What Are Hugs?

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"A hug is not just a physical embrace. It can be different things for different people at different times. We shower our customers with attention. There’s no doubt in my mind that our philosophy can be applied to selling just about anything - from aircraft engines to beanbags."
- Jack Mitchell

The very word “hugging” implies all sorts of fuzzy, touchy-feely behavior. That’s not exactly what Jack Mitchell means by it. He defines hugging as a mindset more than a physical act. It’s a novel way of thinking about customers and delivering over-the-top service. To him, hugging is a softer word for passion and relationships. It’s a way of getting close to your customers and truly understanding them. Jack likes to say: “You listen, you learn, you hug."

In the simplest sense, a hug is anything that exceeds a customer’s expectations. It can be as commonplace as a smile or eye contact. It can be a firm handshake. It can be calling when you say you will. It can be remembering a customer’s name even though it’s only the second time you’ve seen him and the first time was two years ago. It can be asking about the customer’s children and knowing their names and ages even though there are five of them. One of the best hugs of all is a letter of thanks. It is a big hug if it’s handwritten and a very big hug if you write an additional hand-written note on the side of a typed letter. It’s true that in some instances we physically hug our customers, but we mainly metaphorically hug them by showering them with attention in a way that every business ought to but doesn’t.

Hugging implies passion and without passion and commitment, customer service can never be extraordinary. Jack thinks of hugging as getting everyone on your team to sell with passion so you develop long-term loyal relationships with your customers. Hugging involves getting so close to the customer that the customer becomes more important than anything else. Over time in a hugging culture, a unique personal and professional relationship develops between the business and customer - a loyalty built on trust and, in the case of the Mitchells Family of Stores, sales that fill closets with clothes customers love to wear and are right for them. Their vision is that anyone that becomes a customer of their stores enters a lifetime relationship with them. He or she instantly becomes their friend. That’s their motto: “Once a customer, always a friend."

For a hugging culture to work, everyone in the organization from top to bottom must embrace it. In a hugging culture, everyone from Jack, to the buyers, to the tailors, to the credit managers, to the shipping clerks hugs and sells. It takes hard work to master a hugging culture, but Jack Mitchell is convinced it’s well worth the effort. After all, hugging is universally appealing. Everyone loves to be hugged. There’s nothing controversial about it. It simply works.

And one of the best things about hugging is how versatile it is. It’s a business philosophy that succeeds just as well for someone selling cornbread or lawn mowers. Any company in any industry can learn to hug - and love it!