Attract to Retain (Issue 479)

In which we are reminded that retaining customers is a process of continual attraction.

Looking at some family pictures, I was reminded of a time that I took my children, then ages 14 and 12, to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving. Not a trip high on my teenagers’ lists; even worse, it was a four day adventure away from their friends. However, two of the main attractions were her Siamese cats, Oliver and Dominic (and, no, I don’t know why she gave them those names).

The rap on cats (particularly Siamese) is they keep their own counsel, they’re aloof, they ignore you, they run the other way when you most want them to come out to play, they won’t come when you call them, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Yet… one of our family members was able to lead the cats (both of them) around the house for 15 minutes at a time, more or less. How could this be? [For those of you who voted “by tying nooses around their necks,” get a life, will you?]

The toy du jour was a six foot long, one inch wide, strip of colorful cloth.

One family member tried standing next to the cats and jiggling the cloth strip over their heads. Up and down, around in quick circles, wrap it around their necks and pull (that was VERY popular with my mother!). Sure, the cat or cats would reach for the cloth, biting and pulling it to the ground…. and they were bored in about five minutes. They would rise from the floor and walk away, ignoring all entreaties for them to stay. There’s a limit to how many times you like colored cloth smudged in your face.

Another member of our family stood away from the cats several feet, cloth strip almost completely on the floor in a straight line, and manipulated the cloth strip – it quivered, undulated, and jerked slightly. It looked like a geriatric Merrimeko snake on Ecstasy. The cats sat, one on either side of the cloth strip. They studied. They poked. They paced its length, then returned to poke again. Then, the strip began to move slowly away from them. They followed. To make a long story short, our family member led them around the house, up and down the halls, in and out of rooms, for 15 minutes.

How does all of this apply to retaining customers? First, both family members were engaging the cats personally (as opposed to sitting in one room of the house and calling to them to come out and play, promising all manner of treats and delights – the advertising approach). If you have 300 customers in your territory or branch and you’re not paying SOME personal attention to them, like my mother’s cats, they’re likely to ignore the advertising, wander off to find something else to do, even if that’s “take a nap.”

Second, the “cloth smudge in the face” strategy got old quickly. In sales, this is a product push, the old “Hey, we’re running a product special I want you to know about” or “Hey, it’s time for me to review our ‘relationship’ and see what else I can push in your face” approach. Like Dominic and Oliver, a couple of face smudges with the cloth strip were enough.

Third, the “Merimekko snake” was interactive. The family member would try some ideas and see what the cats responded to. Sometimes it took a little patience and multiple experiments to figure that out.

Same idea when thinking about customers we’d like to retain. Since they’re humans, “interactive” starts with conversation, understanding something about them – personal and business goals, plans, preferences, concerns, personal and business affiliations, families, senses of humor, hobbies and activities – and then showing interest by asking about them and, where appropriate, offering ideas we think might be helpful, whether that is information that could be useful for their kids, or their businesses, or themselves.

And, then, varying the mix. The Merrimeko snake would engage the cats for a day or so, after which we’d need a new approach. What worked yesterday or two days ago wouldn’t necessarily work today. Like humans, Oliver and Dominic got bored with the same game after a while. They responded positively to variation.

And so, with customers, we need to vary our approaches to attract their attention and then offer value related to their goals, families, and interests, et cetera, etc cetera, et cetera.

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