Who are you?

Honesty. Sophistication. Integrity.

These words might read elegantly on an “About Us” page of your Website. And they may look handsome inside a picture frame hanging in the corridor of your office.

Your corporate values

They form the building blocks of your business. They are the promises against which you must weigh every decision. They are reflected in who you hire, or who you don’t.

They manifest themselves in the reassuring phone greeting people hear when they call after hours. Or they are perhaps degraded by a pulp-filled plastic box affixed shabbily to one of your yard signs.

See, the words mean diddly, unless everyone who comes into contact with your brand leaves with a smudge of them on their shirt.

Mitchell Gold, Bob Williams

A few weeks ago, Lori and I entered a local furniture store we pass every day. The arrangements always look perfect. The couches, tables, pillows and art always seemed special. Unique.

It was 7:00pm. Closing time. Nevertheless, Erin, a design consultant, happily stayed to talk to us. After all, we were neighbors.

She arrived at our home a week later for our first consultation. She measured our rooms. She took loads of photos. Spoke to my children. Admired their rooms and the things that are part of their lives. She looked through our photo albums and got a glimpse of our history.

My wife commented on how stunning she looked. On her stylish and professional clothes. She noticed her perfume. A hint of vanilla.

She spent three hours with us. And she left with her iPhone filled with images, her mind buzzing with ideas.

Last night, we stopped in to see what she has been working on.

Her design table was covered with fabrics. Pictures of furniture, of couches and tables, were everywhere. On her computer I saw a 3D rendering of our apartment. It was where all her ideas and pieces were coming to life.

Once again, we stayed late. Way past closing time. She served us designer chocolate and sparkling fruit soda. And once again, she was stunningly dressed. Vanilla scented. Professional. Graceful.

When it was time to leave, Lori asked how much we owed her for the consultation. “I’m waiving my fee,” she said. “It’s the holiday season. Spend it on your beautiful children. And yourselves. If you decide to come back and purchase from me, I’ll earn my fee then.” It was offered without a hint of pressure.

We exited through a side door. On the wall, a long list of words were displayed. I stopped to read them. “These are our core values,” she said. “The things our owners built this business on and make every decision by daily. I read them when I open the store and again when I leave. It’s what we live by religiously.”

Suddenly, everything she had done made sense.

Lori and I are going to do business with her. It may take the form of a couch. Or a table. But it’s her spirit and soul of her company that will become part of our home.

The point, of course: words, mission statements, website copy and professions of lofty ideals will only get you so far.

Making such things manifest in your customer interactions in every way possible, on the other hand, is how you stand out from the crowd.

It’s not easy, but the rewards are rich.