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Lessons on building relationships from social work

BOSTON -- started as a single flower shop in New York. The man behind the flowers learned the basics of creating relationships with customers through his work with troubled teenage boys as a counselor in a group home in New York. Today, the company reported revenues of $365 million for fiscal year 2000, through all its channels.

"I learned how to create relationships from my work at a group home," Jim McCann, CEO of 1-800-Flowers, said in his keynote address here at CRM Focus. "Great (customer) relationships... stem from the relationships you create with co-workers and vendors."

When he first began working at the group home, McCann faced the challenge of trying to build dialogues with ten boys, ages 15 to 21, that really didn't want to talk, he said. McCann discovered that the reason he was ineffective in dealing with the boys for two reasons. The first was that he tried to deal with the boys as a group, rather than individuals, and the second mistake he made was being reactive, rather than proactive with relationship building, he said.

Since none of the boys wanted to be seen talking with McCann, he had to find places to have these dialogues. McCann began a tomato garden and enticed one of the boys to assist in its care. Soon, McCann was able to talk with this young man and find out what he needed. McCann then created a series of projects and coerced various residents of the home into adopting the projects as their own. "Little by little, it was coming together," he said.

McCann then needed to build community within the home. He offered the boys a camping trip, should they all have perfect school attendance for ten days. This became an incentive for some of the boys to encourage the other group home residents to attend school, and as a result, created a sense of community.

This easily translates into the business world, according to McCann. Businesses need to create a community feeling in their enterprises and with their customers, set goals for their staffs and connect with people, he said.

"Our success in the future is totally predicated by building relationships with customers," McCann said. He encouraged enterprises to adopt technology to provide personalized service, to see each customer as an individual rather than a group.

He admits that his company does not always personalize perfectly, but it is an ongoing process for them.

1-800-Flowers also works at offering the same experience to customers, whether by telephone or online, McCann said. Those databases are linked so that customers that call about their order can receive the appropriate service. In fact, this happened because the customers had indicated strongly that they expected this service, McCann said.

"The more technology we use, the more we can appropriately serve our customers," he said.


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