The Mitchells secret to success? An ever-growing family and lots of hugs.
When someone writes a book, a publicist mails an advance. Not Jack Mitchell. When I requested a copy of his revised bestseller Hug Your Customers, he called me back within five minutes, later excused himself from a meeting to hand it to me personally and waited, expectantly, to answer my questions there and then—as if helping to run the business, launching another book and prepping for motivational speeches for such lofty businesses as Morgan Stanley and Nike left him with loads of free time to talk to me. That felt good. Really good. Wait, I had been Mitchell hugged…and I liked it.
The book explains that a Mitchell hug is always more than one kindness; it’s one after the other. Also, it includes the “of course” response— as in, “Of course, I can bring the book to you right now if that works.” And it adds a personal touch—“Hello, Diane, thank you for coming by.” (First name, because that’s friendly.) Aside from the well-known full coffee pot and a bowl of M&Ms on the front counter, a Mitchell hug exceeds expectations, passionately. Jack puts it this way: “It’s a metaphor for any caring gesture or deed that personally touches a customer.”
Why do it? Jack credits his brother, Bill, who he says is a born hugger and adds that hugging has come to describe the business culture at Mitchells. Actually, it’s the lucrative business culture at Mitchells, Richards, Marshs and Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Palo Alto. So, big hug. Jack asks, “What happens when you hug somebody? They hug you back.” Aha! Hug a customer, win a loyal client.
This edition includes weathering the 2008 financial crisis, incorporating new technology (e.g., online shopping), bringing in new family members, merging with (not “acquiring”) new stores, educating (not “training”) new employees or managing nervous or competitive sales associates (never “the help”). It also explains word choices. “Softer words are, many times, hugs,” Jack says. “For example, when we acquired Richards in Greenwich in 1995, we said we merged two family businesses. In fact, we said perfect pairs. The word associate, I believe, just feels and sounds softer and more personal. As for the word educate, we are a learning culture…always wanting to raise the bar—listen, learn and grow—and incorporate new ideas on fundamentally sound values and principles. In a learning environment, educating again reflects this family feeling rather than training.”
Hug Your Customers is like talking shop over coffee. Packed with solid ideas from a proven leader, it’s an insightful talk.