Pink Jerseys and Pearls

If there’s one big turn-on that I just cannot resist, one thing that will get me melting at the knees, and rambling on like an over-excited teenager, it is a woman in a soft pink jersey and wearing pearls. She could be sixty years old, and have a hairy lip, wrinkled skin, and bloodshot eyes, but my heart will pump a little faster and my senses will perk up. My friends are amused and think I am crazy – but my brother looks at me with deep understanding. My wife just sadly shakes her head and ignores my little eccentricity.

To tell you the truth, I don’t know why this obsession with pink jerseys and pearls exists, and I’m not sure when this mysterious desire began. Was it something that happened a long, long time ago that is buried deep in my unconscious memory? Was it a movie that I saw, or a book that I read, or a sexy teacher at my school, or a fantasy encounter when I was a teenager many years ago? I have no idea.

But just imagine that you are a woman, and that you wanted to seduce me, (a most unlikely event, I know, given that I am now 56 and overweight and bald.) Now, if you know that little secret, imagine the power that it would give you. Imagine how you could use this information to turn my heart into putty, to get me to do anything for you, to buy you anything you wanted, to take you anywhere you wanted to go… What a big difference this little bit of knowledge would make.

But here’s the thing: every single one of you reading this will have similar secrets, similar desires and fantasies, similar buttons that can be pushed to turn you on. We all have our favourite types of people, favourite subjects that we like to talk about, favourite things that we like to do. (Of course, we also have all of the turn-offs, like our fears, worries and anxieties that keep us awake at night.)

And the people who are able to get the most from us inevitably connect with us and touch these areas in some meaningful way. All your customers also have similar buttons. The problem is that by far the majority of businesses that I deal with aren’t interested in finding out what they are. Most don’t put in the effort to discover my much-loved and sought-after things, but the few that do so get my utter loyalty.

At my favourite restaurant, Er Buco, owner Anna Guastaveglia knows exactly what I like to eat and makes it for me. She knows what I like to talk about, what’s happening in my life and who is important to me. I feel like I am her small brother visiting her home for a meal. The humble young man who does our computers, Simon, knows how I like everything set up, including all my particular quirks, and doesn’t feel a need to sneer at my stupidity. Exclusive Books and Amazon know what I like to read and even send me notification of new stuff that comes in. My friend Gina who works in jewellery knows exactly what designs my wife enjoys, and responds by reminding me when special dates and anniversaries are coming up. At The Riverside Hotel they get me diabetic chocolates for my pillow so I don’t have to miss out. To top that, all the Hilton Hotels around the world know that I like to drink Appletiser and have it ready in my room when I get there.

Yes, sometimes customers keep their special needs secret from us, and we have to probe, sometimes quite subtly and sensitively, to find out what they like. But more often than not they give us some pretty obvious clues about what turns them on and off, and what are the important issues in their lives. It could be something that they say, directly or in passing, and the stories that they share with us. It could be the look on their face, or the way they respond to how we treat them. We need to acknowledge these, remember them or record them, and use the information for their benefit.

Of course, those companies that have the capability and refuse to use it will suffer. Having flown with South African Airways more than 1200 times in about 25 years, and always requested the same seat, how many times do I still have to tell them that I want to sit by the window or the aisle near the front of economy class? How often do I need to tell them I am a diabetic? What does it take for my bank manager to analyse my spending so that he or she can become a partner in my financial affairs? Why did our previous temp staff agency insist on sending people that didn’t fit in with our culture, even though they knew that our primary business is about customer care? When will the garage that services my car stop re-tuning my car radio to a station that I particularly dislike? When will my cell-phone company and others realise that my name is not “Valued Subscriber?”

So what can you do to discover the secret keys that will open the doors to your customers’ hearts – and to their loyalty?

  • Train your front-line people to notice the small but special things about your customers, and record them somewhere.
  • Give everyone that encounters customers in the business access to that information.
  • Give people the freedom to respond to those customer needs and quirks – even if it costs a little money.

Oh, and next time I walk into your company to buy something, could you please, please dress up all the women in soft pink jerseys and pearls?

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