From Customer Service to Customer Stimulation

Tom Asacker It happened to me again today. I pulled in to Wal-Mart to simply – and solely – get my oil changed, and I ended up leaving with a bag full of stuff: I would have purchased it somewhere during the next few weeks. My point of this article – is that despite my original intention (get in, get my oil changed, and get the hell out), I ended up buying more.

One reads a lot about Wal-Mart’s “everyday low prices” and their strategic use of information technology in growing their brand, but little is written about their strategic use of customer stimulation. Yes customer stimulation, not customer service. Customer stimulation is a “lean forward” strategy designed to increase both sales and profitability. Customer service, on the other hand, is a dated, “lean back” practice. One in which employees are paid – and retail space and technology are employed – to be friendly, answer questions, and generally make the overall purchase experience a pleasant one.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am all for providing a great customer experience. In face, I’m the protagonist for being emotionally driven rather than financially driven in business. But quick, hassle-free service is simply not a sustainable competitive advantage (just ask Jeff Bezos). New products and services appear daily, and new technologies and new business models are being developed to strategically carve out new niches in existing categories…your categories. So what to do? Simple: progress from customer service to customer stimulation.

Take Wal-Mart. They don’t talk about it much, but Wal-Mart knows precisely what makes their customers tick, what happens to them while in their stores, and how to influence their buying behavior with signage, placement, routes, etc. They know how to stimulate consumers to buy. Or consider Best Buy, the largest consumer electronics retailer in the nation. Their salesclerks are trained, motivated, monitored, and measured against customer stimulation. In fact, Best Buy has systematized customer stimulation into a process called CARE Plus.

C is for “contact”, where the salesclerk introduces himself and immediately gains trust by telling customers that he is non-commissioned. A is for “ask” as in ask questions, not “ask for the order.” “Ask” is viewed as an opportunity to find out what is emotionally driving customers, and to demonstrate empathy and expertise. Next is R, “recommend,” where ambivalent customers are given specific product suggestions. And finally E, “encourage the sale,” where customers’ purchases are praised and mental pictures of how life should be – with Best Buy products – are skillfully crafted and delivered.

Customer stimulation isn’t simply about merchandizing or sales (although these appear to be a much overlooked source). Customer stimulation is about everything! It’s about Yoplait’s development of Go-Gurt. Nokia’s sleek new phones. Saturn’s no-haggle dealerships. Apple’s foray into music. Costcos upscale warehouse stores. Coke’s introduction of C2. jetBlue’s free seatback TV’s Oprahs’ new O at Home magazine. Steak n Shake’s “side by side” milkshake (see my July 9th blog).’s book recommendations. And even Jack in the Box’s ping-pong ball spokeshead.

Although at first blush “customer stimulation” sounds a lot like innovation, it is much more. It’s about figuring out how to “go deep” into your relationship with customers and their relationship with you, each other, and your brand. It’s about both developing and stimulating the purchase of new products and services that improve people’s lives. It’s about new processes, new business models, new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing, and new ways of interacting. It’s and endless game of seduction. And…it’s your only way forward.

©2004 Tom Asacker

Tom Asacker is an author, corporate advisor and public speaker with a unique specialization – advancing business relationships by helping companies transition from “economically driven” to “emotionally driven”. His philosophies are outlined in his highly acclaimed book series Sandbox Wisdom and his leadership guide from Successories titled A Brand New World.

Category: Customer Care
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