The tall, rugged Russian wholesale auto buyer could barely speak English. But, his passion for his export business was glaring to anyone within a block. We were consulting with a large auto auction company to help them create a new service uniquely crafted for wholesale buyers who purchased vehicles at U.S. auctions specifically to ship them overseas to be sold by auto retailers. Our interviews were conducted at particular auto auctions that had a large customer base of exporters.
“Why do you like this particular auction?” we asked the Russian buyer. “They fly my flag,” he proudly announced! Later we visited the auction lanes where buyers and sellers gathered around several seemingly never ending rows of cars with an auctioneer at each lane refereeing the auto marketplace. Along the upper wall of the giant warehouse flew a United Nations-like row of national flags—one for each country represented by the customers present at the auction.
“Flying your customer’s flag” is more than a symbol of personalization; it is a sign of deep and obvious respect. Respect can come in the form of honesty and fairness. It can be a compassionate deference to a customer’s unique circumstance and special interests. But, its liveliest form is found in the exceptions that are grounded in customer understanding and fueled by generosity. “We don’t normally, but in your case,” “I went ahead and took care of that…,” or “I comped the charge since I knew…” are all the sounds of customer-centric exceptions.
Exceptions tell customers you are there for them, not just for you. Customers want you to be successful and profitable; they do not want you to be miserly or greedy. Rigid commerce fails to accommodate the humanness of serving. And, exceptions telegraph to customers there is a partnership governing the rules of engagement, not a programmed computer or front-line employee.
“Flying your customer’s flag” means touching your customer’s source of pride. What can you do to deliver the kind of service that would make your customers proud? How can you “fly your customer’s flag” in a way they will salute you by becoming your advocate?