I was a young professional, a full-time student working three jobs, and had just moved out on my own when Ellis walked into one of my stores. We had a deal on video rentals, three 7-day rentals for $10, and this elderly man would come in every week to make his new selections. With each visit I discovered a little more about him. His wife was battling cancer, so he always chose a comedy to lift her spirits. He had vision trouble and required regular injections, so he always chose full-screen videos.
I looked forward to his regular visits, and was always eager to hear about him and his family. He brought a calm presence to my otherwise hectic lifestyle, and had a wise appreciation for the little things I took for granted in my regular bustle. Once he came in carrying large, hand-painted comic strips telling his stories from the Second World War. When I asked why he was carrying these around, he told me he was working to have them scanned and sent to his granddaughter in LA who had contacts in publishing. Once he came in with a fancy watch, which likely weighed more than his entire arm. It had been a gift from his granddaughter from LA. When his wife passed away, he told me that his granddaughter had come from LA to visit him. He took her to Rockin’ Johnny’s Diner for her favourite milkshake, and was upset that some fans of this local talent didn’t have the respect to leave them be as they mourned their mutual loss. He had never mentioned she was a celebrity – to him she was just his granddaughter.
Years later, I had graduated university, and was no longer working at the video store. I met this celebrity’s parents at a function I’d organized, and had to ask them how her grandfather was doing. I told them how much I’d appreciated his brief but regular visits, and our chats, and wondered if he’d ever gotten his paintings published. They knew exactly who I was – our conversations had meant something to him as well, and had told them about how much he enjoyed coming to the store and talking with me.
This is my favourite customer story. People always remark when I tell it that this significant a relationship usually doesn’t take place between a store clerk and a customer, over periods of minutes spanning several weeks. They think it’s rare. I, however, intend to carry this as the model for client relationships in all the future work that I do. It only takes minutes to ask about someone’s day, to learn new things about them. From a business perspective, it helps to identify their needs, and creates a familiarity with my personal brand. From a personal perspective, this client in particular has taught me to take my time.