It had snowed since morning and now I braced for the worst… the massive snowdrift that would block my driveway.

But when I arrived from work, I was met with a pleasant surprise: a clear drive with barely a trace of powder. The neighbor’s drive was buried in slush; how was it possible that mine had been spared?

I parked the car and looked around. What I found were hundreds of tiny footprints covering the pavement. I stood there for a moment, trying to piece it all together. That’s when I noticed a small card taped to my front door.

“Sorry we missed you,” the note began, “have a blessed day.” On the back was a short scripture passage along with the words: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” Suddenly, it all became clear.

The Mormons had shoveled my driveway.

I was, of course, impressed by the kind gesture. Who wouldn’t be? Few things are more difficult than shoveling a country drive in a winter storm. Perhaps persuading someone to change religions is one of those things. But by simply lending a hand, these young missionaries were able to share their message. No booklets. No sermons. Just genuine assistance. Their helpful approach said more about their faith than any pamphlet ever could.

Did it motivate me to join the fold? No. Did it leave me with a positive view of their church? Absolutely.

Helping works.

In our noisy world of better mousetraps and advanced teeth whitening strips, the blizzard of ads and offers can be suffocating. At every turn we are told to watch a commercial, click a banner, “like” a Facebook page, and buy in. Never before has so much been asked of consumers.

But what are they getting in return?

Too often we only see customers in terms of our own needs: How do we sell more products? How do we share our message? How do we grow our brand?

When Brian, a young student from Aurora, IL was watching the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, he wasn’t asking how to build his brand. He was thinking only of the homeless and hungry faces on his parents’ television.

Katrina left a path of destruction that would forever change the people of New Orleans. The disaster sparked a nationwide crusade to fill trucks and busses and shipping crates with non-perishable food. Brian, too, wanted to make a difference. But instead of grabbing a few cans of beans from the pantry, he offered the one thing most others had overlooked:

A can opener.

For all the canned goods being sent, few openers were included with the shipments, creating a shortage for those who needed them most. When Brian realized the oversight, he decided to launch a relief effort of his own. The resulting campaign sent thousands of can openers to families across the region.

Like Brian, we need to look for opportunities to take the initiative, to have a servant’s heart and calm the storms in our own backyard. Having a customer means being a problem solver. It’s a thread woven into the fabric of every owner, manager, and non-profit volunteer. It’s part of who we are.

But being helpful delivers more than just short-term solutions. It creates opportunities for dialogue that cut through the noise of competition. Anyone can buy more ads that interrupt, but when we support our customers with a willingness to serve, we form lasting bonds that go beyond the next sale.

Perhaps business author Jay Baer said it best: “If you sell something, you make a customer today; if you help someone, you make a customer for life.”

We all want a lasting connection with our customers. Whether you’re selling a product or spreading your faith, it is by helping others that you are able to deliver what customers love.

Take the initiative. Fill a need. Calm the storm.

Shovel somebody’s driveway.