In this article, three key speakers at this week's annual Customer Experience Leadership conference, each with a distinct point-of-view on how to create a customer-centric culture, preview their upcoming talks and share best-practices.

How to 'Hug' Your Customers
by Jack Mitchell

Late one evening, Debbie, a veteran sales associate at our flagship luxury retail store Mitchells, received a call from a panicked customer. He had to be on a flight the next morning to talk to Swiss bankers about customer service, but he had nothing appropriate to wear for the sudden meeting. Debbie told him not to worry and to come down to the store.

At Mitchells, there is a near-immaculate record of customers' prior preferences, size, frame measurements, and purchase history stored in a database. Before the panicked customer arrived, Debbie pulled out basic suits, shoes, ties, and a blue blazer—all based on his profile. She handed him a cappuccino (which she knew he preferred over regular coffee) as he walked in.

The next day, the customer bragged about Mitchells to the Swiss bankers during his speech on impeccable customer service. As he looked inside the lapel of his blue blazer, he discovered a card that Debbie had placed inside. To his surprise, it read, "Happy Birthday."

Over a decade ago, I began to use the word "hugging" to describe a culture of embracing the customer. "Hugging" entails any act that embraces or connects with the customer in a human way—much like Debbie's surprise birthday card.

Here are the three keys to "hugging" your customer today.

1. Operate at the data frontier

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Jack Mitchell is CEO of The Mitchells Family of Stores (Mitchells and Richards in Connecticut, Marshs in New York, and Wilkes Bashford in California) and author of Hug Your Customers.
Dr. Larry Senn is a pioneer in the field of corporate culture. He is the founder and chairman of Senn-Delaney, the most experienced organizational culture-shaping firm in the world.
Teresa Laraba is SVP of customer services at Southwest Airlines, in its 40th year of service.