Fields of Stone

Rolling hills, sacred space carved by God’s hand
High ground, a fitting journey’s end for soldiers,
Spills life into the flowing Mississippi below.
A tree here, a bench there, a flag playing in the wind
The smell of early, fresh-cut grass watered by tears
Silence is the loudest sound here
Loud words taste bitter in this solemn place
The touch of a soft and steady breeze
God’s sweet breath, a reminder—He is always here.
Streets with heroes’ names run like veins through these hills
They guide the parade of mourners to the stones.

Stones cut from God’s earth and carved by man
Sun-bleached, stained by time, standing tall—like
Silent sentinels guarding the brave that rest below.
Dressed and covered in death as in life
Some 20,000 strong this army of stone.
Stones that know the names over whom they watch—
Otto, Gary, Bobby, Howard, George, Willie
Uncle, father, son, brother, grandpa
Private Combs, Sergeant White, Lt. Scott, Capt. Gillis.
Stones that tell the story of the heroes in their shadows
Purple hearts, bronze stars, a Medal of Honor.
They came from distant places to rest here—
Gettysburg, Argonne Forest, Normandy, Pusan, Khe Sanh, Falluja
So many wars, so many stones.
Here lie dreams of what might have been—
A sweetheart sleeps, a father who never saw his child,
A book never written, a song never sung.

To these fields of stone loved ones come to grieve
They tag the stones—Gone too soon, Gentle giant, See you soon, BFF
For all that rest here, “Job well done.”
The things they leave behind, tokens of love, memories for the living—
Flowers, golf balls, family pictures, Holy cards, a pin wheel spinning in the breeze.
I want to leave but can’t.
I want to stay longer, grieve, and pray once more for their souls.
I must thank God again, for by His grace, I’ve yet to claim my stone.

Brand Preference and Customer Loyalty

The brand of computer I prefer to use comes from Austin, Texas. The brand of motorcycle I prefer to ride comes from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The brand of beer I prefer to drink comes from St. Louis, Missouri. Okay, with beer, if someone else is buying, I’ll drink their label.

Our research shows that customers have brand preferences for everything from shoes to underwear to automobiles. Companies rely on those preferences for repeat business. Though some brands evoke strong passions among customers—Apple and Harley-Davidson—most brands enjoy preference, not passion. Brands are about things. Loyalty is about people.

Loyalty is rooted in emotion. I prefer a brand of motorcycle, and that significantly influences my buying decision for what I want to buy. Where to buy what I want to buy is another story. I like to buy from places that provide a great customer experience. That customer experience is influenced by two things: company policy and people.

Company policies are practices and procedures that make it easy or difficult to do business with them. I like to buy from places that make it easy for me, the customer, to purchase something. Company policies are designed and implemented by people. This is where loyalty comes into play.

I may prefer a brand, but I reserve loyalty for people.

It is delusional for companies to believe that customers feel loyalty to warehouses full of inventory. Customer loyalty is the emotion buyers feel toward the people with whom they do business. Retention is the behavior of repeat business. When companies lose good people, customer retention is at risk. When companies change policies and procedures that make it difficult to buy, customer retention is at risk. Policies and procedures are not gospel; they are guidelines created by human beings, and human beings sometimes make mistakes. When companies lose good employees over policies and procedures, they will lose customers for the same reason.

Tom Reilly is literally the guy who wrote the book on Value-Added Selling (McGraw-Hill).