I recently read Pay it Forward, a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde that was released in January 2000. Pay it Forward is a book, but it's also an idea. It's an action plan within a work of fiction from which a real-life social movement has emerged.
The movement created a Website (http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org) that tells the story. In the book, Trevor, the 12-year-old hero of Pay It Forward, thinks of quite an idea. He describes it to his mother and teacher this way: "You see, I do something real good for three people. And then when they ask how they can pay it back, I say they have to Pay It Forward. To three more people. Each. So nine people get helped. Then those people have to do twenty-seven." He turned on the calculator, punched in a few numbers. "Then it sort of spreads out, see. To eighty-one. Then two hundred forty-three. Then seven hundred twentynine. Then two thousand, one hundred eighty-seven. See how big it gets?"
The soundness of the idea presented in Paying it Forward is not without precedence.
I met Dr. Albert Levy when I was a student at the University of Kentucky. The students loved him and Dr. Levy had been named "Teacher of the Year" so many times he was disqualified from competition.
One day I was stranded in a bus shelter with Dr. Levy during a rainstorm. I asked him, "Does it bother you that you cannot be named teacher of the year again?"
"Not really," he replied.
Then Dr. Levy told me:
"I grew up in a pretty rough section of Boston. My Dad died when I was only 9 years old and my mother went to work for the first time in her life. She didn't have an education and times were tough for us. One day I stole a candy bar from the corner store. I was about 10 years old at the time. The fellow who owned the store was Mr. Francesconi. Mr. Francesconi saw me steal the candy bar and he stops me as soon as I step outside the door. He says, ‘Albert what the hell is the matter with you. You want me to tell your mother about this?’ Long story short, Mr. Francesconi tells me I've got to sweep the floor for him to make up for stealing. So I'm sweeping the floor. When I finish, he tells me to come back tomorrow, he has some other things for me to do. I go back every day after school for a week. Finally I tell him, ‘Mr. Francesconi, it was just a candy bar and I've been working here for a week.’ He tells me, ‘I've wrapped up some pork chops for you behind the meat counter. Take the chops and a bag of potatoes home to your mother and be back here after school on Monday.’ I worked for that man till I graduated from high school. He made sure we always had food on our table and sometimes I even had a couple of bucks in my pocket.
"Just before I graduated from high school Mr. Francesconi tells me, ‘Albert, you can't work here the rest of your life. What are you going to do with yourself?’ I told him, ‘College is for rich kids and I don't have any money.’ Mr. Francesconi tells me, ‘If you want to go to college, I'll pay for it … but I'm not paying unless you make good grades."’
Dr. Levy continued the story:
"Mr. Francesconi paid my way through Boston College. He paid for my tuition, books, fees. This guy paid for everything. He attended my graduation. I think he was as proud as my mother. At graduation Mr. Francesconi says to me, ‘What's next, Albert?’ I tell him I want to go to graduate school to get a doctorate degree. He tells me, ‘You can put it on my bill.’ Mr. Francesconi paid my way through graduate school. Actually, he died before I got my doctorate but in his will he left enough money so I could finish school."
Doctor Levy looked me square in the eye and said:
"He was my hero. The kids today think Superman or some baseball player is their hero. Mr. Francesconi was my hero. Mr. Francesconi taught me, you do what you can to make the world a better place. I can not repay Mr. Francesconi, but as a teacher I can make the world a better place. I owe it to everyone that ever helped me to help someone else. If the students elect me ‘Teacher of the Year,’ that's great, but that is not what I am about. It's more important that I know I do my best teaching every day."
In Why Customers Come Back, I have shared my experiences and the experiences of many others to whom I am grateful. I humbly believe that this information can have a dramatic impact on your success. But the impact from developing and using the activities that support the five principles that create customer loyalty will benefit more than just you and I. Customer loyalty also affects our businesses, customers, investors, and the communities where we do business. As business, commerce, and industry prosper, our entire society benefits. I encourage you to share the story of customer loyalty with your family, friends, and business associates. Together, through prosperity, we can make the world a better place.