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February 17, 2010

News & Opinion: Treat Who Like a Customer?

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 10:54 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Jack asked me to take a look at a book recently that, I must admit, I was a bit skeptical about at first. For a number of different reasons, a book of marriage advice (geared mostly toward successful men) entitled Treat Me Like a Customer seems like a dicey proposition, especially so if it's being released by a Christian publisher. Zondervan seems to have pulled it off, though, with Louis Upkins' book of sage advice on building and, when need be, repairing the relationships with those closest to us. The idea for, and title of, the book stems from the story of a successful friend and colleague of Upkins who turned to him for help developing a life plan.
"The truth is, Louis, we're just making it up as we go along," he replied when I expressed surprise at his request. "In fact, I'm going to call my wife right now and ask about our life plan," and the next thing I knew he had dialed his wife and put her on the speakerphone. [...] Later, he told me that when he got home that night, his wife seemed a little annoyed at his phone call. He was tired and wanted to get comfortable, so he gave her all the signals that he wanted to be left alone. That's when she greeted him with these words "Harold, just suck it up and treat me like one of your customers."

Upkins describes this advice, which he admits "may seem simplistic or even offensive" as a "revelation" to him. Successful business people generally know how to form successful business relationships. They just don't always apply that talent elsewhere. What Upkins does is flip the script of so many self-help business books by—rather than taking life lessons and applying them to business—taking the skills that successful people already have in business and applying them to marriage, parenting and one's life at home. I'm sure that Louis Upkins wishes he never had to write this book, that it wasn't necessary. But, for too many of us men, it probably is. None of us want to be distant and aloof with our loved ones, but too many of us are. And, it's not that it's that bad... it's that we shouldn't settle for "not that bad." As Upkins writes:
I run into a lot of ... Good men. Successful men. Men who go to work every day to provide for their families and coach Little League teams and go to dance recitals. Men who seem to have their priorities straight and have invested heavily into their families. CEOs and construction workers. Lawyers and laborers. Engineers and educators. They may not share the same net worth or wear the same uniform at work, but they do have one thing in common ... they feel as if they are drifting farther and farther away from the people who matter most to them, and they don't like it. It's not that they're heading for divorce court or that their marriages are seriously troubled. As marriages go, theirs are not bad. But not bad is not good enough.
You read this blog, so I know you that you're not accepting "not bad" at work. You're trying to find new solutions, bigger and better ideas every day. Is the same true in your interests outside of work... even if it's not marriage? Do you have any interests outside of work? Most likely you do, and most likely, even if it's been buried deep down by professional considerations, you consider them (or it) the most important aspect of your life. It seems sad that we may have to turn to a customer service paradigm to improve the relationships with those closest to us, or to business lessons to really focus on what we're passionate about, but it may be necessary, and if so, Louis Upkins can help.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.