments on business at this time? Email [email protected]

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