Make'em Salivate Like Pavlov's Dog

Posted on August 1, 2002 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

Management tips that will help people become excited about working with and for your company.

If you ever wondered what Mick Jagger meant when he sings these words, you may be off to a better understanding of what motivates people. After all, any manager of any business has only three things to worry about: The management of the money, management of the equipment and management of the people his company comes in contact with. You can actually categorize every article every written in LCT into those three groups. Did you know, however, that the 'management' of people is just as 'hard' of a science as is the management of financial concerns and the management of your mobile assets (cars, mobile communications including EZ-Pass toll cards)?

Lessons from UConn's School of Business prodded me to split the people, that one has to convey messages to, into two audiences: "Internal" target audiences are the people that work with you and 'external' communications are targeted towards the consumer.

Any manager would love to influence his customers (manage his external audience) into 'salivating' with excitement in regard to his product or service. The best way to get that result is by having your staff react with this same Pavlovian metaphor in regard to their desire to make your customers happy, nay excited about working with your company.

That is easier than it may sound. One of the foundations of the modern science of psychology is the work of the early behaviorist, Pavlov. In the early 1900's, Dr. Pavlov, a Russian Chemist and Physiologist, was studying the digestive process in dogs. A byproduct of that work lead to his discovery that later helped him demonstrate that a dog could be conditioned to associate a reward with a sound. Every time the dog was fed a bell was rung. Soon the dog began salivating merely at the sound of the bell with no food involved! Other psychologists such as B.F. Skinner refined these theories, founding the field of behavioral psychology.

These concepts apply to humans as well as other animals. "If you consistently reward the behavior you are seeking to shape, the person will tend to exhibit more of the rewarded behavior." By using this in a subtle, unobtrusive way, a retailer can gently direct his customers into purchasing behaviors that benefit the retailers the most. The other side of the coin is that if the retailer rewards the wrong behavior, the wrong behavior will be enhanced.

If a client is continuously greeted by a service's staff in ways that makes him fel good, that client will be much more apt to spend his money with you. Just as importantly, that client will be much more apt to tell his friends about his pleasant experiences with your service. So if you motivate your staff to try harder to please; with recognition -- using awards and rewards - the staff will be more inclined to reward your clients' patronage with an exciting, enjoyable experience.

A great business manager will have a plan of action to help him regularly reward his staff. Forget, right now, that they're paid a fine wage, get excellent benefits and regular raises. I hope Shelly, my mom and business partner, is reading. She had her first job some time ago when people "were happy to have any job at all!"

In the mind of today's worker though, they all think they deserve all of the above just for showing up. Going 'above and beyond the call of duty' calls for recognition that goes above and beyond what they can get working elsewhere. So what are you doing to excite your staff?! There is a ton of ideas out there on this subject. Keep your eyes open for these and ask for more ideas at your NLA chapter meeting. Survey your fellow chapter members for average benefit packages then make yours above average if you desire above average results.

The next step Really great managers will take it to the next level by learning about the subtle differences in the wants and needs of each member of his staff. The early behaviorist that that taught us the basics on this front is Maslow. Abraham Maslow (1954) attempted to synthesize a large body of research related to human motivation. Maslow posited a hierarchy of human needs based on two groupings: deficiency needs and growth needs. Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving to the next higher level. The first four levels are: 1) Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.; 2) Safety/security: out of danger; 3) Belonginess and Love: affiliate with others, be accepted; and 4) Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition.

We have all had occasion to manage a less-fortunate staff person that is struggling to feed himself and keep a roof over his head. While this may sound to you like a 'no-brainer,' Maslow's Hierarchy helps us visualize a model which shows us that people in this situation will be better motivated if we help then in achieving those essentials in life. Since the "9-11 attacks," we business managers have been busy facilitating the acquisition of these more basic human needs by our staff from disaster relief organizations. If you're like me, you have written a number of letters on behalf of your team to The Salvation Army and The Red Cross. I utilized a stack of guidance to that affect from the National Limousine Association (see www.limo.org ).

Nineteen years after my first exposure to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it still blows my mind that the world's most indisputable model for understanding human behavior lists, right after food and shelter, "belongingness, the need to be accepted." The very next 'need' on the list is "Esteem: the need to gain approval and recognition"! I would like you to pause right here in your reading. Stop. Go refill that coffee cup. On your way, please contemplate the importance your people place on their need to see that what they do pleases you.

At Teddy's Transportation System, we have a 'Quick Action Memo.' It is a small form with a carbonless copy behind it. A stack of them sits right out on everyone's desk. The first edition of this form listed all the basic things the chauffeur should not do. Managers can check off things like "You were late" and "the car you turned in was not 'road-ready' (i.e.: clean and fueled)". I had about 5, 000 copies of that little management tool printed. And to the bain of some company chauffeurs, my office staff and I learned to use them religiously and frequently.

About halfway through that supply of memos, however, I redesigned the piece and threw out the older version. What did I change? I added a new item to the top of the page. It had a blank for a check mark followed by "THANKS!" 'Thanks for doing something wonderful to make us all look good in the eyes of a client. The memo then offers a couple of blank lines for a description of what good deed was performed.

