Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

Customer service can learn some critical skills from the pet world...

Customer Loyalty: Going to the Dogs

"When you bond with a dog your life will be changed", is a quote I read from a pet store owner in my home town. If you are a dog owner, you probably smiled and shook your head when you read that. Dogs aren't just dogs, they are part of the family. This "Generation Arf" as I recently heard it called, is a pretty pampered crowd. Let me share some interesting statistics. Last year Americans showered their pets with $36 billion worth of goods, services, food, shelter, health care and luxuries--more than double what was spent a decade ago, and 18 billion of that was spent on dogs alone! Sixty-three percent of American households have pets, which translates into over 70 million dogs! Research now shows it is the female dog owners who are setting the standard on how Americans treat their dogs. That is reflected in the fact that 45% of female pet owners are likely to purchase pet gifts! And I had to chuckle at this one, 31% of female pet owners spend more time with their pet than with their spouse!!

So what does all of this have to do with customer service? Because customer service is "beyond fetch"! I remember when I got my first dog; all I wanted him to be able to do is play fetch. I would throw the ball, he would run after it like crazy, and come back with it. I could do this a hundred times and a hundred times he would bring it back. Each time I wanted him to do something different, I had to teach him what I wanted and I started to give rewards to let him know he was a good boy. It is the same with business. We start a business and we let people know what we do through advertising or internet or store location. That is "throwing the ball"...something of value or interest that the customer wants. Eventually the customers come and keep coming back if they are happy and feel appreciated. But there comes a point where all business people have to create a new niche, offer new products, or do things differently to attract the customer. I believe that is what is happening in the pet market place, but the customer is driving it. I would imagine that price on most of the pet merchandise, in the customer's mind, is not an issue. You see, this customer is "heart" driven. Here are some examples of thinking, "off leash"!

I just found out that there are dog dance classes, dogs who are welcome in churches, astrology for dogs, dog parades, dog surfing lessons, dog treadmills, pawdicures, doga....or yoga for dogs, massage classes and dog blogs...and what really got me is there is a book coming out on how to teach your dog to read! There you go Dr. Seuss! So who are these customers? Interestingly there seems to be three categories. The first group is young professionals who are delaying family life so they buy a dog and treat it like their first child. Then, there are the empty nesters that miss the kids and buy a dog and love the fact they don't have to send it to college...yet. The last group is the tweens and teens who are emulating their dog-toting celebs! Now, if my calculations are correct, that covers a vast amount of the population!

Let's go a step further. The companies that provide pet products are promoting this steamroller! I read that Purina is running a contest in which the grand prize is a $25,000 indoor remodeling for the family member who spends the most time indoors -- the dog! Wow, Extreme Makeover would be in front of my house any day now! It follows on the heels, pardon my pun, of the research that says thirty-seven percent of women surveyed and 24 percent of men that they had selected their home décor with their pets in mind. The customer, the dog, can't drive, can't speak English...yet, and doesn't own a credit card, but is the force behind an $18 billion industry. Their owner is the one that needs to be pampered, first! Let's look at how we get "beyond fetch"!

Make friends
Customers have the same simple requirements that our four legged friends do, just be nice to me. Don't raise your voice, make eye contact, tell me I made a good decision and I will be as loyal as I can! When I go to PetCo to buy my dogs treats, I feel welcomed when I first get to the door, and so is my dog! Dogs Welcome! If I am asked about my dog, I start to pull out my wallet to show pictures and they don't laugh, they smile and ask questions and there is that bond that is being built. And PetCo makes it easy for me to shop, and that didn't happen by accident. I read that PetCo's implements color-coding that is impressive and practical within its animal departments. Each pet family has a signature color such as avocado green for reptiles, blue for dogs and red-orange for cats. They also believe that informing customers is one of their biggest goals to positioning PetCo as the authority on pets. They don't miss a beat. Their informational signing makes it easy for the customer to answer their own questions when their isn't an associate near by, which if you have been in a PetCo, isn't often! Their merchandising and store planning are among the best in the retail industry. This company knows its customer and their owner and what it takes to stay on friendly terms.

Reward Me!
My dog loves treats. If you have a dog, I bet yours does too. Sometimes I think he just smiles at me when I have told him he is a good boy and that seems to be "treat" enough. How do you reward your customers? As I read all of this information about the pet market I realize that I am that customer. I will spend money on my dog and not think twice about it. Have great merchandise that attracts my eye, always be in stock offer some items that are different than I might find elsewhere and give me a "reward" occasionally and I will come back to do business with you.

Make it Fun!
I think dogs smile, don't you? I know when my dog, Zeke, is having fun and I also know how he looks when he thinks he's been bad. Do we know how are customers look when they are having fun in our place of business? Do we also know the look on their faces when we respond, "We don't have it", "We won't take it back", or "I don't know"? Customers want to have fun. I read in my local paper that shop dogs are a big hit with customers and with business owners. There are a number of businesses in my hometown where the dogs are an added bonus to the store! Some of the dogs have their pictures even on the business's websites. Some of the customers come in just to see the dogs! Now I realize that every one is not a dog person, but there is something very calming about looking into those big black eyes that brings out the softer side in even those type "A" personalities.

It's not about the dog; it is about building the relationship with the business and the business owner that is safe and comfortable and trusting. Can you start thinking about what else can you do "beyond fetch" to make it fun in your place of business? It can be something simple or silly or even ridiculous because you see, customer service really does need to go to the dogs, and if you do it right you won't have to beg for their business.

Anne M. Obarski is "The Eye on Performance!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne helps companies focus on the profit building service strategies that will keep their customers coming back. Anne presents nationwide keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training in the area of customer service. She has written "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work". For more information visit her website at www.merchandise concepts.com.

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