Questions? (877) 643-7244
FutureNow Post
Monday, Aug. 17, 2009 at 1:51 pm

What Could Happy Billy Teach You About Your Business?

By John Quarto-vonTivadar
August 17th, 2009

photoDuring a recent visit with family and with the fuel tank showing a big red Empty, my Mom was insistent that we had to get gas from Billy. “Who the heck is Billy?”, I wondered? (Bear with me, this gets interesting.)

We pull into the most ordinary of Shell gas stations (international readers: you might better recognize this company as Royal Dutch Shell) and are greeted by a very happy personality, Billy, who pumps the gas at this full service station. He has an entire conversation with my mother — not just about the expected “what grade of fuel”  but about regular life issues such as weather, health, etc. Like two old friends who bump into each other in a cafe. Then he finally goes and pumps the gas. Then I watch Billy move on to the next car where he proceeds to have another friendly conversation with another customer who he clearly is well acquainted with. And on Billy moves to yet a third customer, just as our fuel gauge reaches Full. Billy’s station is always busy, it seems.

“Mom, how long have you been coming here?”

“Oh, since I got my first Subaru, in 2001.”

“Nine years you’ve been going to the same place. There’s plenty of other gas stations all over the place. And you don’t go anywhere else?”

“Why would I? He’s a polite young man and he always smiles. And it’s full service for only a penny more than the self-service stations. Plus, now I recognize the other customers, too.”

Can you imagine that? A sort of social-networking-meets-customer-retention at a gas station? As you might guess, this Happy Billy no doubt means a very happy Shell station owner, selling what is otherwise a most fungible of commodities wherein people will often drive miles to save a penny per gallon. Instead at this Shell station on Post Road in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, people go out of their way to pay more (in a recession) for one of Billy’s smiles.

Now, I’ll be honest. This wouldn’t work in New York City, where I live. People are in just too much of a rush. But in the correct environment where life is slower and individual customers are seen as individual people this is incredibly effective. I can only hope Billy gets a bonus based on revenues.

shutterstock_smileI wonder, how many online businesses are willing to think of their customers as fellow citizens of the same small town and to know them with the online equivalent of a Billy smile? When’s the last time you felt that sort of allegiance to your cable company, or the convenience store where you buy milk? And think of the long-term revenue it means for a company that achieves that sort of loyalty.

Does your sales and customer service staff treat your customers to a Billy Smile?

Add Your Comments

Comments (33)

  1. Even in NYC, people do all their business within eight blocks of their residence. People also have regular haunts. On a given day of the week, I know where I’ll be each week for the foreseeable future.

    Social communities spring up in a place where the people show up from week in and week out.

    Back in the mid-70s, our grocery store used to be like that. The same people showed up every Saturday around the same time. The stories we shared picked where we left off, got brought up to date, and waited to be continued next week.

  2. Yes, I agree with David. You seem to see more of this in cities. I moved to an urban area of Louisville a couple years ago from a rural college town and see the same patterns plus genuinely friendly people.

    Some of the small town friendliness is a facade especially when it comes to smiles and small talk.

    Great customer service has an intrinsic value that’s challenging to measure. Ultimately our clients/customers want us to be upbeat, listening, smiling (even over the phone) and real, like Billy!

  3. I agree, this probably wouldn’t work in NYC. Many people go out of their way to avoid being social. It’s true. Get over it.

    That said, I’d pay an extra cent to get full-service at a self-serve station from a well-mannered attendant.

    In most bigger cities, I’d say the same holds true. Give a bit more than expected and ditch the small talk. If I want to chat, I’ll initiate as long as you seem approachable.

    Great article, John. It really did get me to thinking how I can apply this (with tweaks, of course) to other business models.

  4. Honest is one of the important parts to business.

  5. I think I have it going at Anderson Free Press

    http://www.AndersonFreePress.net

    A grassroots journalism effort with a very strong and vibrant community.

    That said, you can’t please all the people all the time, but I try to interact with my news community moreso than maybe any other publisher out there.

