Where’s Buster?


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Every small town in America had a Buster. Buster Seecoy sold Grit newspapers on Main Street and knew the birthday of everyone in town. He worked part-time as a stocker at Moore’s Feed Store, the watering hole for the agricultural community. And, when you met Buster on the street, no matter your age, he greeted you with your whole name, always with a “Mr,” “Mrs.” or “Miss” in front of it—”Good morning, Miss Nancy Rainey.” Buster Seecoy made everyone smile!

Social media like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter provide concrete evidence that customers are changing the way they define marketplace. In some ways it says we are returning to a village. While the new village is a global community it nevertheless has many of the features of the village of yesteryear.

In a small town merchants knew you and catered to your specific needs. They acted on history–patterns of previous purchases. They relied on neighborly practices. They’d even open the store after hours if you needed something. Over the last fifty years commerce has been distant, impersonal, and one-size-fits all. New social media is helping to connect customers with businesses in ways that are more personalized, open, around-the-clock and valued.

But, all villages need a Buster. Does your customer service make your customers smile? Does it have a unique imaginative twist that makes it distinctive? Do you create experiences for your customers they would describe as lively, fun and positively memorable? How many customers did you make laugh this week?

A “Buster” is a Smile-Maker

Smile-makers practice their talents with complete authenticity. Buster greeted everyone without regard to age, disposition, social standing, or popularity. And, his greeting reflected an obvious zeal to change the math of the interaction from subtraction to multiplication. He enjoyed a happy village and saw his role as making a large contribution to that collective cheerfulness.

For almost a year I drove weekly on a toll road to work with a client. The toll booth operator made the morning trip memorable. You never knew what salutation you were going to get but you knew he’d extract your smile along with your quarter. It might be a compliment (“Great looking tie there!”), a unique greeting (“How ’bout those Cowboys”) or a special saying, (“Carpe diem, sir”). And it was not unusual to get your morning salute with a unique accent or over-the-top theatrics. Turns out the toll-operator was using his day job to practice his real passion—acting! But, every traveler benefited from his special smile-making machine.

A “Buster” Delivers a Surprise

The thing that made Buster Seecoy a character you’d remember your whole life was his unique capacity to surprise you. He memorized the birthday of everyone in the small town. You didn’t see Buster very often. So, his special gesture communicated a sincere compassion for people and a solid commitment to add value to every encounter.

Tree trimmers are not usually known for their service sensitivity. Tree surgeon Richard Butler was clearly an exception. He long served as the caretaker for the massive oak trees on my two acre yard. Richard’s service approach was as impressive as his team’s Cirque du Soleil antics in the tall oak trees. Realizing I was an author, Richard requested a signed copy of my book Beep Beep! Competing in the Age of the Road Runner as a part of his payment.

Sometime later, lightning struck a large elm tree on the property. A call was placed to Richard to “come out and give me an estimate.” Upon arriving home after work, I found the tree gone and the stump removed. On the back door was not an invoice but Richard’s business card. On the back of his business card were four words: ‘No charge. Beep Beep!”

A Buster Brings Respect

The South has always been a venue for hospitality and manners. People are quick to say “mam” and “sir.” Doors are opened for another. Strangers get the same warm greeting that locals get. But, Buster Seecoy ratcheted up respect to a whole new level by referring to everyone by their full name with a “Mr, Miss, or Mrs.” in front of it (this was long before Ms. was invented). You sensed you were important to Buster—real important!

Respect includes listening to another so intently you leave them with the unmistakable view they are valued. When we listen, we gain information (“The more people talk, the more then tend to talk). When we actively listen, we gain understanding (“The more people talk about a single subject, the more they reveal”). But, when we make the other person feel respected by the way we listen, we gain affirmation and commitment (“The more people feel valued, the more they focus on areas important to them”).

Buster Seecoy evoked in others the same tell-you-anything feeling that people have with their beloved pets (“Lord, make me the person that my dog thinks I am”). Buster elevated a common, ordinary greeting to an expression of elegance and style. And, as he lassosed your attention with his rope of respect, he always captured your affection.

A village without a “Buster” is a pretty boring town. A “Buster” can bring enrichment and hope. A “Buster” can bring a healing experience that erases emotional pain to replace it with confidence, strength and joy. Your customers need a “Buster.” Be the “Buster” in your commercial village.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group (chipbell.com) and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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