Business > Merchant Voice

Comparing puppies to customers

Last month, my husband and I began raising a black Labrador puppy.

Next year, we will give one-year-old Whimsy to Guide Dogs Victoria for intensive training to help assist a person with vision impairment.

Since we’ve been looking after her, I have noticed some things she and other puppies have in common with customers.

  • Trust. For puppies, trust takes time. Like a customer, Whimsy didn’t know us at all at the beginning. The staff of Guide Dogs Victoria had interviewed us, to make sure we would be there for her, that we would be kind to her, and help educate her. They ran police checks, and we had to meet criteria to ensure she would be safe. Now that she trusts us, Whimsy follows us around, sniffs our shoes, and wants to be part of the action at all times.

Customers who have never dealt with your company will double check the testimonials on your website, read up on your company on Google, look for feedback from review websites, and go by word-of-mouth from friends and family to sense if they can trust you. This is how they sniff you out, so to speak.

Customers demand a high level of transparency. If your customers lose trust in you, you’ve lost their goodwill and their purchases.

  • Consistency. Whimsy expects – and gets – her breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time each day. She has (almost) learned where to toilet after we have consistently taken her to the same patch of grass in our back garden. By keeping her experiences and our boundaries consistent, she learns to trust us. She knows what’s expected.

Customers expect you to be consistent — you say and do the same things each time. Putting processes in place creates consistency for customers, employees, and suppliers. A consistent brand message and experience makes your business trustworthy.

Inconsistency creates confusion and leads to all types of boundaries being violated by the business in such areas as product presentation, delivery, pricing, and terms and conditions.

  • Repetition. Puppies need high repetition of messages — “Sit,” “Stay,” “Down,” “No,” “OK” — to understand what you’re saying. They will never speak a human language so they must remember the sound of it. Eventually, puppies connect the repeated word with an action, such as placing our hand firmly on her lower back when we say “Sit.”

Giving her food treats each time she does something right helps reinforce good behavior.

For customers, repetition is necessary to drive home your message, unique selling point, or promotion. They must hear, read, or see your advertisement or message many times, typically, to take action or behave in the way you want. Your message competes with thousands of other messages daily, so customers need frequent reminders.

Whether it’s consistently sending out your newsletter on the first of the month, having a unique selling point, a loyalty program, or a 100 percent money-back guarantee, you have to repeat your messages for customers to remember them.

  • Names. While it took a little while for Whimsy to understand it was her name being called, her little ears fly up when she hears it now. She pays attention to what is being said.

For customers, emails containing their first names have higher open rates than those without, as does fully addressed direct (physical) mail over that labeled “To The Householder” or similar. Developing relationships with your customers, so you can provide them with personalized attention, increases repeat sales.

I enter my customers’ names in my mobile phone so I can greet them by name when they call (and jog my memory about the details of their event). They’re delighted. I greet them by name and they feel important.

  • Brevity. Puppies need brevity in language. While it is tempting to speak in full sentences, like a human — “Would you like to go for a ride in the car?” — Whimsy cannot decipher multiple words. Puppies learn to link words like “Sit,” “No,” and “Down” to behaviors with the actions that follow, as well as your body language. Brevity gives her less to remember and reduces misunderstanding.

Customers receive hundreds or thousands of daily messages. Your message should contain one obvious call to action. Give a laser focus to just one category or product or service, or special promotion per email or text message. Make it really clear what you want the recipient to do, and get to the point, keeping your tone, imagery, or layout consistent.

  • Love. I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning love. Puppies adore being cuddled, fussed over, and made to feel special.

Customers are no different! They will pay more to get dedicated, personalized, warm, responsive service.

How do you tickle your customers’ tummies?

Elizabeth Hollingsworth
Elizabeth Hollingsworth
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