Several years ago, I purchased an industrial strength sleeper sofa and had it delivered to my weekend getaway home on a nearby lake. This was my first experience with this furniture store. The salesperson neglected to tell me that the standard mattress that came on the $900 sleeper-sofa bed was only a “pretend” mattress—one you might endure only for a short night after partying really late!


After one miserable night on it, I called the furniture store to report on my aching back and to arrange to return the mattress for something better. I was informed of their rules:  an upgrade mattress would cost sixty dollars, but the pretend mattress could not be returned. And, there would be no free delivery on the upgraded mattress. Mattresses do not fold up to be neatly transported in the back seat of a car.


Thankfully, I had a friend with a truck and a half-day off willing to come to my rescue.   With prior agreement from the furniture store, I mailed in a check for sixty dollars so my friend could pick up and transport the new mattress. No one made a follow-up call to learn if the new mattress worked better. Two weeks later, I received a bill for one dollar and eighty cents with a note from Mr. Rules ’R Us: “You neglected to pay a stocking fee on the upgraded mattress. Remit immediately so we can balance our books!” This was my last experience with this furniture store.


Now, here is the respectful angle. The late Stanley Marcus, legendary founder of Neiman Marcus department stores, enjoyed talking about the importance of keeping customers as the most important lesson he ever learned in retailing. A woman once returned a damaged lace gown she had obviously mistreated. Stanley’s father instructed his son to give the woman a full refund and to “do it with a smile.” It was obvious she purchased the gown for a single formal dinner with no intention of keeping it. Stanley reported that over the years that woman spent over $500,000 at Neiman Marcus. And, she made sure all her friends only shopped at Neiman’s.


Customers remember what you give them long after they have forgotten what you take from them. Customer loyalty happens when customers experience service from providers willing to overlook imperfections in the math of the moment in exchange for the fairness of the future. It comes from organizations that recognize long-term relationships are far more valuable than short-term transactions. Don’t step over dollars to pick up pennies.  Show your customers your respect through your generosity. Remember, respect is not what you believe—it is what you show.