Yesterday I dropped off 42 pieces of clothing at my dry cleaner. That’s right, 42. The fact that I have anything at all left to wear astonishes me, and I’ll probably have to take out a loan just to pick up all that stuff. Ouch.

In any case, I don’t usually do that. My normal routine entails dropping off about 10 pieces or so every few weeks–not enough to get me noticed. That, coupled with the fact that I clearly hadn’t been there in a while, made me all the more surprised when the lady at the counter called me by name as I walked through the door. She even proceeded to tell me that she and The Boss had very recently discussed my absence and that I was on her call list. (This was substantiated by the $20 credit that The Boss had placed on my account.) They frequently discussed their top customers, she said, and wanted to be sure they remained satisfied. She missed me.

This entire conversation took place before she looked me up in the computer. I’m pretty sure it was the real deal.

I left what I thought would be nothing more than a drop-and-run feeling unexpectedly buoyant. I was on someone’s top customer list. I–as an individual, not a faceless customer–was important to someone’s business. I was worthy of tactical discussion with The Boss. Maybe it’s ridiculous, but that short encounter made me feel important for a few minutes afterward.

As I ponder my dry cleaning event, I come away with two important insights. First, businesses should be having conversations ABOUT their customers regularly. They should be asking questions like Who are our best customers? What are their names? Why do they choose our products/services over others? What can we do to make/keep them happy? How can we connect with them?

Second, businesses should also be having conversations WITH their customers. They should tell them what they think of them. Get personal. Call them by name. Acknowledge their importance. Tell them they matter.

This second insight gets put into practice a lot less than the first, I suspect. Maybe more companies than I think are having the internal conversations, but I’m pretty certain that they aren’t extending those to the people who matter. It’s such a simple step, but it’s one that is all too often forgotten.

People like to feel important. Telling them that they are will go a long way toward building lasting relationships.

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