January is over. One-twelfth of the year has already gone by. I don’t know about you, but for me time seems to be flying right now.

This time of year most people already have or are about to take down their Christmas trees. Which is never as fun or as magical as putting it up. It’s tedious, potentially difficult, frustrating and can be bittersweet. The excitement of the winter season tends to fade and we’re left with a few months before things get warm again.

Last week Denny, a friend and co-worker, went with me to a customer’s house to help her take down her Christmas tree. She is an elderly widow and none of her family live close by. Through the years we have made ourselves available to help her out with small things like this around her house, and have never charged her for it. She is a great customer, but it goes beyond the business. We genuinely care about her and are honored to serve her with not only great lawn care service, but also help in times of need.

While we were there, she excitedly showed Denny and I some of her hand-made Christmas decorations. She shared stories of how they were made or where they came from. During the process of moving her “fake” tree to a storage space in her basement, she showed us a special room. She wanted to share with us the story of this large safe, hidden in this special room, which was left there by the previous owners of the house. The previous owners built the house, and must have had the safe installed before the basement was finished. We marveled and imagined what they might have kept in it.

It may seem strange that she would show us this. Outside of being her landscapers, we have no relationship with her. But we have done work for years at her home. Mowing, gardening, seeding, removing trees and installing sprinkler systems. We have fertilized her grass and plowed snow off her driveway. Almost every service we offer, she has had us do at some point or another.

I remember the 1st day I worked at her house a few years ago. It was just my friend Steve and I, and we were preparing an area of her ground to be turned into a garden bed. While working we were singing old spirituals like a choir, something which wasn’t necessarily a rarity, and she came out laughing after being concerned at 1st that one of us got hurt. She proceeded to bring us glasses of water and sincerely encouraged us to continue singing if it helped us work better.

Small interactions like that through the years have built the foundation for our relationship. Her seeing our ethic and quality of work. Our respect of her time and money. Our desire to bring to life whatever dreams she may have imagined for her yard. Her kindness, loyalty, understanding and patience with us. This has all built trust. Mutual trust.

Trust is a key to any relationship, especially one revolving around business. And when there is trust, there is appreciation. When there is trust, a customer for no real reason will show you a secret safe in her basement without any kind of fear of ill thoughts.

When there is trust, there is loyalty. And a business can serve a customer beyond the confines of that business with pleasure, without looking for any kind of reimbursement. Without fear of being taken advantage of.

When there is trust, there can be real relationships that surpass boundaries of business. And your “customer” just may buy Christmas cards for every employee with gift cards to restaurants.

We know every customer probably won’t be like this. This, however, is what we strive for. Real relationships with our customers, with mutual trust and appreciation. When this happens, our customers become friends. We see each other as people, who care; and in a really good way, it becomes more than “just business.”