Review: How being nice to customers helps sales


Associated Press

Posted on March 7, 2011 at 7:45 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 7 at 1:05 PM

"The Thank You Economy" (HarperCollins), by Gary Vaynerchuk: When grandma was a newlywed buying lamb chops from butcher Bob, both could admire the fresh red meat as he chopped and engage in a bit of innocent flirtation as the muscular, smiling Bob threw in a piece of liver for the cat.

Now her granddaughter picks up the kids from the day-care center on her way home from the office and maybe her husband shops for dinner. At the supermarket, he faces brightly lit but emotionless racks of pre-packed cuts.

Butcher Bob was practicing what is now called social media marketing optimization, aka being nice to the customer. The subject is taught in today's business schools as a way to increase sales.

His media: the liver and a big smile.

Author Gary Vaynerchuk might say the schools are helping revive Bob's tradition of amiability, multiplied millions of times by 21st-century technology. He doesn't like the term "social media," but he finds it to be the basis of "The Thank You Economy" that he's adopted as the name of his high-spirited and amusing book.

It's a paean to the possibilities of extending commercial friendliness through the Internet. It gives many examples of successful use, and warns that neglecting its new techniques is perilous.

One difficulty cultivating Bob's tradition is the basic conflict making for unfriendliness between buyer and seller. Sellers want to make money. Buyers want to buy cheap.

Critics can quote an uncharacteristic gibe of Adam Smith, the British economist often called the father of capitalism.

In "The Wealth of Nations," published in 1776, Smith wrote: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices."

Vaynerchuk prefaces with a story about how not being nice taught a lesson that helped him build his father's $4 million liquor store into a $60 million business.

He was dusting the shelves when a customer came in with the receipt for a bottle of chardonnay. He'd paid $5.99 for it. The customer also had an ad offering the same bottle for $4.99. He wanted a dollar back.

"No," said the manager. "You have to buy more to get it at $4.99."

"That guy will never come back," said the young Vaynerchuk.

The customer did return, to say it was his last visit.