How to Really Connect With Customers

Call them. Listen to them. You won't believe how valuable it is.

Since January, I've devoted every Thursday, all day, to cold calling current customers. I call it Smile and Dial.

I start in the morning calling East Coast folks, then move to the West Coast later in the day. It's hit or miss. Half the people answer, and of those, 20 percent of the people say they're too busy. The rest are happy to chat at least for a couple minutes. I'll have really rich conversations with about half of them.

When I call, I'm thinking, Care, care, care. I pretend like it's my mom or my grandmom or my dad. I care about their grandkid, about their dog; I care about their life. I'm focused on that, that shows, and they really open up. And then I actually do care. I'm so fascinated that I don't have to do a trick.

I want to find out who they are and how and why they use our service, and how we can be better. I don't say I'm the CEO, because I don't want them blowing smoke. I don't try to solve their problems on the call very often or defend us. After the fact, I'll worry about that. I want the truth, whether it's good or bad. as

As told to Inc. senior writer Burt Helm.

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