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From 0 to 60 at the Speed of Liking

It was early in the year 2000. Our computers had not shut us out and there was still an atmosphere of cautious optimism in the air about commerce, especially of the new economy type; the focus of my favorite magazine, Fast Company. Everything was going well, except that my company was being bought and my job eliminated. Wait a moment, you might say; this is a story about customer service, isn’t it? Indeed it is exactly that.

It was early in the year 2000. Our computers had not shut us out and there was still an atmosphere of cautious optimism in the air about commerce, especially of the new economy type; the focus of my favorite magazine, Fast Company. Everything was going well, except that my company was being bought and my job eliminated.

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Wait a moment, you might say; this is a story about customer service, isn’t it? Indeed it is exactly that.

For someone working in corporate America with a deep love of learning and passion for making things happen for people, this magazine had been a lifesaver. Packed with ideas, stories from the place where products and services meet needs and wants, and interesting new products reviews, my monthly subscription sat dog-eared and utterly used up a few days after it hit my mailbox.

I had many connections through professional associations, networking groups, and work-related projects. Many of the experiences at those events left me with a sense of disconnect; while people remained business-like and most kind, I was getting nowhere fast. So to take my career to the next level, I turned to the only place I considered smart enough to get it: Fast Company.

Many of you may be familiar with the readers’ network, Company of Friends (CoF), a group founded by individuals who defined themselves like-minded leaders whose thinking resonated with the themes and stories of the magazine. I was in luck; a CoF group already existed in Philadelphia, my hometown.

The group had been in its third incarnation, but was sitting unattended. A perfect opportunity to make the stories chronicled in the pages of the magazine come alive and experiment with ideas in new ways. With the help of Heath Row at Fast Company, I soon became the “go to” person for all CoF matters in the region and began building a brand experience for the network in Philadelphia.

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You read that correctly: I, a customer, was given space on the magazine’s Web site to build an online community of readers, or not, as has been the case. There is a proliferation of talk today about social media and consumer-empowering technologies; go into any bookstore and scan the business titles. This magazine gave that kind of access to its readers, for free, in the fall of 1997, two short years after the debut issue.

What motivated me, and many others who volunteered with me locally and around the world? I was motivated by the sheer opportunity to learn not about the publishing business, which is the business the magazine is in, but about how to work better, spread ideas, share knowledge, mix it up in great teams, and design a life that works. That last one was the magazine’s first tagline.

It also gave us a sense of identity, of belonging to a group of people who shared ideas and ideals, opinion leaders, disruptors, instigators, tech geeks, you name it. We were all in it together; and with the staff at Fast Company, from the founders on throughout the organization. That ladies and gentlemen is my story of a deeply meaningful, personal, and enriching customer conversation. And I now was in control of my career.

In the next few days, we will be welcoming a new managing editor, Robert Safian, who succeeds Mark Vamos as the magazine’s editor. I said “we” because I still see myself as part of the Fast Company family. Even though I never worked at the magazine, I shared in the conversation with its staff over the years.

I am still the curator of the local CoF group—and I have stepped back my presence to allow others to emerge within the community and find opportunities to create projects of their own, I have continued to be a steward of the knowledge and to protect the environment of trust and mutual respect we created. My former CEO, business mentor, and dear friend taught me a long time ago that if you really like someone, chances are that they also like you.

What I learned through my experience and conversations with the magazine was instrumental in my ability to continue working in corporate America and teaching my colleagues how to think and learn together so we are able to have intelligent conversations with customers. We use the valuable information we gather as a springboard and opportunity to grow our mindset and our business. I look forward to sharing those stories and other observations on customer conversations with you.

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Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • ConversationAgent@gmail.comwww.conversationagent.com