When Customers “Purr”

Authored by Chip R. Bell

Published on April 11, 2016

I watched my neighbor arrive home to the thrill of his dog.  It’s tail cut through the air with the force of jet and the speed of blender.  I thought of that old line about wanting to become the person your dog thinks you are.  That evening my cat jumped up on the foot of the bed as I was reading the newspaper.  The purring was so loud it vibrated the bedroom.  I did not just feel loved; I felt totally adored!

The customer version of purring or tail waging looks like a customer advocating to others on behalf of you or your organization.  It means buying more, spending more, coming back, and demonstrating greater patience when the customer’s experience fails to go as hoped. When a customer drives by several of your competitors to do business with you, that’s customer “purring.”  When a customer picks up someone else’s trash to keep your establishment looking tidy, that’s also customer “purring.”

The question is this:  how do you respond to customer purring?  What steps to you take to make certain customers know they are valued?

Victoria’s Secret Catalog was a fun client of mine for a number of years ago.  Under the brilliant leadership of then CEO Cindy Fields, the company’s revenue grew from $50M to $800M.  It was also a time the company elevated its emphasis on the customer’s experience with their call center, not just the merchandise the customer purchased.

One component of their “voice of the customer” initiative was a customer intelligence technique we designed called “layered group listening.”  The intent was to create customer learning across layers of the organization.  One version of the technique involved a series of 3 one-hour focus group sessions conducted back-to-back.  The first focus group was with a dozen customers chosen because they had recently purchased and/or returned VSC merchandise. It was observed by all of senior leadership, including Cindy, as well as a group of call center employees in sales or returns.  At the end of the session the customers were given a gift and a detailed tour of the facility in Columbus, OH.

The second one-hour focus group round was with the front line employees in attendance, enabling them to voice their reaction to what they had heard and learned.  There were strict rules about senior leadership not being allowed to intervene during the frontline focus group.  The final round was a problem-solving session with the front line employees and senior leadership about next steps to gain additional learning’s and obvious quick wins based on what they had all just learned from customers.

The highlight of the effort however, was inviting the customers at the end of their tour to have lunch in the employee cafeteria.  Prior to their arrival, word quickly passed that a group of a dozen customers were en route to the employee cafeteria.  As they entered the large cafeteria, the entire room erupted in a lengthy standing ovation.  It was powerful and affirming!  One of the frontline employees commented, “This makes my challenging work worth it.”  The customer standing nearest me turned and said, “This is wonderful; I will be a Victoria Secret customer for the rest of my life.”

How many times have you had a buying encounter and the frontline person taking your hard earned money never bothered to express any gratitude at all?  Here you are “purring loudly” and being completely ignored and taken for granted.

It takes little effort to say to a “purring” customer, “Thank you for being my customer,” “Thank you for funding my paycheck,” or “Thank you for keeping me employed so I can provide for my family.”  William James, the great psychologist, wrote:  “The deepest craving of human nature is to be valued.”  Show your customers they are valued in ways that are obvious, bold and affirming!  It will keep them “waging their tail” each time they deal with you!

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books.  His newest book is the award-winning, best-selling book Sprinkles:  Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service.  He can be reached at www.chipbell.com.

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