Again, everyone has easy access to the blank forms. The back copy of each finished form is tucked into the chauffeurs' pay envelope while the front copy goes into his permanent Human Resources (HR) file. Even Fred, who has a wise-a_ _, derogatory remark about absolutely everything; secretly covets the memo's with "thanks" checked off; and loudly whines about the memos with a less-complimentary item highlighted.

Classic 'Pavlov': Enough recognition for good deeds and your people will be 'salivating' to please your customer - which will make your customer 'salivate' to use your service again.

Just this morning, a woman called to tell me about her ride with Teddy's chauffeur Fred Marra yesterday. The ride was from Yale-New Haven Hospital and the passenger came out of the hospital with a patch on her eye. When she asked Fred if he knew any local kids who might stop by and help her take out her garbage can and mow her small patch of lawn, Fred did her one better: He took out the garbage can and mowed her lawn!!

Direct influence of the clients' happiness So far I have talked about how to influence your client's purchase decision indirectly by influencing your staff person's attitude. Now let us explore concepts in the direct influence of the customer.

At the stores owned by the famous boutique grocery retailer, Stew Leonard, the little stickers that indicate a bulky item has been paid for do not simply read 'paid' like at less-forward-thinking grocery stores. While such a sticker is likely to help the security team do their job, the stickers at Stew's read "WOW" as in what he hopes you think of shopping at his store. The sticker is designed to pique the interest of the client as well as to perform the necessary security function.

Southern Connecticut shoppers do, indeed, say 'WOW' to the tune of $90 million per store every year at Stew's "Worlds Largest Dairy Store." Large corporations from all over the world send their managers to "Stew U" to learn how it's done. For more on Stew's read the vitally important business tome by Tom Peters and Peter F. Drucker, "A Passion For Excellence".

Basic guidance in how to have a more direct hand in making you clients say "WOW" is found a couple steps up on Maslow's Hierarchy.

According to Maslow, if and only if the 'deficiency needs' are met is the individual ready to act upon the growth needs. Maslow conceptualized human growth need as 'self-actualization'. Self-actualized people are characterized by: 1) being problem-focused; 2) incorporating an ongoing freshness of appreciation of life; 3) a concern about personal growth; and 4) the ability to have peak experiences.

So instead of designing an ad that tells the world what your service can do; tell consumers what your service can do you to help them be more 'problem focused' (For example, your message can be: "Let us concentrate on the road while you work on your business presentation.").

Can your chauffeured services company help your client "incorporate an ongoing freshness of appreciation of life"? Sure it can. We let consumers enjoy the dinner and the theater without worrying about that very distressing chore of having to drive from New York City back home to Connecticut. You get the idea. What about helping your client attain "the ability to have peak experiences"? That's an easy one!

I offer up as an example my current yellow pages advertisement. Of the 172 livery services listed in my local 'book,' I think mine is one of only a very few ads that do not simply list "All airports, theaters, piers, proms and weddings."

Instead I use one simple concept that is not visited nearly enough: My every recurring slogan is "Bringing You Home." "You" is the most important word you can every use. "Home" has, as well, become a very important word to people in these post-attack days.

My advertisement was inspired by, of all things, some McDonalds campaigns. Don't laugh: I'd take any small portion of their $14 Billion in annual worldwide sales! I'm not speaking of the Mickey D's ads featuring the clown and 'The Hamburgular.' I refer, instead, to the ads with the dad running behind the kid on the bike - training wheels just removed. If the ad eventually cuts to a breakfast food, you can bet the director installed a sun-yellow filter (reminiscent of orange juice) on the camera lens. They just sold the 'thirty-something' crowd a 'warm-and-fuzzy' feeling conjured up by bright sunshine and the excitement in their child's eye! And then, in the last seconds of the ad, the director quickly associated that good feeling with their egg-on-a-muffin product. All they have to do now is repeat that association until, like Pavlov's dog; you relate warm-and-fuzzy, sunny-day, happy-kid feelings with their product!

That bring to mind another very important rule in advertising: Widely accepted consumer-behavior theory suggests that any message1, to be effective, must be seen by a specific consumer at least four times before they act upon it.

I hope you are at least sending 'congratulations' postcards to brides or upwardly mobile executives as listed in your local newspaper. (After all you may have read such a suggestion in this magazine as many as a dozen times over the last two decades.)

Now go the next step. Send them a different postcard three weeks later. And send it again three weeks after that and three weeks after that. In designing your message, don't forget to add in a 'hook,' an incentive - something to help them 'salivate' to get your product.

Also, when the local newspaper ad salesman tries to sell you that one big spread in the 'Hospitality and Transportation' issue; 'just say no'. Instead, spend the same money on a small ad that you can afford to repeat often in quick succession.

And be sure they put the ad in the lower right corner of the right-hand page... but that's another story.

Charles Wisniewski is the owner of Teddy's Transportation System, Inc. in Westport, CT, and also a former president of the National Limousine Association.

1 Aside: As to repetition, I specifically used the word 'message' instead of 'advertisement. If a consumer frequently sees your main slogan associated with your company name. He will eventually associate the good thing described by your slogan with your company's good name. He may only see the newspaper advertisement a couple of times. But if he has already been bombarded by the same message on a billboard, and on a couple of T-shirts when he's at the gym; and again on Little League uniforms and postcards mailed to him, etc., etc.; he'll eventually make the connection.

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