Romance Your Customers

(The original analogy of romancing customers in this article was developed from a theme written by Seth Godin.)

Imagine that you decide that it is time to get married soon. You go out and buy a new outfit, new shoes, and expensive after-shave. You select a demographically-correct singles bar because this, you decide, is the place where the woman* of your dreams will probably hang out.

You sit on the deck, watching the beautiful sun slowly dip down into the horizon, and suddenly you spot a beautiful young lady that seems equally delighted by this magnificent sunset. You march up to her and say: “Hi, I’m Stan the Man, and I am the most successful and well-dressed rep in my company. That sunset that you were so admiring is caused by all the little particles of pollution that cause the deep red colour, and the light particles travelled more than 150 million kilometres to get here. That took only eight minutes, but without those rays there would be no photosynthesis for plants, and we would all die of oxygen deprivation and starvation in the next few months. By the way, will you marry me?”

You see the crazy look on her face, and decide maybe it would be better to move on to someone else. So you try another lady, and when you are rejected, you repeat the strategy for every other woman in the room. When that fails, you think that since you invested so much in the outfit, the shoes and the after-shave, perhaps you better start asking some of the men too. That nearly gets you beaten up.

As you walk away, beaten and disappointed, you blame the suit, the shoes, and the after-shave. But you never question the strategy.

Yet this is what I see most companies doing in their marketing strategy. “Let’s create some beautiful ads,” they say, “And then we’ll broadcast them as widely as possible, and see what happens.” And the sales people are trained to answer every conceivable question on the technical features of what they sell. When it all fails, managers blame the ads and the sales reps. But they never question the strategy!

Imagine the same scenario at the singles bar, but this time you gently walk up to the beautiful young lady and say, “Isn’t this just breathtaking?” And as she looks at you, you follow-up by saying, “It’s so tranquil and beautiful I try to come here and enjoy it as often as I can. How come I’ve never seen you here before?” Better chance of success, right? And it improves as you put in more effort to get to know her better, to truly listen to her, to pay her lots of compliments, to do the things she wants to do, and to overlook the little idiosyncrasies. As you approach marriage, you also overlook the fact that there is a mother-in-law, because you want to spend the rest of your life with this wonderful woman. (Your wife, not the mom-in-law.)

Leo Burnett, founder of the ad agency that still bears his name, wrote: “If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything. You just have to be noticed, but the art is in getting noticed naturally, without screaming or without tricks.” And the essence of success in marketing and branding today lies in exactly doing what nobody else does, and in not only capturing your customers’ minds, but also capturing their hearts. That’s how you get commitment.

You have to go way beyond offering some products or services at a reasonable price. It’s about offering those personal and memorable experiences that makes your customers want to cuddle with you. If we take the analogy of getting married one step further, imagine that eventually the beautiful young lady, after a period of romance, agrees to marry you. You plan your magical day together, and, with great celebration and fanfare, make a long-lasting commitment to each other. (There is sometimes a legal document which prevents both partners from doing horrid things to each other, or moving on to other partners, but this is never what the greatest focus is – in most marriages, anyway.)

But in most businesses, this is the point where the bridegroom turns around at the end of the reception and says to his new partner, “Okay, now that we are married, I’m moving on. But don’t worry: I’m going to hand you over to my two ugly little brothers, one in the call centre and the other in credit control.” No wonder customers want to get a divorce as soon as possible.

A lot of people ask me how they can beat this problem, and I always answer in the same way: there are three things that you simply have to do. First, you have to get the basics incredibly right. All of those day-to-day transactions, the fulfilment of every order, every moment of truth or touch point, should go smoothly. If they want an urgent “ER Response” to fix something, give it to them. If they are looking for the efficiency of a Formula 1 Pit Stop, do it. If they seek a luxurious Five-Star Hotel experience, provide the pampering and the service. Once you know what they want, then look at all the “dumb contacts” in your business that detract from your customers’ experience – and get rid of them!

Second, there are literally hundreds of ways in which you can add value for your customers, at all stages of the relationship, from the initial contact, right up until the end of the useful life of what they bought when they replace the original – hopefully with something new that you sold. If you want, you can go the route of customer rewards and points, or even gifts, but you don’t have to spend money on this. There are dozens of other possibilities: training, educating and explaining things to them, sharing useful information, simplifying everything and creating convenience in their lives, communicating regularly, putting a smile on their faces, helping them to be more successful, and much, much more.

Finally, give your customers evidence that you have put the relationship with them first. It’s not enough to tell them they are important, you have to show them. If they were your favourite aunt or uncle, what would you do? Warmth, love, commitment, communication, compliments, empathy, reassurance, forgiveness, helpfulness, flexibility – all of these are important here, and you have to initiate it. Don’t wait for them.

Every week some article or research comes across my desk that shows that, even in these economically difficult times, customers are willing to pay more for something where they feel it’s worthwhile. So we have to stop running our businesses like a rugby match: it’s a great game, but rugby requires massive effort, brutal contact, lots of pushing around, going backwards and forwards just to get a few extra metres of ground, involves some bleeding and injuries, and is played under a very strict set of rules, in a small limited area. And it is unpredictable, (which is what makes it so exciting.)

Ballet, on the other hand, also requires a lot of physical effort, but it is smooth, well-choreographed, rehearsed over and over again, full of gentle contact between people, beautiful, and very predictable in its success. It may not be as exciting, but it’s a much better way to run your business.

So, if you want to succeed with your customers against your competitors and rivals, you need to do whatever it takes to romance your customers, and to put effort and warmth into the relationship on an ongoing and permanent basis. It certainly beats eating take-aways and being all alone again tonight.

(*Please forgive me for looking at this scenario for only one sex – he. I tried both sexes but all the he/she stuff just became clumsy.)


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