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    From the Moment the Envelope Left my Hand, I Knew I Had Really Messed Up


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    From the moment the envelope left my hand, I knew I had really messed up.

    Let me take you back to the day I placed my Tony Gwynn baseball card into that envelope. The letter addressed to Tony asked him if he would sign the card and send it back to me. As I walked to the mailbox with envelope in hand, anticipation built as I imagined receiving a letter back from Tony with the autographed card enclosed.

    I dropped the envelope into the mailbox, and that’s when I knew that I had messed up…because I had forgotten the most important thing: a self-addressed stamped envelope so Tony would know where to send my card back to. There was no way to retrieve the envelope. You’ve seen the post office boxes. There is no getting your hands on mail once it’s been released.

    It was the summer of 1990. At 12 years old, growing up in sunny San Diego, I idolized the great baseball hitter Tony Gwynn. I always admired how much time he dedicated to perfecting his craft of hitting singles, and really placing the ball. While most baseball players went for the powerful home run and all of its glory, Tony was dedicated to the team effort and getting on base, having much more success than most. He was a great student of his craft, often spending hours reviewing game tapes to find areas to improve upon.

    Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    In many ways today, I find myself like the Tony Gwynn of the ’90s, analyzing my life and looking for ways to improve. It’s the seemingly inconsequential decisions, played out day after day, that end up shaping our entire lives. I try to improve myself incrementally day by day, analyzing the “footage” and making small tweaks here and there, like Tony did.

    About a year ago, in my never ending quest for personal improvement, I read a book called “Hug Your Customers,” by Jack Mitchell. “Hugging” your customers, as Mitchell puts it, is to “metaphorically hug them by showering them with attention in a way that every business ought to but doesn’t…Hugging implies passion, and without passion and commitment, customer service can never be extraordinary.”

    Since reading this book, I’ve been on a quest to “hug” my clients this last year. The idea has helped me to differentiate myself in an industry that is full of agents just doing the bare minimum.

    I had a chance to sit down recently with my friend Collin Rand, who worked for Disney. You can listen to our entire conversation on Episode #2 of my podcast. When I asked Collin about his customer service experience working with Disney, Collin said something that really struck me: “I’ll be honest, I hate the word ‘customer.’ That definition is someone who comes in, buys something from you and leaves, and there’s no relationship built ever. It’s a transactional person. That’s a customer, in my opinion. I’ve never served a customer. I’ve served a guest or a client. Those are the types of people that you build relationships with.”

    I agree with Collin, in that we really need to strive to be on a level way above merely having “customers.” We need to “hug” our clients and guests.

    When my father got home from work, I told him about my disappointment that day. I told him about dropping an envelope with my favorite Tony Gwynn card in the mailbox, and how it was a certainty that I would never see that card again.

    Can you imagine how many letters a guy like Tony Gwynn must receive in one day? He’s busy training, exercising, studying, perfecting his craft. The last thing he has time to do is sift through mail and hand write the addresses to kids who forget to include their self-addressed stamped envelope.

    My father worked with a guy by the name of Cecil Espy, who also happened to be a part-time scout for the St. Louis Cardinals. My father told Cecil what happened, and Cecil said,

    “Let me see what I can do.”

    Now, I wasn’t there for the conversation, but I hear it went something like this:

    “Hey Tony. Yeah, this is Cecil. I need a favor. Can you find an envelope from a kid named Josh Painter? Yeah. Here’s his address. He would really like to see that card signed. Can you mail it back to him?”

    Talking with other real estate agents, it seems like most go in to a listing appointment armed with their “sales presentation” and try to knock it out of the park with one swing. They over promise, and under deliver, talking about market stats, their company, their sales — never really hugging the client. They make it about them, the agent, as opposed to maximizing the home’s value.

    Hitting singles in real estate is akin to taking all the small, necessary steps to maximize your home’s value, while avoiding fundamental mistakes. When you have a documented approach, like I describe in my book, you line up several singles over and over again, like Tony Gwynn, one base hit at a time, in a team effort with your client to win the game. I strive to “hug” my clients by helping them to extract the most value out of their home, through my proven, documented approach.

    When I saw the envelope a few days later, I was in shock. This was unbelievable. An envelope addressed to Josh Painter, from the San Diego Padres Baseball Club. I carefully pulled it open, making sure not to damage the contents inside. Enclosed was my Tony Gwynn baseball card, signed by the man himself. I knew that signature too well, as I had seen it before in magazines and print. But here it was, in my hands, on my Tony Gwynn baseball card. Tony had found my letter in what must have been a mound of letters, and “hugged” me in a way that went well beyond what was expected by a young kid, or by anyone for that matter. In that moment, that kind act, he made me a fan for life.

    It’s the seemingly inconsequential things that really make a difference in people’s lives. Signing and mailing a baseball card when you don’t have to. Creating value in a home with small changes. Seeing each client as a relationship to be built and a chance to be of service. Making fans for life.

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