    Good post.

    -kpaul

  6. It is amazing what a company can accomplish when they take the time to step back and communicate with their clients.

  7. Great service is the main reason why customers keep on coming. Sadly, most entrepreneurs are after of earning money than building a good relationship with their customers. They don’t even consider the long term benefit of building a good relationship with their customers.

  8. Well this once again is stressing on the value of healthy relationship between you and your customer.Maintaining this relationships can work wonders,sometimes that is.

  9. [...] Si in final o poveste despre care nu va spun nimic – va las sa descoperiti singuri informatiile si esenta: What Could Happy Billy Teach You About Your Business?. [...]

  10. It can be far harder to engage the customer in the bustle of the city where everyone wants to buy something as quickly as possible and move on – strike up a conversation to a customer in the city and chances are you’ll be met with a scowl. To them, they’ll come back again and again if your service is the quickest least hassle.

    Contrast this to the country… Life is less stressed, and people have more time. Say hello to a stranger in the country and they say hello back. Buying milk from the local shop in the country it is perfectly natural to have a 10 minute conversation and you are unlikely to get an annoyed customer waiting in the queue behind (in fact they tend to join in!). If you ran a quick service where you didn’t take the time to get to know customers in the country, you might find people drive a distance to do business with someone else.

    So what am I saying.. I’m saying that different online businesses should tackle things differently. Some are in the ‘country camp’ and your customers will welcome your interaction with them. Others are in the ‘city camp’ where too much interaction might lead to a negative response!!

  11. Sadly, most entrepreneurs are after of earning money than building a good relationship with their customers. They don’t even consider the long term benefit of building a good relationship with their customers.

  12. Who ever in the business gives excellent customer service, there we find more success.

  13. I thought about this concept very interesting.

  14. This is an incredible article which is full of useful information.
    I think building a long-term relationship with your customers is the key point in a business.

  15. It’s nice tip.

    Thank so much.

  16. Don’t you think that having friendly and cheerful staff goes a lot further that having miserable ones.
    friendly faces and cheerful people in and sales business goes a long way.

    Good post.

  17. Don’t you think that having friendly and cheerful staff goes a lot further that having miserable ones.
    friendly faces and cheerful people in and sales business goes a long way.

    Good post.

  18. t can be far harder to engage the customer in the bustle of the city where everyone wants to buy something as quickly as possible and move on – strike up a conversation to a customer in the city and chances are you’ll be met with a scowl. To them, they’ll come back again and again if your service is the quickest least hassle.

  19. Thanks for the hint, I was looking for sth. like that for months :-)

  20. Thanks Billy!!
    Felt really nice reading that!

  21. Great service is the main reason why customers keep on coming. Sadly, most entrepreneurs are after of earning money than building a good relationship with their customers.

  22. I think bill love his work so much and he run his own business on the right place which is the small town so people have the time to talk each other.

  23. Good information posted here thank you for this great idea.

  24. I love Billy! He is a great guy.

  25. I like it.

  26. Nice article Billy

  27. I believe bill love his work very much and he handle his own business on the right place which is the small town so people have the time to talk each other.

  28. Wow this is a cool post. I feel like a lot of businesses could learn quite a bit from Billy. How can I apply this principle? Well that I don’t quite know yet :)

  29. I think building a long-term relationship with your customers is the key point in a business

  30. Some of the small town friendliness is a facade especially when it comes to smiles and small talk.

  31. make a link building for the bussines, it can make growing the business.

  32. this is very interesting so I learned a lot!

  33. [...] full story at FutureNow: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2009/08/17/happy-billy/ [...]

Add Your Comments

 

Print this Article
Share

John is the co-author of the best-selling Always Be Testing and 3 other books. You can friend him on Facebook, though beware his wacky swing dancer friends, or contact him directly at john@johnquarto.com

More articles from John Quarto-vonTivadar

Marketing Optimization Blog
FREE Newsletter Sign-Up
send it once every: