All your customers are crazy (aka psychological customer retention)

by Peter Shallard

Customer Retention Formula

It’s a wonder you’ve managed to sell as much as you have. Your customers have got issues. They’re illogical, impulsive weirdos.

Why? Because your market demographic, no matter how “niche” you might be, is made up of the wider group of freaks we refer to as “humanity”. Crazy people.

Yet entrepreneurs continue to act as if their customers are part of some large group that can be predicted, rationalized and plotted on graphs.

Here’s a story that’ll prove to you why your customers are crazier than you realize…

Last week, I was standing in the waiting room of a large corporation in downtown Sydney. The distinct sound of “squee” made me turn around to observe a group of gorgeous admin staff simpering over the water cooler guy. My jaw dropped to the floor. He was bearded with bad tattoos – the tigers, dragons and eagles kind.

Then I realized, he wasn’t better looking or more interesting than me! He was carrying a water cooler tank and a handbag dog. You know the kind? The little rat yappers that some women use as spouse replacements.

(Side note: Absolutely no bitterness here – this is a legitimate and concerning psychological FACT. No bitterness at all…)

I went over to investigate and, in a failed effort to distract the women, got talking to the guy. I found out that the dog was actually the “company mascot” – apparently Fido went on all the deliveries.

The guy muttered in my ear a startling confession that’s had me grinning ever since. It’s brilliant…

See, the water cooler company actually buys these dogs and pairs one up with each of their delivery guys. They know that admin staff at their client’s offices will just melt whenever puppy arrives with a water top-up.

It’s their customer retention strategy.

The office supplies industry is cut-throat. Every supplier is competing in an over-crowded market, racing their competitors to the bottom of their profit margins through aggressive discounts.

They all compete with “cheap because they have to! It’s business to business sales and everyone knows that corporations are ruthless and cold… like cost-cutting, dividend-centric robots!

Big enterprise doesn’t make emotional buying decisions like when you and I buy stuff in the consumer world. They don’t care how anyone feels – it’s all about the bottom line! If you want to sell to corporates you better be able to demonstrate solid ROI, every time.

Except sometimes.

Except the times when those corporations are staffed by people… Those people, they change the equation. And those people? They’re crazy people.

We’re talking about people who’ll ignore offers for cheaper water-coolers, just to make sure that they get to play with a puppy for five minutes a week. After all, it’s the faceless company who picks up the bill…

We’re talking about people so crazy that they’ll do the thing that makes them feel good, rather than the thing that makes sense.

Crazy people buy…

  • Gym memberships (or equipment) and never use it because they feels healthier the moment they pay.
  • Fair-trade Organic because they feel morally absolved or guilt-free or whatever.
  • Anti-aging moisturizing facial scrub with microspheres because it feels younger than regular soap.
  • Online info products and never action the tips, because they feel more successful the moment they sign up.
  • Therapy, because talking about their problems feels better than doing something about them.

The water-cooler guys are not in the business of selling water. They’re in the business of selling fluffy joy – with a delivery excuse that the bored corporate administrators can justify to the boss.

When it comes to customer retention, the dog strategy is absolutely unstoppable. Because offices do need water, but the supplier decisions are made by people who love dogs. By selling joy and water (but only for the price of water), these guys are out-foxing the competition.

Could you make the decision to banish Rex (and his water-bearing handler) from your office… even if it meant saving the company a few bucks?

Didn’t think so.

People are crazy and your customers are no different. They don’t just buy things, they buy feelings.

If you want to attract and retain vast numbers of customers, make sure you’re selling both. Think creatively about how to give your people more of what they truly want.

A customer will never verbalize their true desire. Hell, they won’t even admit it to themselves. The office staff didn’t expect the water-cooler guy to solve their lack-of-puppies problem.

The water-cooler company did it anyway, without asking. Now they reap the rewards.

Fulfilling the emotional wants of your customers is a blank slate begging for innovation. The entrepreneurs who figure out creative ways to do this, win. Big time.

Here’s what I want to know from you: What do you sell? And, what do you really sell?

What is the poodle to your water-cooler?

