We’ve been talking about customer love, but the term “love” is actually pretty vague. Do we love our customers as we love our friends? Do we love them as we love our spouses? As we love our pets?

As it happens, the Greeks had three words for love, and they might help clear up some of the ambiguity. Those words are ερος (“eh ross”), or physical love; φιλη (“fee lay”), or brotherly love; and αγαπη (“ah gah pay”), or the love for a subordinate or for all humankind.

ΕΡΟΣ (Eros)

Ερος is the feeling of physical love; it’s often translated as “lust”. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like the kind of emotion you necessarily want to have for your customers or to inspire in them for you. But consider the implications of the feeling. When you’re in the first blushes of physical love, you want to know everything about the object of your affections – who they are, where they grew up, what their favorite color is. These are good things to know about your customers. You can use this information to tailor what you offer to them specifically.

As for inspiring ερος in your customers, they’re more likely to do stuff to impress you – like buying your stuff – if they want to get into your pants. 😉

ΦΙΛΗ (Phile)

Φιλη is the love of one person for another. It’s an explicitly non-sexual love; the Greeks considered ερος to be the love between husband and wife, and φιλη to be the love between brothers or close friends. (We’d think of a modern marriage as a mixture of the two.) It might be easiest, in this context, to think of φιλη in terms of compassion and connection.

When we think of loving our customers, φιλη is typically what we think of. It’s the sort of love that leads us to be kind and understanding – to acknowledge similarities instead of difference, and to forgive faults. To invoke φιλη toward your customers, concentrate on what they want and need, and position what you offer to fulfill those wants and needs. And to inspire it in them, be human. Don’t just show compassion – accept compassion. Be a person, not an untouchable monolith.

ΑΓΑΠΗ (Agape)

At least according to Professor Steve Heiny, from whom I learned Greek, αγαπη was first attested in the Gospel of St. John, where it was used to refer to God’s love for His creation. But Greek speakers – at that point, largely the Romans, actually* – quickly adapted it to mean, generally, a love for those in a subordinate position, and even more generally, a love for humankind. αγαπη is easiest to think of as charity and mercy.

Αγαπη is a kind of love that you can only inspire by possessing it yourself. By running your business, to an extent, you are in a position of power over your customers. Exercise that power sparingly, and instead allow yourself to extend your charity and mercy. This is what’s meant by “give your best stuff away”. Don’t allow your customers to run roughshod over you – but don’t run roughshod over them, either. And when something goes wrong – and it inevitably will – you’ll have set the stage for your customers to be charitable and merciful to you.

Can you think of more examples of any of these kinds of love? Is there anything we’ve missed? We can’t wait to hear from you. 🙂

* Although the primary language of Rome was Latin, affluent Romans preferred to speak and write in Greek, thinking it to be more civilized.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Christy Smith

    I remember being in junior high and working on an Agape love project. It felt pretty weird then, but we were all self-centered teens so the lesson was lost a bit on me. 🙂 I loved this post Chris, not only for teaching me a little Greek, but for pointing out that there isn’t just one way for us to show customer love. It is a multi-faceted concept, but we shouldn’t shy away from any of them. Thanks!

  • Shawna R. B. Atteberry

    Whoo-hoo! A fellow Greek Geek. I fell in love with Koine Greek in college and wracked up several hours in both degrees. Now I must go visit your site.

  • Rachael the CaffeinatedElf

    I loved this post when I got a sneak peek of it, and I love it still. Thank you for clearly explaining these three different facets of love – it helps me understand a lot better the different ways I can love on my customers. 🙂

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