business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

For years now I have argued that we can find useful lessons in nearly all parts of modern life with one major exception.  Politics.  In part that is because we have a system in which competition largely is limited to two parties, which limits innovation and, frequently, achievement or accomplishment.  And, in part it is because any discussion of politics is likely to create animosity on one side or the other, with a sizeable percentage of people unwilling to concede that lessons can be learned on the other side of the aisle.

But now I'm going to take a chance, because of a lesson from politics that teaches us something about superior customer service.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, currently is the Senate Majority Leader.  (I can already heart the groans from the other side of the aisle.  Stick with me.). Schumer recently completed an annual endeavor by visiting all 62 counties in the Empire State. As Spectrum News reported, this marks the 23rd consecutive year Schumer completed the feat.

For those of you unfamiliar with New York State (my place of birth) you might be surprised at how hard it is to complete this tour because the state is far more than just the city that seems to dominate all media coverage. For example, while Kings County (home to Brooklyn) has more than 2.6 million residents, New York also includes upstate Hamilton County with fewer than 4,500 residents.

And while New York is far smaller than Texas or Montana, it isn’t small - New York City is the most southern part of the state meaning Times Square is nearly 400 miles away from Niagara Falls (the western edge) and 330 miles south of Champlain, which sits near Montreal, Canada, at the state’s northernmost point.

All of which is to say that Schumer’s travels to each county isn’t simple, and it brings him to parts of the state far from his political base in the metro New York area. No doubt it also means Schumer spends a number of those trips in front of constituents who are likely to vote for whichever Republican challenges him for re-election.

Yet Schumer keeps traveling.

There’s something admirable in that. Certainly it could be argued that Schumer’s job is to represent his entire state and he should make an effort to make those trips. But that doesn’t diminish what he does at all. Businesspeople need to copy his efforts, making certain to visit every part of their company, no matter how far-flung, on a regular basis. And those visits should provide time, as Schumer does, to listen to the locals and what they have to say.

Now I know of many retail executives who make a point of getting to each of their company stores every single year. Certainly that becomes impossible for those companies with many hundreds if not thousands of stores, but that only requires some creative solutions. For example, back in my time at FMI, I argued that each member of the association staff should have a list of companies with whom they had to contact on a regular basis simply to check in, listen to concerns and make a connection.

Schumer’s travels might even be inspiration for companies of all sizes to find ways to reach out to a large number of customers each year to check in, listen to concerns and make connections. Sure it would be time consuming and could result in a lot of worthless conversations. But it’s impossible to imagine the value of just a few critical connections that could lead to innovation and problem solving. There’s nothing too costly about that.

Maybe start with a simple goal and make contact with each store’s best customers annually. It could be a simple as a personalized note or a call and unlike Schumer you won’t need to travel to some of the coldest spots in the US like those near Big Moose Lake, NY. 

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com.

His book, “THE BIG PICTURE:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available here.

And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon here.