[Customer Loyalty] ‘Friendly’ Competition

Features - Customer Service & Relations

Like us? Facebook got it right. We’re all 13 year olds at heart.

May 28, 2013
Bob Geltz

You remember the movie — Spartacus battles fiercely with his opponent until that moment when he has bested him. He holds his sword to the chest of his foe. He looks grimly at the Roman emperor who menacingly holds his thumb horizontal … then quickly turns it down. It did not end well for the opponent.

Facebook has capitalized on this simple, but universally understood symbol — thumbs up, you like it, thumbs down, you don’t. There are no shades of gray.

Facebook had a clear original purpose — to allow college students to stay connected during their years at school, as well as to keep them in touch afterwards. Of course, it worked stunningly well, and is now one of the most successful computer applications in the world. The business community — although initially dubious — has recognized the value of this social media tool, viewing Facebook as a competitive necessity in an increasingly “connected” world.

So, what about the 13 year olds?

Well, a while ago I sat in on a youth group that was “hanging out” and simply socializing. The conversation invariably turned to a never-ending list of things that they either liked or disliked. Mostly the subject matter was current musicians, boy bands, clothing and hair styles, more boy bands, you get the idea. As each subject was brought up, you could almost see the “voting” that took place, and again, there were no gray areas, only an up or down vote. And, of course, there was a lot of conformity — the group leaders voiced their opinions and their vote was usually seconded over and over. One or two hold-outs were often derided or ignored.

The point is these young people were forming definite beliefs and opinions, often influenced by the majority. Many things in their lives, many decisions they made then and would make in the future come down to a simple like or dislike. No gray areas.

Our customers are no different. At the end of all the discussions, sales presentations, offers, discounts, promises and persuasion, they have to make an up or down decision. We either win or lose.

Now for the past several decades, business schools across the country, some of which I have attended, have taught that businesses need to differentiate themselves. They need to find out what they do differently and/or better — something unique that helps set them apart from their competition. In many businesses and settings, this is not difficult to do. Certainly any of us can recognize brand names and what sets them apart: Apple for its style and ease of use, IBM for its business-friendly computers, etc.

But what about pest control? I have attended industry seminars on marketing led by talented speakers, and they espouse the same advice: differentiate yourself and the customers will somehow see that you are bigger, better and more skilled than your competitors.

Here’s the problem: We all do pest control and we do it rather well, with very few exceptions. We hire, train and deploy customer support staff, salespeople, technicians and inspectors, and send them out to do our company’s business. If we all follow the label directions, use accepted industry practices and successfully control pests, what makes any company particularly unique?

I have accompanied many technicians, both in my company and in others, and the truth is while there is variation on emphasis of methods and products used, most pest control is rather ubiquitous. We bait, spray, sprinkle, trap or repel pretty much the same everywhere.

Well, there is one factor that could make all the difference. And that is simply whether our potential or existing customers “like” us.

Companies now urge customers to “Like us on Facebook.” Why? Because, as former 13-year-olds, we are influenced by how others vote, we want to conform and we want the same good feeling that results from choosing wisely.

Note that companies on Facebook do not ask you to complete a survey — they do not want you to rate a company on a scale of 1 to 10. The possibility of a “dislike” does not even exist. Companies only want to be “liked.”

This is simplistic, but extremely important. Anyone who has read any of the Consumer Reports-type magazines knows the dilemma that occurs when the reviewer simply can’t make up his mind. The reviewed products all have “likes” and “dislikes” so that there is no one “best” overall product. You now know a lot more, but you still can’t make that ultimate up or down vote.

So again, what about this differentiation problem?

I have an acquaintance in Kentucky that had a well-liked technician pass away. His funeral was attended by an unbelievably large number of customers. The owner was astounded, because the technician, although a “nice guy,” was rather inept at the art and science of pest control. So much so that his reputation around the company was that “he couldn’t kill a bug if he stepped on it.” So why the large turnout? Because he was an astute people person, went out of his way to form lasting relationships with his clients and people simply liked him. The “like” was never in question. There may have been many individual aspects about the company that the customers may not have been totally happy about, but the impression was always positive.

That is why I contend that differentiation, while important and always good to strive for, is not the determining factor in a successful business relationship. In the end, you have to be liked. Think of the political world, where it’s not necessarily your experience, your intellect or your fundraising that matters as much as whether people ultimately like you.

I have never met a customer that said, “I like that you applied 22 ounces of the state-of-the-art Chemical XYZ, mixed at .05 percent, using a compressed air sprayer and a crack and crevice tip, to appropriate areas in my kitchen, bathroom and basement.” What they have said is, “We really like George, he is so friendly,” or, “He explained everything he was going to do,” or, “Please thank George for bringing in my trash can when I had to leave suddenly. He is an asset to your company.”

In other words, they like George and in turn our company. That will indeed get us a “like” on Facebook.

It’s customary for PMPs to comment about “these extraordinary times” and our “economic challenges,” but these are simply euphemisms for saying that money is tight and opportunities are slim. We all have been questioning our sales and marketing methods over the past several years, and we especially want to see our limited resources used in the most productive manner.

As we invest money in advertising, time in training our staff, and quality controlling our activities, let’s not forget that if customers don’t like us, and as a result we don’t get that ultimate “up vote,” we lose (remember that gladiator?). You don’t have to achieve perfection in every single category that you measure, but you must achieve the “like.” And further, you do not need to be perfect even in the profession of pest control, but you must do those things that the customer sees as being so important to him or her, that they are more than willing to ignore and forgive any shortcomings.

So, differentiate whenever you can, and tell people what you do well, but don’t forget that it’s being liked that will get you new customers as well as keep the existing ones!

The author is an Associate Certified Entomologist and CEO of State Termite & Pest Solutions in North Canton, Ohio, which he owns with his wife Julie. He vaguely remembers being 13 years old. He can be reached at bgeltz@giemedia.com.