Business: Hidden persuaders

How to make your customers feel good

Published:  03 September, 2014

Did you know that if you take up the opportunity of a tasty food sample sometimes offered in supermarkets, you are more likely to then go on to make more elaborate buying choices, such as that huge chocolate cake that you didn't mean to buy?

According to Professor Ray Dolan in an article published in the Journal of Neuroscience, this is because dopamine, the so called 'reward chemical' in our brain, which is released when we experience anything pleasurable, can affect our decision making process to the point where we are more likely to buy something that gives us more 'instant gratification', such as an impulse buy.

There are many other techniques adopted by retailers and businesses, so called 'hidden persuaders', that can have subtle, positive effects on customer's moods - from smells such as coffee and perfume wafted through air-con systems to sounds and music, even colours, shapes and product placement matter.

Are you attractive?

I'm not suggesting you start offering your customers tasty morsels at your reception counter, although I would be interested to hear about the results if you did! However, this does illustrate how people can be affected by the subtlest of environmental and physical stimuli.

On a more basic and practical level, have you ever been outside a shop but just couldn't bring yourself to go in? This is something retail pioneer Alfred Taubman refers to as 'threshold resistance'. Could it have been the steely-eyed assistants eyeing you up and down or the perception that the products were out of your league? I remember feeling this when trying to get onto the Sunseeker boat stand at the London Boat Show many years ago - the assistants were dressed in black suits and sunglasses and looked like the Mafia - I definitely didn't feel worthy and didn't dare attempt a viewing.

On the flip side, have you ever been into a retail establishment and come out thinking how attentive and helpful they were? And how surprised we all are when this actually happens - I suppose it's going to take a long time to shake off our image of a nation of miserable shopkeepers!

Understanding that these things are at play and are of concern to customers is something that, if you take on-board, can have positive effects on your business. An article in last month's Aftermarket magazine based on a survey by Approved Garages highlighted that the UK public still need a lot more education when it comes to looking after their cars. The reason for this is because nobody is helping to educate them. Garages are happy to display everything they can do and push their expertise but what they forget is there is a great intimidation factor (almost threshold resistance) for many when visiting garages, to the point where they expect sniggers and condescending replies to their questions - I know this because I've experienced it.

Customers aren't experts and they don't want to be, but they do like information. That's why they come to a garage. Garages can do themselves a lot of good by being sensitive to their customers' needs and problems. And this isn't just at the 'point of sale', this includes telephone enquiries handled in a respectful, helpful manner, through to marketing material.

Customers will gravitate towards you

Those that can actually step back from just trying to 'sell' and adopt a more helpful, educational and informative approach within their marketing material can win over the hearts and minds of their customers - simply because they can be bothered to offer an olive branch and come across as more than interested in the 'sell'. This is what is known as gravitational marketing where customers are drawn to you because of your knowledge and expertise. And these days, while customers remain suspicious and untrustworthy, it's a much more positive approach to gaining business.

Articles, snippets of information, hints and tips and helpful guides included within your marketing material and sent regularly to your customers will, over time, prove beneficial. However, a word of warning - try to refrain from threats or scare tactics as this could have the opposite effect. I've been on the receiving end of these in the past and it does leave a bad taste. Be entertaining, funny (tastefully) - show your personality and human side and above all try not to be boring or too technical.

Being aware of and including these elements within your marketing can have the over-all knock-on effect of educating customers, plus improving general motoring knowledge and safety.

As I've said before, the garage business is more than just fixing cars.

Your questions answered

Andy Vickery has a free guide available to Aftermarket readers, email to receive your copy.

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