All rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005
In 1998, I decided to get back into running, so I grabbed my old Nike running shoes and hit the road. Of course, it didn't take long for me to develop some aches and pain. Not the kind that you can just brush off, mind you. The kind that threatened to stop my comeback dead in its tracks.
When I walked into Jeff Milliman's store that March, it wasn't to buy shoes. It was to get advice on how to get rid of the sharp pain that burned out of the side of my right knee every time I passed the six mile mark.
Jeff listened to my problem and smiled. He had me take off my shoes and roll up my pants. He watched me walk around his store. And then he gave me a pair of shoes.
"Here. Try these," he said.
"You mean like... here?"
"No, I mean take them home. Run in them for a couple of weeks. If they work for you, come back and pay for them. If not, we'll try another shoe."
Just like that.
Jeff had never met me before. He didn't know my name. If I had gone home that day with those shoes and never came back, he would have had no way to find me.
He took a big chance, trusting a complete stranger.
But ultimately, it paid off.
The shoes fixed the problem, and my ITBS quickly went away.
Two pairs of shoes later, I ran my first marathon.
Four more pairs, and I completed my first Ironman.
Add the shorts, the shirts, the energy drinks, the gels, the bars, the race belt, the hats, the sunglasses, the bodyglide, the socks, the decals, and you'll get an idea of of how well Jeff's gamble paid off.
That doesn't take into account the dozens of people I sent his way over the years.
It doesn't count the free publicity he got from my triathlon club's website and newsletter.
Yeah, it paid off nicely.
I'm just one guy. Multiply this by a hundred customers.
The point is that I didn't go into his store to buy shoes, but I walked out with a pair anyway.
I ran in those shoes every day for two weeks.
By the time I walked back into Jeff's store to pay him, I was more interested in thanking him for having been such a cool guy. The moment I walked out of his store with that pair of shoes, I was a customer for life.
Imagine a restaurant manager telling you "here, since you liked our food so much, take this pie home. If you like it, come back next week and pay for it. If not, it's on the house."
Imagine a wireless service provider telling you "hey, take the phone and try the plan on for size. If it works for you, come back next month and we'll finish the paperwork. If not, we'll try something else that'll suit you better."
Refreshing? You bet.
Ultimately, it wasn't about the shoes. It was about the gesture. It was about the trust. It was about essentially putting me completely in the driver's seat.
And it was about getting me back on the road.
Establish that kind of bond with your customers, and they'll never, ever leave you.
So... The question begs to be asked: What kind of bonds are you forging with your customers?