Let me know by leaving a comment…

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Will Bontrager December 7, 2010 at 3:28 am

So, that’s why people often mention our occasional comments about our Princess Leah poodle in our Possibilities ezine.

Love it 🙂

Will

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Lisa Marie Mary December 7, 2010 at 4:41 am

Pure genius! This is pure genius! Your article and the water cooler secret ninja puppy strategy! It’s a very concrete example for me to be thinking about how to think outside the box in engaging and pleasing my customers! Love it!

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Peter Shallard December 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Hey Lisa! Thanks for the kind words…. I’m racking my brains to come up with a few more puppy-strategies of my own. Looking forward to hearing about yours!

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Roger Burdette December 7, 2010 at 5:07 am

Excellent Peter! I’m still laughing at the pic of the dog. Where the heck do you get these photos?

Right now, I’m selling townhomes. Well…I’m trying to sell townhomes in a market where there is no market. Maybe I should coin the term “ghost selling”, or maybe “bigfoot selling”. You know, they say they’re (townhome client) out there and there is even a photo or two out there of them, but you no one has actually seen one!

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Peter Shallard December 7, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Sounds tough Roger…. mind you, just like bigfoot, the person who DOES discover ’em will make the big dough! Or get rich selling t-shirts!

The photos come from the deepest darkest depths of the intertubes… I cant reveal my source 😉

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Karri Flatla December 7, 2010 at 5:32 am

Funny how when we talk about selling “results” we forget that a big, sloppy grin is often the most obvious one 😉

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Peter Shallard December 7, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Exactly! Way to sum up my post in one sentence Karri – very succinct 🙂

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MorpheusMirror December 7, 2010 at 2:58 pm

This a great story proves when people truly feel they are connected to the brand in a “tangible” way, my fellow insane people will make the most rational choice, yeah right!

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Peter Shallard December 7, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Yep, it kinda redefines the meaning of “brand loyalty” doesn’t it…

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MorpheusMirror December 7, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Will they name this the yapper dog branding strategy in business schools?
BTW great post!!

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Bhaskar Sarma | Pixels and Clicks December 8, 2010 at 3:58 am

Brilliant strategy and brilliant analysis.

As I read this post I wonder what would be the puppy for copywriters and social media types like me. Need to put my innovation hat on.

On a side note, this water cooler company must have done a thorough market survey. I imagine this tactic won’t be that effective if all the administrative staff were men.

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Peter Shallard December 8, 2010 at 11:29 am

Hey Bhaskar,

I’d probably guess that the water-cooler decided on the dog strategy as a result of real-world experience and intuition…. no need to commission a study when your veteran delivery guys know the way things are already!

Online service provider folks have a tough time figuring out how to deliver this kind of secondary value via a digital format. It’s not as simple as bringing a dog along!

I think some personality-marketers have pulled it off – people like Johnny Truant who sell marketing advice but also deliver laughs and smiles (via hilarious writing).

That’s one strategy. Think of another and you’ll be golden!

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Ryan December 9, 2010 at 9:55 am

Totally agree, Peter!

Although it is a fine line between differentiating ones customer offering and being nailed as manipulative and disingenuous. Clearly the puppy strategy fit their company character – it wouldn’t work for everyone!

Thanks again for the great post!

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Peter Shallard December 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Hey Ryan,

I think the puppy strategy is simply a “gift”…. it’s an extra that the company throughs in just for the fun of it. If making your customers feel good about their purchase decisions is manipulative, then all the most successful businesses are guilty as charged! 😉

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Dave Marciniak December 11, 2010 at 2:51 am

Love it. There used to be a horrible reality show about realtors in southern California. One of the successful sales closers was this young kid who didn’t come across as anything special – till they showed him close a deal. He was sitting across the table from a buyer who was on the fence, and the kid said “ok, I know you can say no to me… but can you say no to HER?” at which point he reached down and pulled out this adorable little purse dog. Done! I’ve wanted to try it ever since.

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Peter Shallard December 12, 2010 at 12:26 am

That is too funny. If puppy power works, work it 😉

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Dan Lew December 18, 2010 at 4:53 am

Hey Peter,

Great post, I believe 99% of the time people buy because they want not because they need!

Have a great day!

Dan

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