There are two words that are potentially the most moving, significant words you can ever utter. The three biggies are, of course, "I love you." The greatest single word is "You." The two greatest words share one word from each list, and I bet you can guess it.

If you need additional help, please know that Mother Theresa said, "Of all the hunger I've seen in this world, there is more starvation for this simple phrase than any food could ever satisfy."

And those two words completely changed two men's lives last month.

Thank You
Robert has delivered our printing for about three years. I always see him from my office window as he wheels his white delivery van out front and puts the flashers on to indicate his delivery status.

Generally, he pops out of the driver's door, and with steps full of air, bounds to the doors at the rear of the vehicle. A hand truck zings out, the contents of our delivery would be carefully stacked on top, and Robert — amazingly — beams a smile brighter than a toothpaste commercial as he approaches our door.

It's the same routine every time, as often as twice a week.

I'd see Robert downstairs sometimes and say hello to him.

Once, right after I'd seen the movie Jerry Maguire, I told Robert that he reminded me of Cuba Gooding, Jr.'s character. He grinned even wider and said, "You mean that handsome fella don't you?" and laughed. He quickly followed with the line made famous in the movie, "Then show ME the money!" Big laugh.

I honestly laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes. Each time thereafter, Robert and I would exchange some friendliness, but it had been a while. The other day, I saw him out the window — same routine, same smile, same energy — and I had a small, insignificant idea.

We are blessed to have a person who — along with about 95 other duties — is our feel good manager. She helps me spot and reward certain behaviors.

This day, I asked Lisa to reward Robert. Not for being on time, not for not screwing up, and not for resisting the urge to drive into our building in response to our overbearing demands.

I asked her to reward him just for being in a good mood every time, and cheering up a little path that was strikingly similar to his delivery route, every day.

We called Robert here one day to pick up a "special delivery," and when he popped inside, the girls presented him with a gift certificate to Applebee's with our thanks.

There was a significant pause. A long, swallowing pause that gave us the impression Robert had not only never experienced that, but in a way, we'd not either.

"I don't know what to say. This is just great. Thank you," he said. Then with his head shaking downward as he clutched the brightly printed certificate with his name on it he said, "I've delivered in this town for 13 years — no one has ever done anything like this."

This one got to me.

Then I got to thinking about you.

Be a Standout
I presented a seminar recently and asked 126 contractors in attendance, "Who in here has customers?" All hands went up with some laughter. "Who in here appreciates them?" Same number of hands, more laughs. "Who in here regularly proves it?" All but four hands descend.

No laughter.

"Who in here has ever used a contractor other than yourself?" All hands. "Who in here has ever gotten a thank you for that work?" Guess how many hands stayed up.

It'll likely be the same number of times your customers have gotten thanked. Yes, your customers — those people who pay your bills, employees, memberships, overhead, and profit.

You want to be a standout? Adopt a customer retention program and be the standout. Be the one and only; the feel good manager of customer relations.

Your company will benefit greatly when you use these simple tools and techniques.

1. Customer newsletters are, by far, the most economical and efficient way to package helpful, insider information.

The best newsletter campaigns give customers rich, interesting information that is useful in helping them run their households safely, and cost-efficiently.

A newsletter campaign brings your company name and logo right into your customers' homes.

2. A thank-you note after the sale is not just being polite. The salesperson should be sending (if not signing) the thank you. Why would your customer want to hear a generic thank you from a receptionist or unknown marketing person? The thank you comes from you and/or the company's tech that visited.

3. Refrigerator magnets with your company's name on them aren't just freebies from your company. They serve a purpose. They hold little Johnny's artwork on the refrigerator gallery — while also keeping the name of your company in the customer's home 24/7, where visitors can also see it.

4. Company stickers. Okay, let's think this through. When a customer has a problem with the furnace, or hears a funny noise, the first thing they'll do is look at the system. The customer may not know what they're looking at, but you can sure bet they'll open whatever door it's behind and look at the system.

Do your customers have phone books? Thought so. Do you want them to go to the dreaded Yellow Pages if they forget your name? Then put a sticker on the outside with a list of helpful numbers for them to also have on hand, such as police, fire, medical, and of course, yours.

By now, you should have thought of a few other places to increase your presence inside a home — in unobtrusive but helpful ways. Many of these techniques will stay in place well after these customers move out of the house, thus securing you another shot at a free customer.

A call, card, and a newsletter is it. If you're doing any of these — hallelujah — but what else could you do?

If you're doing none of these, draw your own conclusion.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. To receive a free sample of his just-released spring newsletter, fax your letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115 or e-mail your address and request to freestuff@hudsonink.com. For other free marketing articles and reports, check out www.hudsonink.com or call 800/489-9099.