I had a moment of clarity at my aunt’s funeral many years ago. There was a viewing the evening prior and I saw a man standing at her casket, alone and sobbing. At first, I hesitated to approach him, as it was obviously a deeply personal moment for him. But after another minute or two, I noticed he hadn’t moved from his position, or his condition.
So I decided to go over to him. I put my hand on his shoulder and introduced myself. And I asked him, “How did you know Arlene?”
I wasn’t expecting what came next; in fact, I haven’t forgotten his response since. He said, “She was my friend.” He paused for a second and added, “I was in love with her but I never told her. She never knew.”
He started to cry again; and I realized he’d never uttered those words out loud to anyone, ever. All I could do was hug him and say, “I’m sure she knew; somehow, women have a crazy way of knowing these things.”
My response drew a small smile and he nodded, almost as if he hoped that was true. It was one of the rawest, most painful moments I’ve ever experienced; and I’ve thought about it many, many times in the years since. It’s made me wonder, why is it so difficult to tell people how we really feel?
There are probably infinite answers to this question; but I think it boils down to vulnerability. It takes courage to expose our innermost feelings, especially when we’re not sure those emotions are reciprocated. So instead of taking the risk of being hurt or deemed foolish, we keep all of those beautiful feelings locked away within ourselves. And sometimes – like my aunt’s dear, sweet friend – we even become a prisoner to them.
I’ll be the first to admit, it’s not easy opening up to others; but I’d also argue that it’s more difficult not to. My aunt never knew her friend had such deep feelings for her. Maybe she sensed it but brushed it off as an overactive imagination (as we women often tend to do).
But because she never knew, she also never had the opportunity to respond.
Perhaps their lives could have been completely different, had she known. Perhaps she would’ve have had the chance to say, “I love you, too,” had she known. Or maybe, she really didn’t share his same feelings, as was his fear. But even so, I knew my aunt well enough to know that she would’ve been deeply touched that he had the courage to tell her. That alone would’ve made her feel wonderful.
So why am I sharing such a personal story in my business blog? Because it also relates to how we communicate with our customers. How often do we have the courage to tell them how we really feel about them? That we appreciate them. That we’re grateful and humbled by their business and loyalty. That we want to know if we’re doing anything wrong, or could improve in any way. Or that maybe they could improve in some ways, too.
Sadly, these conversations often only take place when it’s too late – when they’re gone. And at that point, there’s very little that’s left to be said or done that will result in a different outcome.
So I’d like to challenge you to be forthright with your feelings toward your customers. Tell them you love them. Tell them you appreciate them. Ask them for a productive dialogue on how you can improve your service to them. And then, take a deep breath and listen to their response.
Chances are, they’ll respond positively to your courage. Maybe they’ll give you constructive ideas on changes that can improve your product or service and further cement their commitment to you. Or maybe – just maybe – they’ll tell you they love you, too. And if that’s the case, then they’ll want to tell others, too. After all, that’s how love works.
But no matter what, don’t remain silent. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t make your relationships – business or personal – a sad story of unrequited love. Tell them.