Over the weekend, I stopped by a pet store to pick up some dog food. Outside the pet store, one of the Animal Rescue Societies had set up, and was giving away dogs. I noticed a small dog, with long floppy ears. This was the goofy, lovable dog that seemed to have the traits of a half dozen breeds.
“Ah, the classic American mutt,” I said, reaching down to pet the dog.
“I’ll have you know that’s a special breed of dog,” said a volunteer with Hank on his nametag. “Everybody wants him, but they often overlook him.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of breed is this?”
“It’s a customer dog.”
“A customer dog?”
“Yep. Well, I should say he *was* a customer dog. Right now, he’s gone back to being a prospect dog, but he wants to be a customer dog again.”
“So he was a customer dog, but is now a prospect dog and wants to become a customer dog again. I see,” I said, though I didn’t know what the guy was talking about.
“That’s right. Once he was a customer dog, but he left his owner. Ran away. Now he’s looking for someone else to take care of him. Customer dogs want to be loyal.”
A small boy walked up to look at customer dog and he immediately left me and bounded over to sniff the boy, who giggled.
I laughed. “He doesn’t look too loyal to me.”
“Of course not,” said Hank. “He’s a prospect dog, at the moment. He’s trying to figure out who he wants to take care of him so he can become a customer dog again. Until he does, he bounces all over the place, sniffing out one person after another.”
“What does a prospect dog look for?” I asked, intrigued.
“Prospect dogs and customer dogs don’t want a lot. They want someone to treat them well, take care of their needs, and pay a little attention to them. Show customer dogs a little love and they will love you back.”
“So they’re the perfect dog?”
“Nooo. Customer dogs aren’t perfect. Sometimes they growl at you for no apparent reason.”
‘That’s not good.”
“It’s not, but all customer dogs do it sooner or later. When they growl, pay attention. Usually they growl for a reason. It might be that you haven’t put water in their bowl or you messed up the customer dog’s bed. They don’t mean anything when they growl, not usually. They just want you to fix a problem.”
I watched the boy play with the customer dog for a few minutes. A little girl who looked just like the boy and must be his sister noticed him and toddled over. “Doggy,” she squealed. Customer dog looked up and ran to the girl like she was a long lost friend, licking her to excited squeaks.
“My doggy,” said the boy angrily and pushed his sister.
“Typical,” said Hank, parting the two children.
“What?” I asked.
“People are always fighting over prospect dogs. Everyone wants them when they’re prospect dogs. When they see a prospect dog, they forget all about their own customer dogs.”
Hank looked at the kids. The boy was tugging on his sister’s hair, while she was kicking her brother in the knee. “I bet you have some doggies at home don’t you?”
“Tree,” said the girl.
“You can’t count,” said the boy, “We’ve got two.”
Hank looked back in my direction, “You see they aren’t even sure how many customer dogs they’ve got.”
“Tree,” said the girl holding up her fingers and numbering them, “Dere’s Pookie an’ Ralph an’ Flash. Dat’s tree.”
“Pookie’s not a dog,” snorted the boy, “Pookie’s a cat.”
“Cats don’t make good customer dogs,” said Hank, “Though some people insist on counting them.”
“What’s wrong with cats?”
“They’re too independent. You can’t depend on them. They tend to be annoying and they expect to be taken care of without ever showing any loyalty or giving much back in return. I suppose a cat’s alright if that’s all you’ve got, but customer dogs are so much better. Cats will never be loyal, though lots of people try. They give a bunch of attention to cats, trying to turn them into customer dogs, but they’ll never be customer dogs.”
“Can they be customer cats?”
“No such thing. They’re cats. Not every animal is meant to be a customer dog. You can’t change their nature. If you try, you’re wasting your time, time that could be spent on customer dogs. If people spent more time with their customer dogs and less time trying to turn cats into customer dogs, fewer customer dogs would run away and become prospect dogs again.”
“So why did this, uh, prospect dog run away?”
Hank shrugged. “You can ask, but they don’t always tell you.”
“Why do you think he ran away?”
“Could be he was ignored. Maybe he was mistreated. It’s surprising what some customer dogs will put up with. Some run away the instant people seem to forget them. Others put up with abuse because they don’t think it will be any different with someone else. Once they figure out that there are people who will pay attention to them, who will take care of them, then they’re out like a shot.”
“Wanna cookie?” said the boy to the prospect dog.
Hank sighed, shaking his head. “People are always trying to bribe prospect dogs, offering them special treats to lure them over and make them customer dogs.”
“Is that bad?”
“Not necessarily. It’s an old practice.”
“So what’s wrong?”
“That little boy doesn’t have a cookie. Customer dogs and especially prospect dogs hate empty promises. They hate being misled.”
The prospect dog sniffed at the boy’s closed fist. He opened it. It was empty. “Fooled ya,” he said.
The prospect dog looked a little hurt and whined.
“Doggy,” said the girl, with her arms open.
The prospect dog bounded over and leaped into her arms.
“Doggy,” said the boy, “Doggy!” He stamped his foot. The prospect dog ignored him.
He sat down and started bawling. “Not fair! Not fair!” he wailed.
“I see it time after time,” said Hank.
“People use deceptive practices to attract prospect dogs. Sometimes it even works for a while, but the prospect dogs catch on sooner or later. Prospect dogs seem to have some way of communicating with each other that we don’t fully understand because other prospect dogs will start to ignore these people. They cry and whine that life’s unfair, when the only thing that’s unfair is the way they treat prospect dogs and customer dogs.”
“Let’s fin’ Daddy,” said the little girl, “’Cause I wanna take you home.” The prospect dog followed dutifully behind her.
Hank smiled. “Prospect dogs like that.”
“They sort of like being told what to do, in simple terms of course. If they trust you, they’ll follow. Trust is what it’s all about.”
“Do they trust instantly?”
“Some do. With most it takes time. But once they trust you, you can screw up and they’ll give you another chance. They won’t run away. Well, they will if you keep screwing up, but the more they trust you, the more chances you get.”
Hank had given me a lot to think about. I looked around. People were snapping up prospect dogs left and right.
“Looks like you’re about to run out of prospect dogs,” I said.
“Nah. There’s a lot of prospect dogs. In fact, there are more prospect dogs than customer dogs. People just don’t know where to find them. Some have been so mistreated that they’ve become shy. In fact, a few decide they’d rather scavenge on their own, take care of themselves, which is a shame because they’re much better cared for as customer dogs than DIY dogs.”
“Hey, what about that dog over there?” I said, pointing at a dog sitting on his haunches, barking and nipping at the other dogs.
“Oh him? He’s useless. A real shame, given his background.”
“Well, he used to be a champion dog, the kind of dog everyone wants, but then an owner ruined him. He was so happy before, too.”
“What did he do?”
“He was a technician dog and the owner decided he’d promote him. Started calling him Service Manager. Now all he does is sit around and bark at the other dogs.”
Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable and author of the book, “The Power of Positive Pricing,” which teaches contractors who to optimize their pricing for maximum profit. Order your copy at Shop.ServiceRoundtable.com.